When students write for teachers, it can feel like an assignment. When they write for a real purpose, they are empowered! Student writing contests are an easy and inspiring way to try writing for an authentic audience. On the other end is a real panel of judges, and also the possibility of prize money! We’ve gathered a list of student writing contests. Take a few minutes to see if any of them suit your curriculum, and get prepared to see some motivated students.

Best Student Writing Contests for High School

1. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

With a wide range of categories—from the critical essay to science fiction & fantasy—you’ll find something for nearly every student. Each category has its own rules and word counts, so be sure to peruse the options before you decide which one is best for your students.

How to Enter: Students may begin submitting work in September by uploading to an online account at Scholastic. They then need to print and send in their submission forms to a local affiliate organization.

2. YoungArts’ National Arts Competition

YoungArts offers a national competition in the categories of creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, and spoken word. Student winners may receive awards of up to $10,000 as well as the chance to participate in artistic development with leaders in their fields. Grab a poster for your classroom wall here.

How to Enter: YoungArts accepts submissions in each category until the second Friday of October. Students submit their work online and pay a $35 fee (there is a fee waiver option).

3. American Foreign Service High School Essay Contest

If you’re looking to help students take a deep dive into international relations, history, and writing, look no further than this essay contest. Winners receive full tuition to the Semester at Sea program as well as a trip to Washington, DC, to meet with a leader at the Department of State.

How to Enter: Each year a new prompt is published in September. The deadline to enter is the first week of April.

4. John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

This annual contest invites students to write about a political official’s act of political courage that occurred after Kennedy’s birth. The winner receives $10,000 as well as a trip to Boston to accept the award.

How to Enter: Students must submit 700–1000 word essays between September and January. The essays must feature more than five sources and a full bibliography.

5. Bennington Young Writers Awards

Bennington College offers competitions in three categories: poetry (a group of three poems), fiction (a short story or one-act play), and nonfiction (a personal or academic essay). First place winners receive $500.

How to Enter: The contest runs from September 1 to November 1, so stay tuned to the website for information about how to submit entries.

6. The Princeton Ten-Minute Play Contest

In this competition, judged by the theater faculty of Princeton University, students submit short plays in an effort to win recognition and cash prizes of up to $500. (Note: Only open to 11th graders)

How to Enter: Students submit ten-page play scripts online or by mail. The deadline is the end of March.

7. Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

Each year Penguin Random House sponsors an essay contest on one of the classic novels they publish. This year’s choice is Wuthering Heights, and the publisher has provided five essay topics for students to choose from. Five winners will receive $1,000 toward their future education as well as a full set of Signet Classics for their school library.

How to Enter: Teachers submit four copies of the student’s work with a variety of information attached. Because of the paperwork involved, it might make sense to choose the top essays from your class to send into the national contest.

8. Jane Austen Society Essay Contest

High school students can win up to $1,000 by entering an essay on a specified topic related to Jane Austen novels. 

How to Enter: The deadline to enter is June 1st. Essay length is between 6-8 pages, not including works cited.

9. Contest: SPJ / JEA High School Essay Contest

This essay contest, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association, invites students to consider the importance of independent media. Students may win scholarships of up to $1,000.

How to Enter: Students submit 300–500 word essays based on the yearly prompt either online or by mail, accompanied by a $5 entry fee. Essays are due by the end of February.

10. We the Students Essay Contest

Students can win up to $7,500 through this essay contest sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute.

How to Enter: Students age 14-19 can enter. Deadline of April 15th.

11. The Voice of Democracy Audio-Essay Contest

Established in 1947, this audio-essay program from the Veterans of Foreign Wars allows high school students the unique opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay. Over 50,000 students enter annually but don’t let that discourage you. The top prize is a $30,000 scholarship!

How to Enter: Submissions must be received by October 31st. Essays must be recorded on an audio device for submission.

12. The Critical Pass Review Junior Poet’s Contest

The Critical Junior Poet’s Award was established to encourage poetry reading and writing in students age 13 to 18. The winner receives a $100 prize and $20 iTunes gift card.

How to Enter: Submissions must be received by September 1st. They strongly suggest that students read previous winning entries before writing their own.

Best Student Writing Contests for Middle School

13. The Ocean Awareness Contest

This unique competition invites students to use their creativity to make a difference for our planet. As the creators share on their website, “Our contest is a call for young artists, conservationists, makers, thinkers, and activists who are concerned about the future of our blue planet.” Students are eligible for a wide range of monetary prizes.

How to Enter: Students may submit work in the categories of art, poetry, prose, film, or music which must always be accompanied by a reflection. The deadline is June 15th.

14. Patriot’s Pen Contest

The Veterans of Foreign Wars gives a variety of awards for this contest. At the state level, each first-place winner receives a minimum of $500. At the national level, the first-place winner wins $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C! 

How to Enter: Essays are 300-400 words in length on the topic provided on the website. Submissions must be made by October 31st.

15. The National WWII Museum Essay Contest

Students will use events from American and WWII history to complete an essay prompt. Open to both middle school and high school age students.

How to Enter: Essay length and prize money are dependent on grade. Entries close in February.

Best Student Writing Contests for All Ages

16. Engineer Girl Annual Essay Contest

Each year, Engineer Girl sponsors an essay contest with topics centered on the impact of engineering on the world and students can win up to $500 in prize money. This contest is a nice bridge between ELA and STEM and great for teachers interested in incorporating an interdisciplinary project into their curriculum. The new contest prompt is published in October. Check out the educator’s page for more information about how to support this contest at your school.

How to Enter: Students submit their work electronically. Word limit varies by grade level. Check out the full list of rules and requirements here.

17. NCTE Student Writing Awards

The National Council of Teachers of English offers several student writing awards including Achievement Awards in Writing (for 11th-grade students), Promising Young Writers (for 8th-grade students), and a journalism award for middle and high school students: Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines.

How to Enter: Deadlines range from Feb 15 to July 31. Check out the rules for more details!

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

This contest is a bit different in that it requires two participants of two generations. It can be a student/teacher, student/parent, or a student and another adult. Categories include poetry and essays, along with optional photographic elements. Annual topics are tied to nature.

How to Enter: Deadline of November 6th!

19. PTA Reflection’s Contest

The National PTA offers a variety of awards, including one for literature, in their annual Reflections Contest. Students of all ages can submit entries on the specified topic to their local PTA Reflections program. From there, winners move to the local area, state, and national levels. National level awards include an $800 prize and a trip to the National PTA Convention.

How to Enter: This program requires submitting to PTAs who participate in the program. Check your school’s PTA for their deadlines.

20. GPS Writing Contest for Scifi and More

This is a fun contest for fictional writing! Entries must be science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and alternate history in short fiction, poetry, or comics. Categories are broken up by topic and age and the award values go up to $100.

How to Enter: All entries must be printed and mailed in by the deadline in January.

Whether you let your students blog, start a podcast or video channel, or enter student writing contests, giving them an authentic audience for their work is always a powerful classroom choice.

Do you know of other student writing contests? Come share them in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

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