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New York Times' Student Editorial Contest - 7 Tips to Help You Win

“You can make anything by writing,” goes the quote by C.S. Lewis, and the prolific author, wasn't wrong! 


Your words, if crafted clearly, can shape opinions, change minds, uncover the truth, and much more. 


If you’re a high school student with a passion for writing concise and persuasive arguments, then you should consider applying for the New York Times’ Annual Student Editorial Contest, which invites students from across the U.S. to send in their best writing on topics they’re passionate about.


Argumentative writing is a critical skill you need to excel in college, and winning competitive essay competitions is a great way to showcase your clarity of thought, ability to build cohesive arguments, and write concisely.


What is the Student Editorial Contest all about?

Now in its 11th year, NYT launched the contest to encourage students to write convincing evidence-backed opinion essays on topics they are passionate about — LGBTQ+ rights, school shootings, Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian hate, memes, art repatriation, video game culture, and pineapple on pizza, to name a few — in 450 words or less. The key here is to choose a topic you care deeply about and convince readers that they should care too. 


Who can apply for the contest?

All middle school and high school students around the world aged 13-19 can apply for the contest. You can apply even if you’re in a gap year but must not be enrolled in a college at the time of application. Students attending their first year of a two-year CEGEP in Quebec Province, Canada, can also apply.


Note: you are ineligible if you are the child or stepchild of an NYT employee or if you live in the same household as an NYT employee. 


What do the contest winners get?

Winning essays will be published on the NYT’s Learning Network, an online resource for teaching and learning. There is no financial award.


Is the contest prestigious?

The Student Editorial Contest is highly selective and prestigious. While there is no financial award, NYT receives thousands of entries every year and selects only a handful of winners. In 2023, the paper received 12,592 submissions and selected 11 winners. That means 0.09% of all submissions won! 


What are the rules of the contest?

Your editorial submission must meet the following requirements:


1. Be 450 words or less 

This word limit does not include the title and your reference list.


2. Submit original writing 

You cannot submit an essay published in a school newspaper or elsewhere.


3. Cite your sources

You must use at least one NYT article source and another external source.


4. You must be the author of your own work 

While other people (teachers. parents, etc) may review your work, your final submission must reflect your own ideas in your voice.


How will your submission be judged?

NYT journalists, Learning Network staff members, and educators from across the U.S. judge the essays and pick the winners. This is done based on the following criteria:


1. Viewpoint

Your essay has a clear argument and provides an evidence-based call to action for a cause.


2. Evidence

Your essay cites reliable sources and uses compelling evidence to support your argument


3. Analysis and persuasion

Your essay argues a particular point of view by providing historical context, acknowledging counter-arguments, using examples, and developing claims. 


4. Language

Your essay uses the correct grammar and punctuation and is free from errors. Additionally, it uses a language and style appropriate for an editorial and is an engaging read


5. Guidelines

Your essay follows all the contest rules, including citing and least one NYT and one non-NYT source


When is the submission deadline?

Tentatively, submissions for the 2024 contest will open from March 15 to April 19, 2024. 


What did previous winners write about?

Previous years’ winners have written compelling essays on the joys of multigenerational living, the cultural insensitivity of “voluntourism,”, navigating life with an incarcerated parent, the importance of student journalism, stigma and shame young girls feel when they get their period, and many more. You can find a list of the 2023 winning and runner-up essays here, and the 2022 essays here.  



Without further ado, here are 7 tips to help you win the contest!


1. Think of a relevant topic, especially one you can connect with personally

You only have 450 words to make your case, so choose a topic you have the strongest connection with. NYT says that the best writing they see is from students who are personally attached to the subject matter. For example, Ketong Li wrote about the ethical problems with voluntourism after traveling to Myanmar, while Lucas Cohen-d’Arbeloff wrote about the impact of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill based on the experiences of his two dads.


2. Find a good reviewer to give you constructive feedback on your draft

While the idea and writing must be your own, NYT acknowledges that editorial writing is a collaborative process in newsrooms, with staff coming together to shape an argument. Thus, it's important you have a mentor, ideally, someone with editorial experience, who can help you make more sense of your thoughts, help you think critically, and finally craft an effective argument.


3. Break out of your “filter bubble”

NYT encourages you to include a diversity of opinions in your essay, addressing their merits and finally making your own independent argument. Additionally, NYT pays special attention to your citations: you must use at least one NYT article as a source and one or more from other reliable publications when presenting differing arguments. 


4. Make good use of the NYT’s resources

The NYT has a trove of resources to help you ace the contest, including a step-by-step lesson plan on argumentative writing, a webinar on teaching argumentative writing, and NYT columnists have videos explaining how to write editorials. 


5. Learn from previous winners

You will gain a deeper understanding of the kind of editorials NYT looks for by reviewing previous years’ winning submissions. Additionally, two winners of the 2020 contest have annotated essays explaining how they crafted their winning writing:  Ananya Udaygiri on “How Animal Crossing Will Save the World” and Abel John on “Collar the Cat!” Ananya and Abel have also recorded videos with advice on choosing a topic and how to cite evidence in your submission.


6. Keep your audience in mind

Remember, you’re writing for NYT readers. To that end, your tone and writing style should reflect the NYT’s editorial voice. You would learn a lot by reading and analyzing the NYT’s daily editorials! 


7. Practice, practice, and practice

Few people are gifted writers, and fewer still can make their point in 450 words! We highly recommend that you simulate the contest by choosing different prompts and writing editorials, and then incorporate any feedback that you receive. NYT has a list of prompts use can use to practice.


Our final verdict — what do we think of the contest?

The Student Editorial Contest is highly competitive and being one of the winners would add significant prestige to your college application. It would also go a long way in helping you get into a top journalism school. We like that the competition is global and there are no financial barriers to entry (the contest is free!). The contest is thought-provoking and seeks unique perspectives on issues part of our lives. Even if you don’t win, you will gain a lot of important experience in argumentative writing which would certainly help you in university!



Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in literature, media, and journalism, then 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, over 4000 students applied 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.


Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


Image Source: The New York Times


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