Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

International Essay Writing Competitions for High School Students

4 minute read

A writing competition can be a fantastic way to work on your skills and showcase your research ability and creative thinking. The great part about writing competitions these days is that many of them are open to students internationally, lowering the barrier to entry and allowing you to submit your work for competitions that aren’t based in your home country! In this article, we’ll cover what you can expect from an international essay competition, share our list for the top international essay writing competitions for high school students, and how you can best prepare for your contest.

Want to work on a writing project but also want expert feedback as you go along? Check out our Polygence research program writing mentors. Most of these competitions don’t mind if you polish your work with a mentor as long the work and ideas behind your submission are your own.

What to Expect From an International Essay Writing Competition

For an international essay writing competition, you can expect contests that focus on prose, poetry, or both. Some contests also focus on plays or other creative mediums. Typically competitions will have an annual theme or prompt that you’ll use to guide your writing. These prompts are usually pretty broad so they allow for a lot of creativity and interpretation. 

Moreover, competitions will have judges who are either university faculty or prominent writers themselves, although individual feedback for your submission is rare. Competitions also offer cash prizes to winners. Regardless of the prize amount, you’ll find that each competition offers a unique opportunity to create a great piece of writing that you’re proud of and can showcase online or in your future internship or college applications.

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Top International Essay Writing Competitions for High School Students

#1 The Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose

The Adroit Journal hosts this contest, awarding the Adroit prize and $200 to winners. What’s great about this competition is that you can make multiple submissions in both the prose and poetry categories. You can submit up to 5 separate submissions for either category, ensuring you the ability to provide a wide range of writing samples for this poem and essay writing contest. Winners and runners-up will be published in The Adroit Journal. The contest is open to students internationally, with winners announced in mid-October. Esteemed judges are featured each year; in 2024, they were Kaveh Akbar (prose) and Ocean Vuong (poetry), both award-winning writers. Note: there is a non-refundable $15 submission fee, with financial assistance available for students in need. Further, poems and prose pieces in your submission may be sent to other contests simultaneously, but you’ll just need to disclose that in your submission.

Eligibility: High school and undergraduate college students worldwide 

Prize: $200. Work will be featured in the Adroit Journal.

Submission Deadline: Mid-May

#2 Ocean Awareness Contest

Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs hosts this international writing contest to raise awareness about environmental issues through creative communication. Students aged 11 through 18 are eligible to participate and can creatively express their personal experiences and insights about climate individually or as part of a group. The prompt for 2024 is "Tell Your Climate Story," and submissions can include creative writing, film, interactive and multimedia, poetry, and spoken word. This middle school and high school essay contest contains ideal competition for any young writer, offering many writing awards. The 2023 prompt involved thinking about climate change and proposing solutions, celebrating "climate heroes"—scientists, activists, artists, and educators working to make the world more habitable. The prompts are intentionally left very open and allow participants to share their feelings about climate change in a variety of ways. For example, the contest website states, “Your climate story does not have to be a catastrophe, like extreme weather or wildfires. You can focus on how climate change is altering how you eat, play sports, or make vacation plans.”

Eligibility: Students aged 11-18
Prize: Up to $1,000, several different award categories
Submission Deadline: June 10

#3 World Historian Student Essay Competition

Interested in exploring more about your family history and writing about it? The World History Organization hosts this contest open to all students internationally (grades K-12). This students’ essay contest and competition provides a prompt based on world history education and its impact on you. The 2023 prompt asked students to write about a family story related to a historical event or cultural background. Responses must be approximately 1,000 words. Essays are judged on criteria including a clear thesis, concrete supporting examples, synthesis and evaluation, organization, and communication of how understanding world history has changed you. To gain inspiration from other submissions, you can check out past competition winners on the contest website.

Eligibility: Students grades K-12
Prize: $500 and one-year membership for World History Association
Submission Deadline: May 1

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

In this poetry contest, students can submit up to the 3 poems which will be judged by Princeton University creative faculty. The scholastic art contest recommends reading the following poetry anthologies, which can hopefully kickstart your own creative process: Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, edited by Tamar Brazis, 20th Century Pleasures, edited by Robert Hass, The Best of the Best American Poetry, edited by Robert Pinsky. 

Eligibility: Students in 11th grade
Prize: $500-$1500 for 1st-3rd places winners
Submission Deadline: TBA, contest opens in mid-fall

#5 John Locke Essay Competition

The John Locke Institute, an independent organization providing educational courses and seminars, hosts this prestigious global contest. The competition offers a chance to refine your skills in argumentation (e.g., independent insights, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis, and rhetoric) and have your work assessed by experts from Oxford and Princeton university. The John Locke Essay Competition has some of the most interesting essay prompts out there. Participants can choose from 1 of 3 challenging questions posed in 7 different categories (Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology, and Law) and write a 2,000-word (max) essay. There is also a junior category for students under age 15 (i.e., 14 or younger). 

Check out our full blog post, Everything You Should Know about the John Locke Institute (JLI) Essay Competition, to learn more about this contest.

Eligibility: Students worldwide
Prize: Junior category (15 yrs old or younger): $2,000 scholarship to attend John Locke Institute programme. Best overall prize: $10,000 scholarship
Submission Deadline: June 30

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#6 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Essay Contest

The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) hosts this contest for students worldwide who love Jane Austen novels. Each year, JASNA asks participants to explore a topic inspired by Austen’s works and its reflection on contemporary culture. The 2024 topic was inspired by the concept of a formal debate which asks whether Jane Austen novels are still relevant to us after 200 years. In the contest, students were expected to cite at least one novel. For more on citations, check out our blog post Citations and Bibliographies for High School Researchers.

Eligibility: Students worldwide
Prize: Up to $1,000 scholarship
Submission Deadline: June 1, contest rules available in November

#7 Bennington College Young Writers Awards

Bennington College, with its distinguished literary alumni which includes 12 Pulitzer Prize winners and countless New York Times bestsellers, hosts this contest to celebrate great writing by high school students. You’re invited to submit writing in one of the following categories: poetry (3 poems), fiction (up to 1500 words), or nonfiction (up to 1500 words). All work must be reviewed, approved, and sponsored by a teacher. Homeschool students may use a mentor. Winners who enroll at Bennington receive a $15,000 scholarship each year, totaling $60,000. If you’re serious about pursuing studies in writing post high school, this contest is an amazing opportunity for you. 

Eligibility: High school students
Prize: Up to $1000 (plus scholarships to Bennington college)
Submission Deadline: Early November

#8 Ten-Minute Play Contest

Hosted by the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, students submit one play with a maximum of 10 pages. Each year a guest playwright serves as the contest judge. Acclaimed playwrights Jiehae Park, Anya Pearson, Dipika Guha, and others have judged the contest in the past. You can also see past winners and their works on the contest website.

Eligibility: 11th grade students
Prize: Up to $500
Submission Deadline: TBA

#9 Columbia Undergraduate Law Review (CULR) Essay Contest

The Columbia Undergraduate Law Review has run this essay contest for the last 5 years and each year provides a new prompt for writers. The 2024 prompt focuses on the freedom of speech and social media, and past prompt topics included education and the law and gender justice. Your essay response must make reference to at least one court case or legal document. If you’re a student interested in law this can be a great exercise to help sharpen your writing skills and your understanding of legal issues.

Eligibility: All current high school students worldwide
Prize: Winner and runners-up will be invited to a speaker event hosted by CULR on free speech and social media.
Submission Deadline: Mid-June

#10 The Harvard Crimson Global Essay Competition (HCGEC)

The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard University, helps support HCGEC, a global competition where students can showcase their writing skills. Each year there are 3 different prompts given for 3 separate categories: Creative, Argumentative, and Journalistic. The competition also has two key rounds, the regional round and the global round. You must place in the top 15 of regional qualifiers to make the global round. HCGEC does an excellent job of providing resources to student competitors, with a Competitor Hub that provides key information about judging, past winners, and essay tips. Note: there is a $15 registration fee for HCGEC.

Eligibility: All current high school students worldwide ages 13-18
Prize: Cash prizes and exclusive internships with the Harvard Crimson. More info here!
Submission Deadline: March 5

How to Best Prepare for an International Essay Writing Competition

In order to set yourself up for success in your international essay writing competition, there are some best practices that you should follow.

First, identify early on what competitions you want to enter and make a list of their respective submission deadlines so that you can plan ahead. You don’t want to rush the creative writing process! What can also help with your creative writing process is doing a lot of reading, whether that’s poetry anthologies, short essays, or op-eds published in newspapers. Inspiration can come from anywhere! 

We also highly recommend that you seek feedback from mentors or friends. Show them your work and tell them to be honest about what they think. You don’t need to incorporate all their feedback into your writing, but getting the perspective of others can help you to see things that you might’ve missed in your work. This can help sharpen your pieces and get them in the best possible shape before submission. This process is especially relevant for students enrolled in the best schools for English literature.

When you’re wrapping up your pieces and about to submit, be sure to check the contest websites and their submission rules. Many contests will have specific rules about how the submission should be formatted, how sources should be cited, whether you can submit pieces simultaneously to other contests, or if you’re allowed to submit pieces you’ve already published. Be thorough in reading through the rules so that you’ll be eligible to win contest prizes.

Once you explore international competitions, consider researching other writing contests for high school students or theater writing summer programs to further practice your writing skills.

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Research Opportunities at Polygence

Interested in doing a writing project on your own timeline? Explore Polygence’s Research Mentorship Program where you can work with an expert mentor in creative writing to help your research! If you’re stuck on what to create, check out our blog piece on 10 Creative Writing Research and Passion Project Ideas.

If you’re looking for inspiration from other students and their writing projects, you can explore past creative writing projects created by Polygence alumni.