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John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

One thing that quickly becomes apparent to high school students preparing for college is the burden of funding a four-year degree. Fortunately for college-bound students, there are numerous ways to reduce the cost of school. One of the most notable methods is pursuing a wide range of scholarships and awards. An award that students with exceptional writing and researching skills should consider is the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest.

About the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

In 1954, John F. Kennedy took a leave of absence from the Senate to recover from back surgery. Kennedy used that time to study the topic of political courage, which inspired him to later write the Pulitzer-Prize winning book Profiles in Courage—detailing the careers of eight Senators whom Kennedy believed demonstrated enormous courage when faced with pressure from their parties and constituents.  


Today, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest asks students to follow in Kennedy’s footsteps by researching and writing a creative original essay about an elected official who risked their career to take a stand on moral principles. The essay contest serves as a companion project to the Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profile in Courage Award, which honors elected officials who have demonstrated incredible political courage.


The winner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest receives a $10,000 cash award and is invited to accept their prize at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts during the Profile in Courage Award events—with all travel and lodging expenses paid for. In addition to the award winner, the runner-up will receive a $3,000 award, the five finalists each receive $1,000 awards, and the eight semi-finalists are awarded $100 each.


In addition to the winners, ten students are selected for honorable mention and all participants receive a certificate of participation.

John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest Applicant Requirements

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest is available to U.S. high school students in grades nine through twelve. Students need to be enrolled in a public, private, parochial, or homeschool high school program in one of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., or a U.S. territory. The contest also accepts submissions from U.S. citizens attending school overseas.

How to Apply

In order to participate in the Profile of Courage Essay Contest, students need to be recommended by a teacher who will support and advise the student in the creation of their essay. Nominating teachers can be former or current teachers of the applicant, but must still be still teaching at the school the participant is enrolled in. Rarely, an exception may be made if a student is unable to be nominated by a teacher from their school. For applicants who are homeschooled, the parent or legal guardian can fill the role of a nominating teacher.


An applicant’s essay is required to describe an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official on the local, state, or national level who served between 1917 (the year of Kennedy’s birth) and the present. Essays need to be an original work of the applicant and fall between 700 and 1,000 words—citations and bibliography do not count toward the word count. Additionally, applicants should cite a minimum of five sources.


John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy, along with the senators featured in Profiles of Courage are not eligible subjects for essays. It’s also recommended to avoid writing about present or past presidents of the United States.


Past winners of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest are not eligible to participate again. Employees of John Hancock Financial Services and their family members are also ineligible for the award.

Tips on Applying For Awards

Don’t Miss Deadlines: Pay close attention to deadlines and don’t wait until the last minute to submit your essay. The Profile in Courage Essay can be submitted via email or traditional mail. If you decide to submit your materials via traditional mail, the application must be postmarked on its due date.


Follow Directions: The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest has specific rules about how many words are allowed, sources needed, what information needs to be included, and how sources should be cited. It would be extremely disappointing to write a winning essay only to be disqualified because you made a mistake like forgetting to include a bibliography.


Proofread: Applicants for the Profile in Courage Essay Contest should work closely with their nominating teacher to ensure that they submit a clean essay free of grammatical, typographical, and spelling errors, along with making sure the essay flows and meets the submission requirements.


Research: In addition to researching for their essay, applicants should research past winners to get an understanding of what a winning essay looks like. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum maintains a list of winners and their essays on their website.  


Professional Appearance: When applying for any distinguished award, there’s a chance that your social media profiles will be looked at. Audit your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profiles and delete any content that could be potentially damaging. While you’re at it, make sure you have a professional-looking email address to correspond with.


Get Professional Help: CollegeVine helps students win awards. Our expert advisors can provide whatever assistance a student needs, whether it’s staying ahead of deadlines or crafting an exceptional essay.


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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.