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National History Day's National Contest - 7 Stellar Reasons to Participate

In the competitive college admissions landscape, students constantly seek ways to distinguish themselves and showcase their unique skills and interests. One avenue that holds significant promise is participating in academic competitions, and among them, National History Day® (NHD) stands out. Engaging in such contests offers a platform for intellectual exploration and can significantly enhance a student's profile when applying to college.


About the National History Day (NHD) contest

Although National History Day presents itself as just a competition, it's an opportunity for students to delve into the past, construct a historical argument, and present their research and interpretation of a chosen topic's significance in history. The program caters to students at different academic levels, with two entry divisions: Junior (grades 6–8) and Senior (grades 9–12). Participants can embark on this journey individually or collaborate in groups.


How is the program structured?

The program is structured so that participants can work in groups to produce a piece that centers around the year's theme on history. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the National History Day (NHD) has chosen "Historical Pivots" as the theme for the 2024 contest. This theme encourages participants to explore questions surrounding time and place, cause and effect, change over time, and the impact and significance of historical events. Rather than focusing solely on important events or individual actions, a turning point in history, as defined by this theme, represents an idea, event, or action that directly or indirectly brings about significant change. To assist participants in shaping their topics and initiating research, a variety of resources are available.


How do you begin producing content for this competition?

1. Choose Your Topic with Precision

Before embarking on the NHD journey, participants are encouraged to select a topic that aligns with their interests, fits the annual theme, and strikes the right balance – not too broad or narrow. The process involves using a graphic organizer to define the topic adequately.

2. Start Your Research

Understanding historical context is crucial, and students must delve into primary and secondary sources. Historical context sets the stage for a compelling narrative, and NHD provides valuable research skills and resources to aid in this critical phase.

3. Select a Contest Category

NHD offers five creative categories – documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website – ensuring diverse avenues for expression. Participants can choose individual or group options, with group sizes ranging from two to five students.


4. Write Your Process Paper & Annotated Bibliography

Every NHD project includes a process paper and an annotated bibliography. These components showcase the depth of research and provide a structured framework for presenting findings.


5. Find Your Local Contest

The contest starts at the local level, with participants registering through their affiliate's local contest website. This is where the competition begins, setting the stage for progression to higher levels.


6. Create an Entry

Drawing inspiration from past projects and utilizing available resources, students can embark on the creation of their NHD entry. The program provides various tools and guides to help bring their historical narrative to life. Here are a few examples from past submissions! 


What are the affiliated costs?

Depending on the region the costs may vary. For example, this year (2024), the cost for the Northwest region is free of charge, as mentioned on their website! Take a peek here to learn more about the associated costs with registration. 


Top 10 Reasons to Participate in National History Day


1. You can develop critical research skills

NHD equips students with invaluable research skills, teaching them to navigate and critically assess primary and secondary sources. Part of building your portfolio for college includes utilizing resources such as primary and secondary sources in your writing. This program provides participants access to research resources that can be used outside the program!


2. Enhance analytical thinking 

Engaging in National History Day challenges participants to go beyond mere historical facts. Crafting a historical argument requires them to analyze and interpret events critically. This process fosters a deep understanding of historical events and their broader significance, encouraging participants to develop advanced analytical thinking skills. These skills are valuable for the NHD contest and transferable to other academic pursuits, enhancing participants' ability to think critically in various contexts.


3. Cultivate your presentation skills

The diverse contest categories within NHD provide a unique opportunity for participants to cultivate and showcase their presentation skills. Participants must effectively communicate their historical arguments through documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, or websites. This process involves not only in-depth research but also the skillful presentation of findings. These presentation skills, honed through the NHD experience, become a crucial asset for students in academia and their future professional endeavors where effective communication is paramount.


4. Build Teamwork and Collaboration

For those opting for group participation, NHD becomes a platform for cultivating teamwork and collaboration. Group projects involving two to five students require effective communication, division of tasks, and collaborative problem-solving. These are essential skills in various professional settings, from the workplace to collaborative research projects in higher education. NHD, therefore, becomes a training ground for students to develop the teamwork skills crucial for success in their future careers.


5. Stand out in your college applications

Participation in NHD significantly sets applicants apart in the competitive college admissions landscape. It showcases a commitment to historical research, a passion for understanding the past, and the ability to articulate complex ideas. Admissions officers value extracurricular engagement, considering it indicates a student's intellectual curiosity and dedication to academic pursuits. In a college application, the NHD experience becomes a distinguishing factor that can positively influence the admission decision.


6. Learn more about history

Beyond the academic realm, NHD is a transformative journey fostering personal growth and self-discovery. Engaging deeply with historical topics allows participants to explore their intellectual capabilities, develop a sense of curiosity, and gain insights into their interests and strengths. NHD becomes a vehicle for self-discovery, helping students understand history and themselves and contributing to holistic personal development.


7. Engage in networking opportunities

Local NHD contests provide valuable networking opportunities. Participants connect with like-minded individuals, educators, and professionals passionate about history and education. These connections can extend beyond the contest, offering avenues for mentorship, collaboration, and future academic or professional opportunities. Networking within the NHD community opens doors to a broader world of historical enthusiasts and experts.


8. Gain exposure to different perspectives 

Participants gain exposure to diverse perspectives by researching and presenting on various historical topics. NHD encourages students to explore different cultures, periods, and historical events, broadening their understanding of the world. This exposure to diverse perspectives fosters cultural competency and a more nuanced view of historical narratives, contributing to a well-rounded and informed worldview.


9. Be prepared for college-level work

The skills acquired during NHD, including research, critical thinking, and presentation, effectively prepare for college-level coursework. College demands rigorous academic engagement, and the NHD experience equips students with the intellectual tools and habits needed to excel in higher education. The ability to conduct thorough research, critically analyze information, and present findings coherently are fundamental skills that are invaluable in college.


10. Enhance your potential for scholarships and recognition

Participation in NHD opens doors to potential scholarships and recognition. Outstanding projects showcasing exemplary research and presentation skills often attract attention from educational institutions and organizations. Recognition in the NHD contest can lead to scholarship opportunities, emphasizing the tangible benefits of participating in the program beyond academic growth.


In conclusion, the National History Day (NHD) National Contest provides students with a structured platform for historical exploration, critical skill development, and creative expression. With this year's theme, "Historical Pivots," participants are encouraged to reflect on pivotal historical moments, fostering research, analytical thinking, and presentation skills. NHD goes beyond academics, promoting personal growth, teamwork, and networking. It is a standout factor in college applications, showcasing a student's commitment to historical research and the ability to articulate complex ideas.NHD offers a transformative experience that enriches academic pursuits and equips students with invaluable skills for future endeavors.



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: NHD logo

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