Political Essay Competition

If you’re a high school student who enjoys writing, there are plenty of national essay contests you can participate in – many of which include large rewards for the winners and finalists!

Awards range from monetary scholarships, cash amounts, all-expenses paid trips, and even donations to school libraries. For example, the JFK Profile in Courage Essay Contest combines scholarships, cash awards and travel: the winner receives a $5,000 cash award, $5,000 to invest in a college savings plan, and travel and lodging expenses to attend the ceremony in Boston.

Each contest has its own requirements, including the deadline, and the topic and length of the essay.. There are a variety of categories for these essay contests, including Literary Analysis, Politics & History, Personal Reflection, and those geared to specific career fields such as science or journalism.

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis essay contests are based on a specific piece of literature, and they are judged on both writing style and content. Judges look for writing that is clear, articulate and logically organized. Student should demonstrate a solid grasp of the themes and messages in the novel or play about which they’re writing. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute hosts yearly essay contests for students from 8th grade through graduate school. Currently, topics center on three of Rand’s popular novels, Anthem (8th, 9th, 10th), Atlas Shrugged (12th grade, college and graduate), and The Fountainhead (11th, 12th).

Penguin’s national essay contest, The 19th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest is offered to students in 11th or 12th grade. This contest focuses on the plays Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and requires students to choose one of six topics. The topics include questions about character relationships, alternate endings, and the role of song and expanded scenes.

Politics & History

Common themes of national essay contests include modern-day politics, past figures, and historical ideals or philosophies. These essays are analytical in nature and tend to be an opportunity for students to develop and enhance research, writing and critical thinking skills.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation invites high school students to “consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a US elected official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient” through  The Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Students ar required to write an essay of 700 to 1,000 words, and to use at least five varied sources.

Open to all high school students, the Sons of the American Revolution offers the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest. The topic should deal with an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta or the framing of the United States Constitution. Sources must include published book sources, and the essays are judged on historical accuracy, clarity of thought, organization, grammar, and documentation.

Personal Reflection

A plethora of essay contests allow students to submit reflections of a more personal – rather than historical or literary – nature. Many offer opportunities to reflect on a personal hero, such as the essay required for the National World War II Museum’s Annual Essay Contest. This competition  asks the question, “How do you define a hero?” and requires students to use World War II as a starting point. Though based in a historical context, essays should be written using examples from students’ own lives and experiences.

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) hosts an essay contest for students in 7th through 12th grade. The essay only 350 words, and has the theme “Why I am proud to be an American.” Similarly, the Joe Foss Institute’s Hayes C Kirby Essay Scholarship Contest asks students to respond to “I love my country because…” with a minimum of 1500 words. It encourages entrants to be creative, while developing a clearly defined theme.

Specific Career Fields

Some essay contests focus on a specific field of study or career path. For example, The DuPont Challenge is a science essay contest for 6th through 12th graders. It offers four focus areas, with topics including economics growth, nutritious food sources, a secure energy future, protecting people and the environment, and research-oriented STEM innovations.

For those interested in writing and journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists offers a high school essay contest in order to “increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media.” In a 300-500 word essay, students respond to the topic, “Why is it important for journalists to seek the news and report it?”

Students with an interest and talent in writing should explore the many opportunities that lie within national essay contests. With such a wide range of topics, there’s something for everyone, and you may even start to build up some funds for college!

Of course, there are many more essay competitions and scholarship opportunities than are mention here. If you’d like to learn more, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

The deadline for the essay contest for this semester is April 15, 2018. Inquiries should go to Sarah Houser at houser@american.edu.


The Political Theory Institute holds an annual essay contest for the best student essay on classical liberalism. The winner of the contest will be awarded a prize of $500.

The contest, open to all AU undergraduates, fosters critical reflection on the key authors, concepts, and arguments of classical liberalism, including individual liberty, equality, democracy, constitutionalism, commerce, and other topics. In this context, classical liberalism denotes a topic, not an agenda. The prize is awarded to the most intelligent and well-argued essay on these topics regardless of philosophical or political perspective. Essays about the place of classical liberalism in the American political tradition are welcome.

Submissions can be, but need not have been, written for a class. Essays may be nominated either by the author or a faculty member.

They should be between five and 20 pages (double-spaced, 12-point font, one-inch margins). Please include your name, e-mail, and phone number on the first page of your essay. Submissions should be e-mailed by the deadline to Professor Sarah Houser in Microsoft Word or PDF format. Please put "PTI Essay Contest" in the subject line.

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