Every year, the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) conducts a worldwide student Essay Contest to encourage and continue the appreciation and study of Jane Austen’s works. With this goal in mind, the contest asks students to submit an essay of their own observations on each year’s specific topic.
These topics usually require students to offer their insights, analyses, or interpretations of Austen's works, characters, themes, or historical context. The essay topic for the 2023 contest was Marriages and Proposals, where students were asked to discuss and compare the types of marriages and courtships found in Austen’s novels.
Entering any essay contest can significantly bolster a student's college admissions profile. Firstly, it demonstrates a unique and sophisticated literary interest beyond standard academic pursuits, showcasing a depth of intellectual curiosity. Admissions committees also often seek applicants who stand out, and an essay contest centered on Jane Austen's timeless works can set an applicant apart from the crowd. Moreover, participating in such a contest reflects a commitment to scholarly engagement and literary appreciation, attributes highly valued in a college environment.
In this blog, we will cover all there is to know about the contest, its prestige, guidelines, eligibility, prizes, and pros and cons.
Who can enter the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest?
The Jane Austen Society Essay Contest is open to students from the high school to graduate level. The society separates students into three divisions:
1. High School: students and home-schooled students enrolled at the high school level during the contest year
2. College/University: students enrolled in at least six credit hours of coursework at a junior college, college, or university during the contest year
3. Graduate School: students enrolled during the contest year in at least three credit hours of graduate course work at a college or university leading to an advanced degree
While high school students are only required to focus on one of Austen’s works - though it is encouraged to include more. For example, the JASNA website states that for the 2023 contest, high school students were provided with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as their sole potential source. While undergraduate and graduate Students were told to discuss at least two of Austen’s novels. Here is one of the winning high school essays from the 2023 essay contest, where the winning author chose Pride and Prejudice as her primary source.
When is the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest?
Each year’s topic is released in November of the year prior but students can submit their essays as early as February, with the cutoff date for submissions being June 1st. This gives you over six months to craft and complete your essay.
To apply, there is an entry form to ensure that each student’s essay is their own work. Your essay and the entry form must be uploaded to the Essay Contest Submission site before June 1st, and there is a requirement of 6-8 pages (though, there doesn’t seem to be a word limit). More information and submission guidelines can be found here.
What can you win in the contest?
JASNA awards scholarships to winners in each of the three divisions:
First Place: $1,000 scholarship, as well as free registration and two nights’ lodging for JASNA’s upcoming Annual General Meeting.
Second Place: $500 scholarship
Third Place: $250 scholarship
Winners will also receive one year of membership in JASNA, publication of their essays on this website, and a set of Norton Critical Editions of Jane Austen's novels.
Pros and Cons - Should You Participate?
Deciding whether to enter an essay-writing contest can be a big decision for any student. These contests can help you develop valuable skills in research and communication. However, it's essential to weigh the commitment and potential hindrance of your other goals before deciding. Here are some key factors to help you determine if entering the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest is the right choice for you.
The contest’s essay requirements are pretty basic in comparison to other academic writings you will be asked to complete during your time in school. The JASNA requires a 6-8 paged, MLA formatted piece of writing, which is no small feat, but is certainly not impossible either.
Building on this first point, you are given a total of seven months to research and complete your essay. That nearly provides you with a month to write each page, which is a reassuring incentive!
Lastly, entering the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest will provide you with an opportunity to learn more about a historically famous author. This extra knowledge of both Austen as a writer, and of her critically acclaimed works, will benefit you- especially if you plan to pursue a humanities degree in university.
With any academic contest, there will be the downside of an extra time commitment for potentially little reward. For a high school student, this is a large task to take on. With a full course load, as well as extracurricular activities, entering a contest like this may be a step in the wrong direction that could lead you to forgo more important assignments.
There is also always the possibility of not winning an award for your hard work. This would mean you had dedicated effort and time for no monetary gain. While this may be an obvious thought, it is still an important one to observe before entering any competition. Would the work be worth it if there was a promise of no reward?
8 Tips to Help You Win the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest
1. Do your research: Every year, the topic for the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest changes, but it is always related to one of Austen’s works or a common theme across many of her works. You should set aside time to ensure that you not only have an understanding of the Contest’s topic but of Austen’s writing in general. Familiarizing yourself with common themes and similarities of her writing will help you form a basic understanding of any future essay contest topic.
2. Study the rulebook: Knowing the requirements for your essay before writing it is knowledge that will help you tailor your essay precisely to meet the criteria. By doing this, you will be avoiding potential disqualification or point deductions. Making sure to not miss any small points could mean the difference between first and second, or between winning a scholarship or not.
3. Engage with secondary sources: To demonstrate your depth of knowledge, try to incorporate at least one outside source, such as an academic article or book. Use these sources to support your arguments and provide additional context to your essay. This will also set your essay apart from other entries as this step is not required in the guidelines.
4. Craft a strong thesis: Develop a clear and compelling thesis statement that articulates your main argument or interpretation. This thesis will serve as the backbone of your essay, guiding the reader throughout. This portion of writing your essay will be the most important and should not be rushed, take the time you are given to craft a thesis statement that you will be able to thoroughly explore.
5. Ask for help: It is a given that you will pay meticulous attention to writing mechanics, including grammar, punctuation, and spelling. But, as adherence to these details is often a critical aspect of contest evaluation, have a trusted someone, or mentor, proofread your work before submitting it. It is always a good idea to have a second pair of eyes look over your final draft- even for just a simple spell check! In fact, having a mentor is encouraged on the JASNA website.
6. Originality and creativity: Aim to present fresh insights or perspectives on Austen's work. Avoid clichés and common interpretations, and instead, strive for a unique and thought-provoking analysis that engages the reader. Jane Austen’s works have been analyzed and discussed for many years and it will be hard to create a new perspective, but try your best to put your own unique thoughts into your writing.
7. Take time to plan: With the seven months you are given to write this essay, you should create a structured outline before you start writing. This will not only help you organize your thoughts, main points, and supporting evidence but will also ensure a well-organized essay. It is easy to lose sight of your topic in essays, but with a tried and true outline, you will be able to trust the process and submit an essay you are proud of.
8. Read past essays: Reading past winning essays will grant you insight into the preferences and expectations of the contest judges and gain a better understanding of the style, depth, and approach that have been successful in the past. This can help you tailor your own essay to align with what the judges are looking for, increasing your chances of producing a winning entry that stands out in the competition. It also allows you to avoid repeating topics or arguments that may have been extensively covered in prior submissions, encouraging you to find a unique angle or perspective on Jane Austen's work. Be sure to read past winning essays here.
In conclusion, the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest offers a unique opportunity for students of all ages to delve into the world of Jane Austen's literature while honing their writing skills. To maximize success in this endeavor, aspiring participants can follow the outlined strategies above to master their essay-writing skills and enhance their chances of making a meaningful contribution. Ultimately, the contest stands as a celebration of literature, providing a stage for Austen admirers and student writers alike to showcase their talents and contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding one of literature's most beloved authors.
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in conducting research in literature, gender studies, and linguistics, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students 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.
Mandy Brenner is a current junior at Harvard University. She is concentrating in History and Literature and loves to read and write in her free time.
Image Source: JASNA logo