Tag Archives: essays

National Essay Contests

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.

Applying to Med School: Make Your Personal Statement Count

Because medical schools receive thousands of applications from applicants with strong GPAs and MCAT scores, these qualifications are not, on their own, enough to set you apart. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 10.5 percent of applicants with combined GPAs of 3.8-4.0 and MCAT scores of 36-38, (where 4.0 is the highest possible GPA and 38 represents the 99th percentile), were not accepted to a single medical school. And given that admissions committees are sifting through record-high numbers of applications each cycle, it’s doubly important for applicants to do everything they can to stand out through their personal characteristics.

One of the best ways to set yourself apart is with a well-written and interesting personal essay. This is, of course, easier said than done. Many students, especially premeds, find crafting effective personal statements particularly difficult. Many may lack significant writing experience as a result of science-heavy undergraduate curricula. They may not realize how different medical school personal statements are from college essays.  Or they simply may not be aware of how much reflection and introspection it requires to prepare, edit, and polish a strong personal statement.

To help you out, here are some tips to get started:

Set aside time to reflect. Strong writing requires strong thinking!

Often, the most difficult and time-consuming part of writing an essay (or anything else) has little to do with the actual writing. An effective personal essay is the product of many hours of self-reflection; it takes time and patience to find creative and meaningful themes, before you even craft your first sentence.

Remember, this is your moment to be creative! Think outside the box, review your experiences, consider your motivations and personal qualities. Though you probably won’t end up including all of your related experiences, organizing your thoughts will give you a better picture of your potential essay topics.

Choose interesting, unique themes and supporting experiences.

There are many themes that could make for a successful personal essay – the trick is finding one that will allow you to showcase both your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine, and your appeal as a candidate. As such, choose topics that genuinely reflect and connect your unique personal qualities and accomplishments.

For example, suppose you’ve done clinical research in other countries, studied public health, love foreign language and did a home stay in Spain one summer.  All of these experiences share a global perspective; your essay will be stronger by connecting these activities with a common thread, rather than treating them as separate components.

Tell a story.

As with any personal statement, a great rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell.” The personal essay is a great opportunity to introduce some narrative, or anecdotal content, that brings your experiences, accomplishments and ambitions to life. When you talk about experiences that have motivated and reinforced your desire to practice medicine, use detailed representative stories. Similarly, you might think about the individuals who have shaped your life and influenced your career choice, and tell a story about that person and your relationship to him or her. Doing so is not only more convincing, but more unique – no one else has had exactly the same experiences.

Avoid approaches that are over-used, ineffective or risky.

The cliché. “I want to become a physician because I like science and I want to help people.” “I want to make a difference.” Medical schools assume that you possess the desire to enhance patients’ quality of life.  They are seeking confirmation that you are familiar with what’s necessary to acquire medical education and to serve as a physician.

 The epiphany into medicine. “I knew right then that I was meant to be a doctor.” Choosing a medical career should be the result of many thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions, not an instantaneous realization.

 The narrative resume.  Choose several significant and distinguishing experiences to elaborate on; do not rehash all of your activities and achievements. Show another side of you not reflected in transcripts or recommendation letters.

The arrogant or grandiose. Describe your accomplishments with humility.  It’s expected that your greatest contributions to the field of medicine are yet to come.  When setting future goals, it’s good to be ambitious, but temper your dreams with a sense of realism.

Get a second opinion.

Every writer needs an editor. So make sure to get a professor, premed advisor, or other individual whose opinion you trust to read your essay, and give you feedback.

And, of course, don’t hesitate to contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.