There are some unique skills that are harder than others to capture on the college application. Students who excel at sports will often have a long list of tangible achievements. Students who produce fine arts or participate in student leadership programs will easily find ways to highlight their participation in these extracurriculars on college applications. But writers will often have a harder time highlighting the skills, time, and energy put into perfecting the craft of writing. If you are a student who excels at writing, how can you draw attention to your abilities and dedication on your college application? Are high grades in the humanities and a well-written essay enough? How can you show that this skill is something you pursue as an extracurricular activity outside of regular school hours?

Writing contests are a great way to highlight your dedication to and success in writing.

Winning a writing contest does much more than simply look good on your college application. Many serious writing contests at the high school level offer prizes. Some are cash awards, and others come in the form of a scholarship, often to a summer writing program. Winning a writing contest can also help you to form and nurture a lasting relationship with the institute that hosts the contest. Additionally, numerous writing contests offer multiple levels of recognition, so you do not have to be the top winner to earn a title that will look good on your college application.

Although winning a writing contest is not easy, it can be the perfect way to show that you’re serious about your craft. Below are sixteen distinguished writing contests across all genres, open to high school students. Read on to learn about eligibility, prizes, submissions deadlines, and more!

1. The Atlantic & College Board Writing Prize

About: Hosted by the College Board in collaboration with the publication The Atlantic, the focus of this annual contest changes each year “to align with the introduction of a newly redesigned AP course and exam.”

Prizes: One grand prize winner receives $5,000 and has their winning submission printed in the September issue of The Atlantic. Two finalists also receive $2,500 each. 

Who is Eligible: Students 16-19 years of age

Important Dates: January: Annual essay topic released. February 28: Submission deadline. May: Winners announced.

Genre of Writing: Essay, topics vary by year

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

2.  National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Awards

About: Hosted annually by the National Council of Teachers of English, these awards seek to “encourage high school students in their writing and to publicly recognize some of the best student writers.”

Prizes: Students judged as having superior writing skills receive a certificate and a letter. Their names also appear on the NCTE website. In 2016, 533 high school juniors were nominated, and of them, 264 received Certificates for Superior Writing. 

Who is Eligible: High school juniors who are nominated by their school’s English department. The number of nominees allowed from each school depends on their enrollment.

Important Dates: October: Writing theme released. November to Mid-February: Entries accepted. May: Winners announced.

Genre of Writing: Students submit one themed essay based on a given prompt, and one choice piece from any genre displaying their “best work”.

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

3.  National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

About: This contest begins regionally and progresses to the national level. Local organizations host regional competitions and winners from these are sent on for national consideration. This is a huge contest and it received nearly 320,000 entries in 29 categories across writing and the arts in 2016. Of those entries, 85,000 were recognized at the regional level and 2,500 received national medals. There is a submission fee of $5 per entry, or $20 per portfolio, but this can be waived for students who apply and meet the standards for financial assistance. 

Prizes: At the regional level, students win Honorable Mentions, Silver or Gold Keys, or Nominations for the American Visions and Voices Medals. Regional Gold Key winners are then evaluated for national honors that include Gold and Silver Medals or the American Visions and Voices Medal, which serves as a “Best in Show” award for each region. National award winners are invited to a National Ceremony and celebration at Carnegie Hall in New York City. There are several sponsored cash awards at the national level, ranging by genre and sponsor, and some National Medal winners will be selected for scholarships to colleges or summer programs as well.     

Who is Eligible: All U.S. students in grades 7-12.

Important Dates: Regional deadlines vary; search for yours here. National winners are announced in the spring and the National Ceremony is held in June each year.

Genre of Writing: Critical Essay, Dramatic Script, Flash Fiction, Humor, Journalism, Novel Writing, Personal Essay & Memoir, Poetry, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Short Story, Writing Portfolio (graduating seniors only)

Level of Competition: Regionally: Somewhat Competitive Nationally: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

4. Letters About Literature

About: This is a reading and writing contest sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It invites students to write a letter to the author (living or dead) of a book, poem, or speech that has affected them personally. Letters are judged at state and national levels.

Prizes: The National Winner at each level receives a $1,000 cash award. Two National Honor Winners at each level receive a $200 cash award.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 4-12. (Grades 4-6 are in Level 1, Grades 7-8 are in Level 2, and Grades 9-12 are in Level 3.)

Important Dates: Submission deadline is Dec. 2, 2016 for Level 3, and Jan. 9, 2017 for Levels 1 and 2.

Genre of Writing: Letters, written to a prompt.

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

5.  Princeton University Contests

About: Princeton University hosts two contests for high school juniors. One is a poetry contest judged by members of the Princeton University Creative Writing faculty. The other is a Ten-Minute Play Contest judged by members of the Princeton University Program in Theater faculty. They offer no information about how many entrants they receive each year, but in the past 20 years, at least five winners have gone on to become Princeton students.

Prizes: Each contest has a first place prize of $500, second place prize of $250, and third place prize of $100.

Who is Eligible: High school juniors

Important Dates: The Poetry Contest is accepting submissions now through November 27, 2016. The Ten-Minute Play Contest will publish new application materials this fall; submissions for the 2016 contest closed in March.

Genre of Writing: Poetry and Playwriting

Level of Competition: Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

6. Ocean Awareness Student Contest

About: A relatively new competition, the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Program and the Ocean Awareness Contest was founded in 2011 with a mission to “inspire the next generation of ocean caretakers through education and engagement with the arts, science, and advocacy.” It challenges entrants to think creatively about human impact on our oceans and coastal environment. An interdisciplinary contest, it welcomes art, poetry, prose, and film entries. Though it is only five years old, it is rapidly growing. It received over 2,100 entrants in 2015 and has already awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships. The theme changes each year, but it always relates to the connection between humans and the ocean.   

Prizes: The contest is divided into high school and middle school levels, and there are 26 cash awards available for writing in each age group, ranging from $100 to $1,500.      

Who is Eligible: Individuals or groups in grades 6-12

Important Dates: The 2017 contest opened on Sept. 15, 2016 and entries must be received by June 19, 2017. Winners are announced in January 2018.    

Genre of Writing: Poetry or prose and an accompanying reflection piece.

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

7. The Bennington Young Writers Awards

About: Bennington College boasts among its alumna seven Pulitzer Prize winners, three US poet laureates, and countless New York Times bestsellers. Judges for its young writers’ contest include faculty and students from Bennington College. In 2015, it received more than 2,300 submissions. 

Prizes: First place winners in each category receive $500; second place winners receive $250

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-12

Important Dates: Submissions accepted September 1 – November 1 each year. Winners announced after April 15.

Genre of Writing: Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction (personal or academic essay), fewer than 1500 words

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

8. The New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights

About: The New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights is hosted by YouthPLAYS, an organization that publishes plays and musicals for performance by schools and theaters for young audiences. The contest, founded in 2010, is designed to encourage young writers to create new pieces for the stage. There are also similar contests run at the regional and local level under the same “New Voice Playwrights” title, though rules, eligibility and prizes vary.      

Prizes: The winner receives $200 in addition to representation of their play through YouthPLAYS publishing. The runner-up receives $50.

Who is Eligible: Authors 19 years old or younger

Important Dates: Submission deadline is typically in May of each year, and winners are announced in the fall.

Genre of Writing: 10-40 minute single act plays suitable for school productions

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

9. YoungArts

About: The National YoungArts Foundation was founded in 1981 with a mission to identify and support the next generation of artists in the visual, design, literary, and performing arts.  Thousands of students apply each year and winners attend weeklong programs offered in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. At these programs, students participate in workshops with master artists. It is also the only path to nomination for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts. There is a $35 application fee, but fee waivers are available for students who qualify.

Prizes: Regional Honorable Mentions are invited to participate in regional workshops. Finalists are invited to participate in National YoungArts week where they have the opportunity to meet with the panel of judges and can win cash prizes up to $10,000. Finalists are also eligible for a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts nomination.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-12 or ages 15-18, U.S. citizens or permanent residents only.

Important Dates: Submissions are due by mid-October for the following year’s programs.

Genre of Writing: Creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, or spoken word

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

10. The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

About: The Kenyon Review literary magazine of Kenyon College sponsors this writing contest aimed at encouraging and recognizing outstanding young poets. Last year, its eleventh year of competition, the contest received nearly 1000 entries.   

Prizes: First place winner receives a full scholarship to the weeklong Kenyon Review summer program. Two runners-up receive partial scholarships. All three award-winning pieces are published in The Kenyon Review.

Who is Eligible: Students in grades 10-11

Important Dates: Submissions are open Nov 1- Nov 30 and winners are announced in February. 

Genre of Writing: Poetry

Level of Competition: Somewhat Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

11. The Claremont Review Writing Contest

About: The Claremont Review is an international magazine for young writers. It publishes poetry, short stories, short plays, graphic art, and photography twice annually in issues released in the spring and fall. Based in Canada, The Claremont Review was founded in 1992 by a group of editors who saw a need to “provide young adult artists with a legitimate venue to display their work.” Their contest is hosted annually, and there is a $20 USD fee for entries from outside Canada, and $20 CAD for entries inside Canada.       

Prizes: Cash prizes between $400 CAD and $1,000 CAD are awarded in poetry, fiction, and visual arts categories. All winners and honorable mentions are published in the fall issue of the magazine.

Who is Eligible: Young adults aged 13-19 may submit previously unpublished work written in English.

Important Dates: Submissions must be postmarked by mid-March each year. Winners are announced in May

Genre of Writing: Poetry and fiction

Level of Competition: Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

12. Richard G. Zimmerman Scholarship

About: Slightly different in structure, this award is a scholarship rather than a traditional writing contest. It was endowed by Richard G. Zimmerman, a member of the National Press Club who died in 2008. One annual scholarship is awarded to a high school senior who intends to pursue a career in journalism. Applicants must submit three samples of journalistic work along with three letters of recommendation, a high school transcript, a signed copy of the financial aid form (FAFSA), and a letter of acceptance to college or documentation of where you have applied.    

Prizes: One-time $5,000 scholarship

Who is Eligible: High school seniors who seek to pursue a career in journalism

Important Dates: Applications must be postmarked by March 1 each year.

Genre of Writing: Journalism

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

13. Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

About: Signet Classics, an imprint of Penguin Books, has hosted this high school essay contest annually for 21 years. Essays must be submitted by an English teacher on behalf of his or her student, and must respond to one of five prompts on the annually selected text. The 2017 text is The Tempest.   

Prizes: Five cash prizes of $1,000 each are awarded to winners, with each winner’s school library also receiving a Signet Classics Library. 

Who is Eligible: High school juniors and seniors in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia.

Important Dates: Entries for the 2017 contest must be postmarked by April 14, 2017. Winners will be announced at the end of June.

Genre of Writing: Academic essay

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

14. National High School Essay Contest by the United States Institute of Peace

About: The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) partners with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) to host this annual contest aimed to engage “high school students in learning and writing about issues of peace and conflict, encouraging appreciation for diplomacy’s role in building partnerships that can advance peacebuilding and protect national security.” The 2017 theme asks students to put themselves in the place of U.S. diplomats addressing the refugee crisis in one of four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Kenya, or Afghanistan. Students should consult the contest Companion Guide to help shape their answers and must also submit a list of references used.    

Prizes: One winner receives a $2,500 cash award, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to meet the Secretary of State, and a full scholarship for one semester aboard the Semester at Sea Program upon enrollment at an accredited university. One runner-up receives a cash prize of $1,250 and a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy Program of the National Student Leadership Conference.

Who is Eligible: “Students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted.”

Important Dates: Entries must be submitted by March 15, 2017. Winners are announced in July.

Genre of Writing: Letter, written to address a prompt.

Level of Competition: Very Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

15. We the Students Essay Contest by Bill of Rights Institute 

About: Sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, this essay contest challenges students to think critically and creatively about the rights of the people and how they impact the greater society. The 2017 prompt asks students to specifically consider civil disobedience and think critically about whether peaceful resistance to laws positively or negatively impacts a free society. Students are encouraged to use specific examples and current events to back up their thinking.     

Prizes: One grand prize winner receives $5,000 and a scholarship to Constitutional Academy. Six runners-up receive $1,250 each, and eight honorable mentions receive $500 each.

Who is Eligible: U.S. citizens or legal residents between the ages of 14-19, attending school in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, or American Armed Forces schools abroad.

Important Dates: Submissions must be completed by February 5, 2017. Winners are announced in April.

Genre of Writing: Essay

Level of Competition: Very Competitive.

Full Rules Available Here

16. Profile in Courage Essay Contest by JFK Presidential Library

About: Hosted annually, the Profile in Courage Essay Contest will be marking the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth in 2017, and is doubling prizes to celebrate. This contest is inspired by JFK’s book, Profiles in Courage, which recounted the stories of eight U.S. senators who displayed political courage in standing up for a greater good and risking their careers by doing so. The contest asks entrants to describe and analyze an act of political courage in the form of a similar profile. 

Prizes: First place prize of $20,000. Twenty-five smaller cash awards ranging from $100 to $1,000.

Who is Eligible: “The contest is open to United States high school students in grades nine through twelve attending public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under the age of twenty enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or the U.S. territories; and U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.”

Important Dates: The 2017 contest deadline is January 4, 2017.

Genre of Writing: Essay

Level of Competition: Most Competitive

Full Rules Available Here

Writing in all genres is an art form. Students who are passionate about it will find that writing contests provide them with a platform for highlighting their skills, receiving recognition at the local, regional and national levels, and even receiving valuable cash prizes or scholarships. Not to mention writing awards look great on your college application and draw attention to a sometimes overlooked art form.

If you are interested in pursuing writing in college and want to learn more about specific college and university writing programs, or if you’re interested in learning more about the college admissions process in general, please fill out our contact form below and a member of the CollegeVine team will be happy to get in touch and schedule a free consultation!

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist