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15 Writing Competitions for High School Students

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Do you dream of writing the next great American novel? Are you passionate about poetry? Do you aspire to become a screenwriter? No matter what genre of writing you’re interested in—whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or poetry—there is a writing competition focused on it. Writing competitions are a great excuse to put pen to paper (or finger to key), are an excellent step toward getting published, and ultimately can start you on the path to becoming a professional writer.


Why Should You Enter a Writing Competition?


One of the best ways to improve your writing is to simply write—and competitions provide an excellent impetus to do so. Writing competitions also serve as an introduction to what life is like for many writers; participants entering writing competitions will receive a prompt or must think of an original idea, compose a piece of work, and submit it for review. 


Another benefit of entering a writing competition for high schoolers is that many offer cash awards and scholarships, which can be used to help control the cost of college. Speaking of college, many writing competitions are run by colleges and universities, and entering them is a great way to introduce faculty to yourself and your work. If you win an award—especially a prestigious award—it can significantly improve your odds of college acceptance.


Writing Competitions for High School Students


1. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose 


Dates: 2023 dates not yet announced 

Type: Global 


Adroit Prizes are awarded to emerging high school and college writers in two categories: poetry and prose (students may submit one entry per genre) Winning pieces are considered for publication in the Adroit Journal and winners receive an award of $200. 


2. Ten-Minute Play Contest


Dates: 3/31/22 Deadline 

Type: Global


This writing competition for high school students is only open to 11th graders or those who are in the international equivalent of 11th grade. The Ten-Minute Play Contest is put on by Princeton University’s Lewis Center of the Arts. Applicants are allowed to submit one maximum ten-page-long play—one page equals one minute of stage time—and their submissions are judged by members of Princeton University’s theater faculty.


3. Ayn Rand Anthem Essay Contest


Dates: 2023 dates not yet announced
Type: Global 


The Ayn Rand Anthem Essay Contest is open to students in grades 8-12. Participants are challenged to compose an essay between 600 and 1,200 words on a topic related to Ayn Rand’s “hymn to man’s ego,” Anthem. Numerous prizes are awarded to winners—including a $2,000 grand prize and three $500 second-place awards.


4. Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize


Dates: 2023 dates not yet announced
Type: Global 


The Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize is another contest run by Princeton University’s Lewis Center of the Arts. The competition is only open to students in 11th grade and to international students in the equivalent of 11th grade. Participants may submit work that has won other contests or that’s been previously published (although they ask you to include the date and media of publication). Winners are chosen by judges who are both poets and members of Princeton University’s creative writing faculty. Three monetary awards are available:


  • First Prize: $500
  • Second Prize: $250
  • Third Prize: $100


5. World Historian Student Essay Competition 


Dates: 5/1/22 Deadline
Type: Global 


The World Historian Student Essay Competition is open to a wide swath of students—students in grades K-12 may enter a submission. Applicants are challenged to submit an approximately 1,000-word essay responding to the prompt: In what way has the study of world history affected my understanding of the world in which I live? Authors of winning essays receive a $500 prize along with a free year-long membership to the World History Association. 


6. Jane Austen Society of North America Essay Contest 


Dates: 2023 dates not yet announced
Type: Global


The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Essay Contest is an annual writing competition aimed at fostering an appreciation for its namesake’s work. The essay contest is broken down into three divisions: high school, college/university, and graduate school. First-place winners are awarded a $1,000 prize along with free registration and lodging for two nights at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting—smaller monetary awards are also given to second- and third-place essayists. Essay topics center around Jane Austen’s work, however, they change annually.


7. Bennington College Young Writers Awards


Dates: 9/1/22-11/1/22 

Type: Global 


Bennington College has a strong history of developing writers—it’s produced twelve Pulitzer Prize winners, three U.S. poet laureates, and countless New York Times bestsellers—and the Bennington College Young Writers Awards celebrates this legacy. This writing competition is aimed at high schoolers (it’s open to students in grades 9-12) and features three categories: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. In addition to offering cash awards to winners and finalists in all three categories, winners and finalists who apply and are accepted to Bennington College are also eligible for substantial scholarships. 


8. Rachel Carson Intergenerational Sense of Wonder/Sense of the Wild Contest


Dates: 11/16/22 Deadline 

Type: Global 


This unique writing competition requires that entries must be submitted by a team of two people from different generations—for example, a high school student and a teacher. Contestants can compete in a number of categories and themes, each with unique submission requirements. Winners of the contest receive a certificate from the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance, their names along with the title of their winning entry posted on the RCLA website, and a portion or all of the winning entry may be published on the RCLA website.


9. NSHSS Creative Writing Scholarship 


Dates: 5/13/22-10/31/22 

Type: National 


National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) Creative Writing Scholarships are available in two categories: fiction and poetry. Applicants are able to submit entries in either a single category or both. Winning works are chosen on the merits of their creativity, technique, expression, and originality. Three winners are chosen in each category and each winner receives a $2,000 prize. 


10. John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Contest


Dates: 1/13/23 Deadline

Type: National


The prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Contest is one of the most recognizable writing competitions for high schoolers in the nation. Essays for the contest are required to describe an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official who served during or after 1917, must be between 700 and 1,000 words, and cite a minimum of five sources. The first-place winner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Contest takes home a $10,000 award and second place receives a $3,000 prize.  


11. Young Arts National Writing Competition 


Dates: 6/7/22-10/14/22 

Type: National 


The Young Arts supports talented young artists between the ages of 15-18 (or grades 10-12) in ten disciplines, including writing. Applicants can submit entries in six genres: creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, and spoken word. Since 1981, 820 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the arts have been supported by Young Arts. 


12. SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest


Dates: 11/1/21-2/19/22

Type: National


This high school writing contest is presented by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Journalism Education Association (JEA) with the aim of increasing awareness of the importance of independent media. The SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest is open to students in grades 9-12. Submitted essays should respond to a prompt that changes annually and be between 300 and 500 words in length. Three awards are available: 


  • First Prize: $1,000 scholarship
  • Second Prize: $500 scholarship
  • Third Prize: $300 scholarship


13. VSA Playwright Discovery Program Competitions


Dates: 3/9/22 Deadline

Type: National


This writing competition presented by the Kennedy Center is open to students ages 15-18 (or enrolled in high school) with disabilities. Writers may submit a “ten-minute” script in any genre, including plays, musicals, multimedia, video, film, TV, and podcasts. Entries can be the work of an individual or the product of collaboration—provided that at least one of the collaborators has a disability. Multiple winners are chosen and given the chance to work with industry professionals, attend Kennedy Center professional development activities, and participate in networking opportunities.


14. Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest


Dates: 10/31/22 Deadline 

Type: National


For almost six decades, the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest has provided recognition, scholarships, and awards for the best poems submitted by female high school sophomores and juniors. Participants may submit two pieces of work to the contest. Submissions are reviewed by faculty members of Hollins University’s creative writing program and students enrolled in its M.F.A. in creative writing. The first-place winner receives a $350 cash prize, a renewable $5,000 scholarship at Hollins University if they choose to enroll there, and free tuition and housing for the university’s Hollinsummer creative writing program. Their winning work is also published in Cargoes, the university’s student literary magazine 


15. Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize


Dates: 7/4/22-7/29-22 

Type: National


High school sophomores and juniors are eligible to win this exciting writing competition put on by the Kenyon Review—a prestigious literary magazine that has published works from renowned poets such as T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Mary Oliver. The winner of the competition receives a scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and will have their work published in the Kenyon Review. 


How Do Writing Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?


Your participation in a writing competition can have varying degrees of influence on your chances of college admission depending on everything from the prestige of the competition to the value a school places on extracurricular activities like writing competitions. Although there is no sure way to tell how activities outside of the classroom will affect your college odds, the four tiers of extracurricular activities are a time-tested method for understanding how colleges view your extracurriculars. 


Tiers one and two are reserved for the most exclusive and acclaimed awards and can significantly improve your odds of college admission. Tiers three and four are reserved for more common prizes (like winning a local poetry competition) and have less impact on your chances of college admission. That said, tier-three and -four extracurriculars are still beneficial—they show admissions offices what you’re interested in and demonstrate your willingness to pursue your passion. 


Curious how the writing competition you participated in affects your odds of college admission? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing calculator uses a variety of factors including grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your odds of getting into hundreds of colleges and universities while also providing insight into how to improve your profile.

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.