The Top 10 Essay Contests for High School Students - Knovva Academy
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For students who are applying to college, the high tuition prices and competitive application pools can feel intimidating. One way to earn distinction in the college application process is by entering and winning essay contests for high school students. 

Not only does this look great on your college application, but the cash prize or scholarship associated with a win will go a long way when it comes to paying for your tuition. High school students who are gifted writers should consider entering essay contests, and we found the best ones available that you can apply to now. 

Essay Contests - student writing in notebook

Top 10 Essay Contests for High School Students

1. Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

The essay contest touted as “the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens” offers 28 different categories to enter in the areas of art and writing. Winners will receive tuition assistance, cash prizes, or scholarships.

There are a wide range of awards available that focus on different subjects, and students can submit either art or writing for consideration. One example is the One Earth Award, which comes with a $1,000 scholarship for works about climate change. The Civic Expression Award goes to students who submit work about political and social issues. A $10,000 grand prize goes to a talented student who enters the portfolio challenge, submitting six works to be judged as a unit.

Entry Fees: $7 per individual entry; $25 per portfolio

Deadline for Entry: Varies depending on location; between December 2021 and January 2022

Prizes: $500 to $10,000

Essay Contests - Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

2. We the Students Essay Contest

Sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, the We the Students Essay Contest is open for all students between grades 8-12 in the United States, the District of Columbia, American Armed Forces abroad, and any U.S. territories. 

To enter, respond to the given prompt in an 800-word essay. This year’s prompt is to answer the question, “how does an understanding of natural rights and respect build a free society?

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: April 15, 2022

Prizes: $500 to $7,500

Essay Contests - We the Students Bill of Rights Institute

3. Young Writers Awards

Hosted by Bennington College, a school that claims twelve Pulitzer Prize winners, three U.S. poet laureates, and countless New York Times bestsellers, the Young Writers Awards were created to celebrate and promote exceptional high school writing. 

Students can enter in the poetry, fiction (either a short story or one-act play), and nonfiction categories. All students are invited to apply, including those located in the U.S. and abroad. Winners will receive a cash prize, along with a recurring scholarship to attend Bennington College, amounting to between $40,000 and $60,000.

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: September 1 – November 1, 2022

Prizes: $250 to $1,000 (in addition to annual tuition scholarships to Bennington College)

Essay Contests - Young Writers Awards

4. The American Foreign Service Association Essay Contest

Each year, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) hosts an essay contest for high school students that requires entrants to submit an original essay responding to a specific topic. The topics are related to diplomacy and international relations, and the essay can range in length from 1,000 to 1,250 words.

Winners receive $2,500, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., and an all-expense paid trip courtesy of Semester at Sea. 

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: April 4, 2022

Prizes: $1,250 to $2,500 plus tuition scholarships and all-expense paid travel

Essay Contests - AFSA

5. Ocean Awareness Contest

A creative contest for high school students interested in tackling the issue of climate change and ocean conservation, the Ocean Awareness Contest encourages students to become advocates for necessary change. 

Students can respond to the prompt using visual art, performing arts, poetry, interactive media, film, or creative writing. Any student between the ages of 11-18 are invited to enter before the June deadline.

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: June 13, 2022

Prizes: $100 to $1,500

Essay Contests - Ocean Awareness Contest

6. YoungArts National Arts Competition

Good news for the artistically inclined: the YoungArts application opens every summer, and students have the option to enter in categories such as writing, visual arts, photography, dance, voice, and more. Finalists will win up to a $10,000 cash prize, and other levels of recognition range from $100 to $5,000. 

An added bonus of applying to this competition is that 20 YoungArts Finalists will also win one of the highest honors for high school students, a U.S. Presidential Scholarship in the Arts. 

Entry Fees: $35

Deadline for Entry: Mid-October

Prizes: $100 to $10,000

Essay Contests - YoungArts National Awards

7. John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest asks students to reflect on “an act of political courage” made by an elected official who served during or any time after 1917, the year JFK was born. 

Students interested in political science, writing, or history might feel particularly excited about this essay prompt. Essays should be between 700 and 1,000 words, and need to have a minimum of five sources. 

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: January 14, 2022

Prizes: $100 to $10,000

Essay Contests - JFK Profiles in Courage

8. Jane Austen Society Essay Contest

Students around the world are invited to apply to this literary essay contest hosted by the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). With three divisions (high school, undergraduate, and graduate), applicants are tasked with writing a 6-8 page essay about one of Jane Austen’s works. This year’s subject is her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility

In addition to a generous cash prize, winners of the essay contest will also be published on JASNA’s website, which is a huge boon for high school students to include on their college applications. 

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: June 2, 2022

Prizes: $250 to $1,000

Essay Contests - Jane Austen Society of North America

9. John Locke Institute Global Essay Competition

The John Locke Essay Competition invites high school applicants ages 15 to 18 to apply for the Senior Prize, and applicants 14 years and younger can apply for the Junior Prize. Students are asked to submit an argumentative essay consisting of 2,000 words or less. 

High school students interested in philosophy, politics, economics, history, psychology, theology, and law should consider applying. With several question prompts in each category, judges will choose their favorite essay from each, and an overall best essay, with a total of eight winners in all. 

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: End of June

Prizes: $2,000 to $10,000 in scholarships to attend any John Locke Institute program

Essay Contests - John Locke Institute

10. Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Audio-Essay Contest

Established in 1947, The Voice of Democracy essay contest is one of the most prestigious high school essay competitions students can enter. With a grand prize of $30,000, it’s not hard to see why. 

This essay contest is open to students in grades 9-12 and requires them to write an original essay, and then record themselves reading it. Originality, content, and delivery are judged equally, so this essay contest will work best for students who consider themselves to be good public speakers. 

Entry Fees: No fee

Deadline for Entry: October 31, 2022

Prizes: $1,000 to $30,000

Essay Contests - VFW Voice of Democracy

Essay Contest Writing Prep

Even the best writers can use help as they develop their essays before submission to a major essay contest. Knovva Academy offers a wide variety of writing courses to help students refine their skills. Whether you’re submitting a persuasive essay, argumentative essay, literary analysis, creative writing piece, poetry, or any other form of writing, Knovva’s online courses can help you take your essay to the next level. 

Our faculty have degrees from prestigious schools like Harvard Graduate School of Education. They’ve mentored students who have won essay contests. Many of their students have gone on to attend Oxford, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, and more of the most elite colleges. Check out our roster of writing courses before you submit your final draft to one of these essay contests. Our faculty are looking forward to working with you to perfect it. 

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