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Winning the Eon Essay Contest - 8 Tips to Help You Ace It

Participating in essay contests, such as The Eon Essay Contest, empowers students to enrich their academic portfolios, refine their writing skills, and learn more about fundamentals in politics and society. This competition invites students aged 13 to 24 to analyze economic theory, existential risks, and the future of humanity, with a focus on Toby Ord's thought-provoking book, "The Precipice."

When you mention your participation and potential achievements in such an essay contest in your college admission process, it signals to admissions officers your intellectual curiosity, analytical abilities, and commitment to tackling real-world complexities. Admissions officers seek students who are not just academically accomplished but also curious and capable of independent, critical thinking. Your involvement in this prestigious contest demonstrates these qualities, making your college application stand out. It underscores your dedication to academic excellence, which is highly regarded in the eyes of admissions officers.

This comprehensive guide will provide an in-depth exploration of the contest, including eligibility criteria, submission requirements, distinct prompts tailored to different age brackets, and 8 tips for creating a winning essay.

Who is Eligible to Participate?

To participate, you must be a student aged 13 to 24, which includes grade-school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Such a large age range for those submitting essays makes the competition a lot more competitive, and thus a lot more prestigious since you are pitted against college students.

Submission Requirements

To enter, visit the Contest Site and complete the "Contest Entry Form" by the submission deadline, which is set at midnight Pacific Time on June 15, 2023. A complete entry includes:

  • A written essay in English, based on "The Precipice" by Toby Ord, responding to one of the prompts mentioned below.

  • The essay must not exceed 1,200 words in length, excluding the title, footnotes, endnotes, and citations.

  • The essay should be double-spaced and in PDF format.

  • The PDF file name should contain your name, while the essay itself should maintain anonymity.

Prompts for the Eon Essay Contest

There are three distinct prompts tailored to different age categories. This may change from year to year so be sure to check the official website to confirm what the judges are looking for.

3-18 age bracket:

  • Prompt: Pick a transformative technology you believe will be created someday. Imagine you hold a position of responsibility for it, whether as a scientist developing the technology, a government official regulating it, or a corporate executive selling it to the public. How would you approach your job to have the greatest chance of preserving humanity’s potential? What are the risks you face?

19-21 age bracket:

  • Prompt: If the ideas in this book are correct, what does that imply about what a group you are familiar with should be doing differently? What could incentivize them to do that? You may talk about a group like a research lab, a government body, a nonprofit, a media company, a corporation, or an international organization.

22-24 age bracket:

  • Prompt: What, according to you, is missing from this book? This missing piece can be data, analysis, or an argument. The missing piece can either strengthen or weaken a conclusion from the book.

Is the Eon Essay Contest Prestigious?

Prestige and recognition are critical factors to consider when deciding to participate in an essay contest. Prestige and recognition for essay contests is often associated with their funders. It is worth noting that the Eon Essay Contest received its funding from a grant from Open Philanthropy, a research and grantmaking foundation that makes grants based on the doctrine of “effective altruism.” Open Philanthropy, which is financed primarily by billionaire Facebook co-founder and Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, who have demonstrated interest in the politics of Artificial Intelligence regulation.

The contest used a stringent grading system, with essays assessed on a scale from 0 to 40. Each essay had the potential to earn a maximum of 10 points in four crucial categories:

  • Knowledge

  • Writing style

  • Originality of ideas

  • Depth and sophistication of analysis

It's notable that fewer than 100 essays received a score of 30 or above. These exceptional essays closely followed the strategies outlined in the tips provided here. To simplify, if you submitted a well-written essay in the previous year's contest, your chances of securing the top prize were roughly 1%. The top prize in the contest carries an expected value of $15,000, though it's important to remember that winners were not chosen randomly, and multiple prizes were awarded in addition to the top prize.

While the monetary aspect is undoubtedly a factor, it is not the sole consideration when deciding whether to enter the contest. Another equally important factor is the opportunity for learning and exposure to profound ideas. All entrants to this contest are exposed to the vital concepts discussed in "The Precipice." If you find the book summary intriguing, this contest might serve as the motivation you need to access the book at a local library and start reading it.

8 Tips to Excel in The Eon Essay Contest:

  1. Make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the book and its key theme To embark on your journey to success in "The Precipice Essay Contest," it's crucial to approach it with a comprehensive understanding of the source material. Begin by reading "The Precipice" by Toby Ord attentively, ensuring you have a firm grasp of its core ideas and arguments. This is the foundation upon which your essay will be built. Dive into the book's contents, explore the nuances of Ord's perspective on existential risks, and identify the key takeaways that resonate with you. Developing a deep understanding of the source material will enable you to craft an insightful and meaningful essay that resonates with the contest's evaluators.

  2. Research and cite key insights Crafting a winning essay demands comprehensive research to substantiate your arguments. After selecting your prompt, delve into the subject matter by gathering relevant information and data from credible sources. Reference academic journals, books, authoritative websites, and expert opinions to bolster your points with well-founded evidence. Citations and proper referencing are crucial to demonstrate the reliability of your sources. Well-supported arguments and a robust foundation of evidence will add depth and authenticity to your essay, setting it apart as a well-researched and credible piece.

  3. Solidify your thesis Your thesis statement serves as the core of your essay, encapsulating your primary argument. It's essential to develop a clear and compelling thesis that aligns seamlessly with your chosen prompt. Your thesis should not only address the prompt but also present a unique perspective or argument. It's the "hook" that captures your readers' attention and guides them through the essay. A well-structured and thought-out thesis statement not only clarifies your point of view but also shapes the entire essay, ensuring a cohesive and convincing narrative.

  4. Stick to the prompt and work on structure and organization One element of what makes this competition so prestigious for an essay contest is the competitiveness of winning the top award. In the previous edition of the contest, held in 2022, "The Precipice Essay Contest" received over 1,500 entries. However, it's important to note that only about 1,000 entries directly responded to the essay prompts. The remainder consisted of off-topic essays, many of which were originally written for other scholarship applications or as part of school assignments. The essay in the Entry must respond to the essay prompt for the entrant’s applicable Age Category. Address the prompt in a way that resonates authentically with your interests and expertise. This approach allows you to write from a place of genuine passion and insight. Effective organization is fundamental to the success of your essay. Ensure that your essay is well-structured with a logical flow. Begin with an engaging introduction that introduces the topic, highlights your thesis, and entices your readers to continue. Follow this with well-organized body paragraphs that present your arguments coherently, with each paragraph supporting a distinct aspect of your thesis. Finally, conclude with a concise yet impactful summary of your key points. A well-structured essay allows your readers to follow your arguments seamlessly and makes a lasting impression.

  5. Refer to past entries of the Eon Essay Contest To gain a better understanding of what the judges are looking for and to refine your own approach, consider reviewing past winning entries and essays of distinction from the Eon Essay Contest. This can provide insights into the style, depth, and quality of writing that resonates with the contest evaluators. Pay attention to the themes, arguments, and the way previous winners have structured their essays. While you should always bring your unique perspective, drawing inspiration from past entries can be a valuable part of your preparation.

  6. Write and revise Given the particular judging process of the Eon Essay Contest, writing and revising multiple drafts is crucial. After you've drafted your initial essay, take the time to review and refine it. Pay close attention to your thesis statement, arguments, and evidence. Ensure that your essay is well-structured and logically flows from one point to another. Eliminate any unnecessary or redundant content, and keep your writing concise and on point. Don't hesitate to seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers, and be open to making improvements based on their suggestions. Multiple revisions can help you fine-tune your essay and increase its chances of being recognized by the judges.

  7. Seek constructive feedback Your essay will benefit significantly from external input. Share your essay with mentors, teachers, or peers who can provide valuable feedback. Multiple perspectives can enhance your arguments, improve clarity, and refine your overall presentation. Constructive criticism and suggestions from others can guide you in addressing potential weaknesses in your essay and strengthening your arguments. Once you've written your essay, the next critical step is meticulous editing. Scrutinize your essay thoroughly to eliminate any errors in grammar, spelling, and overall coherence. A well-edited essay not only reflects your attention to detail but also ensures that your message is conveyed clearly. It presents a polished and professional piece that leaves a strong impression on the evaluators.

  8. Adhere to the word limit It is essential to strictly adhere to the 1,200-word limit imposed by the contest guidelines. Demonstrating your ability to convey your ideas concisely is not only a testament to your writing skills but also ensures that your essay meets the contest's requirements. Straying beyond the word limit can result in disqualification, making adherence to this constraint a fundamental aspect of your essay preparation.

By following these eight tips, you can enhance your chances of success and make a meaningful impact through your essay. Remember that this competition is not just about winning, but also about expanding your knowledge and fostering a deeper understanding of existential risks.

Participating in essay contests, such as the Eon Essay Contest, can significantly enhance your college admission prospects. It showcases your commitment to academic excellence, strong writing skills, critical thinking abilities, intellectual depth, and interest in learning new things.

Admissions officers value students who are academically accomplished and willing to explore complex ideas beyond the regular curriculum.

Engaging with thought-provoking essay prompts demonstrates your curiosity, initiative, and strong work ethic necessary for college success. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to earn scholarships, making it an attractive prospect for both your academic and financial future. Whether you win or not, incorporating your contest experience into your college application can create a unique and memorable personal statement that sets you apart from other applicants.

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research at the intersection of literature, culture, and art you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online 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.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: The Precipice by Toby Ord

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