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George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest - 8 Tips to Ace It

As a high school student, you’re probably already planning your college applications, and thinking about how yours can stand out. Extracurricular competitions can add a competitive edge to your applications and your profile. College applications that include a students’ participation and potential achievements in a prestigious contest, show admissions officers the students’ intellectual curiosity, analytical abilities, and commitment to tackling real-world problems. Admissions officers look for students who are not just academically accomplished but also curious and capable of independent, critical thinking. 

Participating in essay contests allows students to enhance their academic portfolios, refine their writing skills, and learn more about politics and society. One such prestigious competition is the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest, hosted by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

What is the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest?

This prestigious contest, hosted by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), invites high school students (in grades 9-12) who are interested in the American Revolution. Open to U.S. citizens and legal resident students across various educational backgrounds, including home schools, public, parochial, or private high schools, this contest is an opportunity for students keen  to explore the historical nuances of the nation's foundation.

To participate, students must craft an original 800-1,200-word essay, delving into an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, or the framing of the United States Constitution. Entries are judged based on historical accuracy, clarity, organization, grammar and spelling, and documentation.

How is it structured?

The contest is conducted in three phases: the local chapter, state-level society, and national phases. To enter, students must go through an SAR chapter near their residence. In some cases, the contest may be entered at the state level (if the local society does not have chapters or the chapters are not participating). Only one entry per student is permitted per contest year.

Submission rules

Contest entries must be submitted as PDF files attached to emails. The essay encompasses four parts: a title page, essay pages, a bibliography or works cited, and the applicant's biography. Strict adherence to formatting rules is crucial for acceptance and includes specific guidelines for the title page, essay pages, bibliography, and biography. For access to the application, see the following link!

Tip: Make sure you go through the rules thoroughly before entering the contest. The organizers have also provided a sample essay for students to go through.


Awards at the local and state-level may vary. The winner of the contest at the national level receives a $6,000 cash award, a medal, and a recognition certificate. They will also b eligible for a $1500 travel stipend for expenses when they attend Congress. The first runner-up, or second place, receives a $3000 cash award and a recognition certificate. The second runner-up, or third place, receives a $2,000 cash award and a recognition certificate. Students who place fourth and fifth receive a $500 award and a recognition certificate.

The winning essay at the national level may be published in the SAR Magazine. Take a look at the former winners and their respective SAR locations here

Here’s 8 tips to help you ace the contest:

1. Leverage Official Resources: Make sure you thoroughly explore the resources provided by the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The official website is a treasure trove of information, including historical documents, reference materials, and guidelines to kickstart your research process.

2. Study Past Entries: Go through the archives of past winning entries available on the official website. Analyze the content, writing style, and unique approaches that caught judges' attention. Use these insights to tailor your approach and stand out. 

3. Adhere to Formatting Guidelines: Strictly adhere to the contest's specific formatting rules outlined on the official website. This includes meticulous attention to detail for the title page, essay pages, bibliography, and biography. Following these guidelines ensures that your submission is not disqualified due to formatting issues.

4. Conduct Thorough Research: Go beyond the basics and engage in thorough research using reliable and well-documented sources. Beyond textbooks, explore primary sources, historical archives, and scholarly articles to add depth and authenticity to your essay. The SAR's website may provide additional resource links for your research.

5. Prioritize Clarity and Organization: Craft your essay with a focus on clarity and logical organization. Ensure a smooth flow of ideas, with each paragraph seamlessly leading to the next. Use headings and subheadings to guide the reader and maintain a coherent structure.

6. Pay Attention to Grammar and Spelling: Pay meticulous attention to the finer details of your writing. Use tools like grammar checkers and proofread your work multiple times to eliminate grammatical or spelling errors. A flawless presentation enhances the overall professionalism of your submission.

7. Diversify Your References: Showcase a comprehensive understanding of the topic by incorporating diverse references. Utilize a mix of published works, primary sources, and reputable online resources. Ensure proper citation according to the specified citation system outlined in the contest rules.

8. Create an Impressive Biography: Your biography is not a mere formality, it can be an opportunity to present yourself holistically. Highlight your academic achievements, awards, school and community activities, and articulate your plans. Craft a compelling narrative reflecting your passion for history and commitment to academic excellence.

Final thoughts 

The George S. & Stella M. Knight essay contest is not just a competition but a journey into the heart of American history. This contest is a valuable opportunity for high school students who aspire to make a mark with their writing. It is a great opportunity for students looking to enhance their writing ability and gain some recognition as they apply to colleges and universities. Due to its prestigious and selective nature, we recommend students who are interested in boosting their academic profile to participate in this contest. By following these tips and making the most of the official resources, you can produce an essay that not only stands out but contributes meaningfully to the discourse on our nation's founding principles. Good luck!

One other option – the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in pre-college programs focused on history, consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also, check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!

Image Source: SAR logo



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