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The Best Essay Writing Contests of 2023

Writing competitions curated by Reedsy

  • Children's
  • Flash Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Science Writing
  • Script Writing
  • Short Story
  • Young Adult

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Showing 82 contests

International essay competition 2023/24.

Avernus Education

Welcome to our prestigious International Essay Competition. At Avernus Education, we are thrilled to provide a platform for young minds to showcase their prowess in Medicine, Engineering, Law, Economics, Psychology, History and Politics. These varied subject categories underscore the importance of interdisciplinary study, a crucial foundation for future leaders in our increasingly interconnected world. Winners receive an exclusive Avernus Education Scholarship worth over £5000 - granting them free entrance to our exclusive summer camp at Oxford University! Outstanding Runners Up receive 5 hours worth of Credits for Avernus Education courses, conferences and tutoring services.

100% Scholarship Award to our Oxford University Summer Programme (worth £5995)

Additional prizes

Partial scholarship

Entry requirements

💰 Fee: FREE

Deadline: February 19, 2024

Letter Review Prize for Manuscripts

Letter Review

The Letter Review Prize for Manuscripts (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction) is open to writers from anywhere in the world. Three Winners are awarded and have extracts published. 20 entries are Longlisted. Winners receive letter of recommendation for publishers.

$1000 (shared by 3 winners)


Deadline: December 31, 2023

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Novel, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Letter Review Prize for Nonfiction

The Letter Review Prize for Nonfiction (0 - 5000 words) is open to writers from anywhere in the world. Accepting most forms of Nonfiction. Three winners are published and every entry is considered for publication. 20 entries are longlisted.

Essay, Memoir, Non-fiction, Humor

Literary and Photographic Contest 2023-2024

Hispanic Culture Review

As we move forward we carry our culture wherever we go. It keeps us alive. This is why we propose the theme to be “¡Hacia delante!”. A phrase that means to move forward. This year we ask that you think about the following questions: What keeps you moving forward? What do you carry with you going into the future? How do you celebrate your successes, your dreams, and your culture?

Publication in magazine

Deadline: February 07, 2024

Essay, Fiction, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry

Askew's Word on the Lake Writing Contest

Shuswap Association of Writers

Whether you’re an established or emerging writer, the Askew’s Word on the Lake Writing Contest has a place for you. Part of the Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival in Salmon Arm, BC, the contest is open to submissions in short fiction (up to 2,000 words), nonfiction (up to 2,000 words), and poetry (up to three one-page poems).

Deadline: January 31, 2024

Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Essay, Memoir, Short Story

World Historian Student Essay Competition

World History Association

The World Historian Student Essay Competition is an international competition open to students enrolled in grades K–12 in public, private, and parochial schools, and those in home-study programs. Membership in the World History Association is not a requirement for submission. Past winners may not compete in the same category again.

Deadline: May 01, 2023 (Expired)

Children's, Essay

African Diaspora Award

Kinsman Avenue Publishing, Inc.

Submissions are open for Kinsman Quarterly’s African Diaspora Award. Top winners receive prizes up to $500 USD and publication within the Black Diaspora anthology. No entry fee required. Those eligible should submit an original, unpublished work in English that features themes of the African diaspora by July 15, 2023.

2nd: $250 | 3rd: $100 + Publication

Deadline: July 15, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Poetry, Romance, Script Writing, Short Story, Young Adult

Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award

Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award is committed to discovering new writers, as well as superlative books by established authors and, upon discovery, sharing those writers and their works with new readers. There are a large number of both fiction and non-fiction categories you can enter.

Deadline: June 15, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novel, Poetry, Science Fiction, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller

International Essay Contest

Institute for Youth in Policy

You've been elected leader of your country. What would you say during your inaugural address to inspire the citizens of your country, including those of every race, religion, political party, and creed?

Publication in YIP Magazine

Deadline: December 11, 2023

Artificial Intelligence Competition

New Beginnings

There is no topic relating to technology that brings more discussion than artificial intelligence. Some people think it does wonders. Others see it as trouble. Let us know your opinion about AI in this competition. Include experiences you have had with AI. 300-word limit. Winners will be selected January 1, 2024. Open to anyone, anywhere.

Deadline: December 15, 2023

Essay, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story

Narratively 2023 Memoir Prize


Narratively is currently accepting submissions for their 2023 Memoir Prize. They are looking for revealing and emotional first-person nonfiction narratives from unique and overlooked points of view. The guest judge is New York Times bestselling memoirist Stephanie Land.

$1,000 and publication

Deadline: November 30, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction

100 Word Writing Contest

Tadpole Press

Can you write a story using 100 words or less? Pieces will be judged on creativity, uniqueness, and how the story captures a new angle, breaks through stereotypes, and expands our beliefs about what's possible or unexpectedly delights us. In addition, we are looking for writing that is clever or unique, inspires us, and crafts a compelling and complete story. The first-place prize has doubled to $2,000 USD.

2nd: writing coach package

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Thriller, Young Adult, Children's, Poetry, Romance, Short Story, Suspense, Travel

WOW! Women On Writing Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

WOW! Women On Writing

Seeking creative nonfiction essays on any topic (1000 words or less) and in any style--from personal essay and memoir to lyric essay and hybrid, and more! The mission of this contest is to reward bravery in real-life storytelling and create an understanding of our world through thoughtful, engaging narratives. Electronic submissions via e-mail only; reprints/previously published okay; simultaneous submissions okay; multiple submissions are okay as long as they are submitted in their own individual e-mail. Open internationally.

2nd: $300 | 3rd: $200 | 7 runner-ups: $25 Amazon Gift Cards

Deadline: October 31, 2023 (Expired)

Non-fiction, Essay

The Letter Review Prize for Books

The Letter Review

The Letter Review Prize for Books is open to writers from anywhere in the world. Seeking most unpublished (we accept some self/indie published) novels, novellas, story collections, nonfiction, poetry etc. 20 entries are longlisted.

$1000 USD shared by 3 winners

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novella, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult


Bergen International Literary Festival

Write your story about the climate crisis in a poem or a personal essay.

Deadline: October 15, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Science Writing, Young Adult

The Goldilocks Zone

Sunspot Literary Journal

Sunspot Lit seeks a story, essay, excerpt from longer prose pieces, artwork, graphic novel, or poem that combines excellence in craft with reader or audience appeal. Feedback for fiction and nonfiction submissions available for additional fee.

Deadline: September 30, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Script Writing, Short Story

Indignor Play House Annual Short Story Competition

Indignor House Publishing

Indignor House Publishing is proud to announce that our annual writing competition (INDIGNOR PLAYHOUSE Short Story Annual Competition) is officially open with expected publication in the fall of 2024. Up to 25 submissions will be accepted for inclusion in the annual anthology.

2nd: $250 | 3rd: $150

Deadline: March 31, 2024

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Story, Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Novella, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult

Pivotal Essay Contest

Pivotal is an essay contest for high school students around the world run in partnership with Oxford University's Global Priorities Institute on the world’s most pressing problems. Students will write a 2000-word essay on one of three prompts relating to future generations, AI policy, and ethics.

Deadline: October 10, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Non-fiction

Native Voices Award

Kinsman Avenue Publishing, Inc

Indigenous storytellers (Native American, First Nation Australian, Indian, Polynesian, etc.) may submit original, unpublished work in English; short stories, essays, onstage scripts, poetry, or visual art.

2nd: $250 | 3rd: $100 | 6 Finalists: $25 gift card

Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Script Writing, Short Story

Inception 2023

Sunspot Lit

Beginnings have the power to spark passion or curiosity. They might immediately connect a specific place and time with an emotional tone. The best openings offer a feeling, atmosphere, action, or image that is gripping, and hints at more to come. For Sunspot Lit’s Inception contest, send your best opening. There are no restrictions on theme, category, or the length of the piece or collection from which the excerpt comes. Word limit is 250 for prose, 25 words for poetry.

Publication in digital and print editions

Deadline: July 31, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novel, Novella, Romance, Science Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

AIIRA Writing Contest

AI Institute for Resilient Agriculture

AIIRA is seeking essays speculating on how AI will change careers within the next decade, as well as fiction stories depicting a day in the life of a job transformed by AI technology. Submissions should address how AI will help future professionals perform their jobs more efficiently as well as what job duties will become redundant due to AI.

2nd: $400 (x2) | 3rd: $250

Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Writing, Short Story

Public Roads Student Writing Competition

Federal Highway Administration/Public Roads Magazine

Public Roads is proud to announce its first Student Writing Competition, designed to encourage high school and college students interested in or actively pursuing STEM majors to demonstrate their knowledge by writing an article that relates to the transportation industry.

Published in Winter 2023 Issue of Public Roads Magazine

Deadline: July 21, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Non-fiction, Science Writing

Universe of Threats Essay Contest

CAPTRS has launched a pathogen threat scenario writing contest, which will be part of their work to build a catalog of pathogen threat scenarios that will be used to hone pandemic preparedness strategies and train future decision-makers. Submissions may not exceed 2,500 words, and will be judged on creativity, plausibility of the pathogen threat, complexity of cascading societal factors, difficulty posed for current pandemic response capabilities and quality of writing.

2nd: $5,000 (up to 2 winners) | 3rd: $1,000 (up to 5 winners)

Essay, Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Story

Creative Nonfiction Competition

Write the World

The teenage years are an in-between time, the stage linking our childhood to adulthood. It’s a time of internal transitions, as we find out more about who we are and who we want to be in the world. This month, use the tools of creative nonfiction to write about your own experience of this passage into adulthood.

Best Entry: $100

Runner up: $50 | Best Peer Review: $50

Deadline: July 18, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Memoir, Non-fiction

The Heartland Review Open Calls

The Heartland Review Press

Submit one piece of fiction or creative nonfiction of topic or category to include flash in a Word document through Submittable (link on website). No pdfs. Include a short cover letter and bio. Simultaneous submissions accepted, but writers must withdraw if published elsewhere. We read the first 50 pieces of fiction and 50 of creative nonfiction submitted each month during the open call.

Deadline: November 15, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

Sunspot Lit seeks one short story, CNF, artwork, poem, graphic novel, script, or excerpt that outshines the rest. Literary and genre works accepted. Feedback available for additional fee. See guidelines for details. Enter through Sunspot’s Submittable or through Duotrope.

Deadline: May 31, 2023 (Expired)

Quill and Keyboard Teen International Writing Competition

Quills and Keyboard

We are made of students hosting a contest for teen & YA authors. There are 15 categories, from journalism to a section for novelists’ favorite chapters. Qualified judges will send feedback on each piece. We partnered with many writing organizations such as Teen Author Boot Camp and Newpages and recognized by non-profits such as Polyphony Lit.

Publication in Under the Madness and Skipping Stones

Deadline: May 20, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction, Novella, Poetry, Science Fiction, Science Writing, Script Writing, Short Story, Thriller, Young Adult

2024 Book Prize

Unleash Press

Writers are invited to submit novels, short story collections and creative nonfiction manuscripts. The Editors' Prize winner receives a publication contract with Unleash Press and $1000 prize, along with 10 printed copies of the final book. We may also offer publication contracts to additional outstanding manuscripts.

Publishing contract

Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Memoir, Novel, Short Story, Non-fiction

Weekly Writing Competition

the archipelago

the archipelago is looking for great works of fiction, poetry, and personal essay. Eligibility: One piece per entry. One entry per person for each week (you can submit your writing for each round of competition repeating every week). The writing must be previously unpublished (including online). All entries must be in English. 700 - 1000 maximum word count for stories. 150 maximum lines for poetry. Submission Dates: April 10 - July 10

Deadline: June 10, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fiction, Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry, Short Story

High School Academic Research Competition

Columbia Undergraduate science journal

The SARC is an exciting opportunity for students, aged 13-18 years old, who are looking for ways to exercise their research skills and have their works published in preparation for college. In SARC 2023, you will conduct research and write a 2-page essay on ANY topic of your choice -whether it be the sciences, a social issue in your community, or anything! The competition takes place across May through June 2023 and is 100% virtual, removing geographical barriers!

Deadline: May 27, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Science Writing

Mr. Rosewood Short Story Contest


After the success of Mr. Rosewood’s antics last year, and Mrs. Rosewood’s a year before the last; here’s Mr. and Mrs. Rosewood waiting for you to write about any of their days into a story. We are excited to announce our latest short-story writing contest. This time, we challenge you to write a captivating story about a day in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Rosewood.

Publication in anthology

Essay, Fiction, Short Story

Anthology Travel Writing Competition 2023

Anthology Magazine

The Anthology Travel Writing Competition is open to original and previously unpublished travel articles in the English language by writers of any nationality, living anywhere in the world. We are looking for an engaging article that will capture the reader’s attention, conveying a strong sense of the destination and the local culture. Max 1000 words.

Essay, Non-fiction, Travel

2023 John Estey Student Writing Competition

American Writers Museum

"Give me a song of hope and a world where I can sing it.” – Pauli Murray, Dark Testament Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was difficult to define. They were a poet, a lawyer, a priest, a freight hopper, Eleanor Roosevelt’s friend, arrested for refusing to comply with bus segregation laws, a closeted member of the LBGTQ+ community, a professor, and so much more. Their work has influenced Supreme Court decisions, the Civil Rights movement, and countless individual people. This prompt is a quote from Murray’s collection of poems titled Dark Testament. It can be used as a first line, a last line, a jumping-off point, an inspiration for your students’ work. They can use the entire quote or portions of it to write a fiction or nonfiction story, poem, song, scene, short monologue or other form of writing. Submissions should be 1,000 words or less regardless of format.

3x Elementary Grade winners: $500 | 3x Middle School winners: $1,000 | 3x High School winners: $2,000

Deadline: June 05, 2023 (Expired)

Essay, Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Script Writing

Abstraction & Reasoning in AI

The ARC Essay Challenge is a competition that desires the evolution of human-level abstraction and reasoning in AI agents. We are looking for interdisciplinary ideas in your essays that draw inspiration from fields such as biology, mathematics, philosophy, neuroscience, or any other to contribute to understanding and improving the adaptability of AI in new and unknown situations.

2nd: $1000 | 3rd: $500 | Publication

Deadline: May 07, 2023 (Expired)

The Scribes Prize

Fairfield Scribes

The Scribes Prize is looking for fiction & creative nonfiction stories of 90-110 words. Prizes include publication, award seals, and cash: $250 for gold, $125 for silver, $60 for bronze & 15 honorable mentions for $20 each. Simultaneous submissions & reprints welcome. Max 3 submissions per author. All entries will receive feedback from 2 editors.

2nd: $125 | 3rd: $60 | Publication | Editor's deedback

Deadline: September 01, 2023 (Expired)

Crime, Essay, Fantasy, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller

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personal essay writing competition

Essay Writing Contests: The Ultimate List

personal essay writing competition

Did you know that the very first recorded essay contest can be traced back to the early 16th century, initiated by none other than the renowned philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne? In 1580, Montaigne published his collection of essays titled 'Essais,' which not only marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the essay as a literary form but also contained an implicit challenge to his readers. He encouraged them to engage with his ideas and respond by writing their own essays, essentially laying the groundwork for what we now recognize as essay contests.

Fast forward to the vibrant year of 2023, and this tradition of writing competitions has evolved into a global phenomenon, offering emerging writers from all walks of life a captivating platform to share their thoughts, emotions, and narratives with the world.

Essay Writing Contests: Short Description

In this article, our essay writer will explore the world of essay writing contests, presenting you with an exclusive selection of the most promising opportunities for the year ahead. Each of these competitions not only provides a stage to demonstrate your writing prowess but also offers a unique avenue for personal growth, self-expression, and intellectual exploration, all while competing for impressive writing awards and well-deserved recognition. Whether you're an emerging talent or a seasoned wordsmith, these contests are poised to be the catalyst for your creative aspirations in 2023.

Exploring Top Essay Writing Contests for Participation

If you enjoy expressing your thoughts and ideas through writing, you're in for a treat. Essay writing competitions in 2023 offer you a chance to do just that and win some great prizes in the process. We've put together a list of contests specially designed for students like you. These contests cover various interesting essay topics , giving you a unique opportunity to showcase your writing skills and potentially earn cash prizes or scholarships. So, let's explore these fantastic opportunities to share your voice and make your mark in the world of writing.

Essay Writing Contests

Pivotal Essay Contest

Pivotal Essay Contest invites pre-university students worldwide to join a transformative platform that transcends traditional contests. It's an opportunity to showcase critical and creative thinking skills while addressing global challenges. The top three entrants compete for a prize pool of $25,000, while the top 50 finalists gain access to the prestigious Pivotal Library. The most exceptional 5% earn an exclusive invitation to the intellectual haven of the Pivotal Circle, fostering connections with peers who share their dedication to making a difference. And if you're determined to learn how to overcome writer's block for this contest, we have a wealth of expert tips and strategies to guide you through the process!

Deadline: October 10, 2023

  • 1st Place: $15,000
  • 2nd Place: $7,000
  • 3rd Place: $3,000

Native Voices Award

Don't miss your chance to share your unique voice and stories with the world while preserving your copyrights with the Native Voices Award competition. Open to individuals 18 years or older, particularly indigenous storytellers from Native American, First Nation Australian, and Polynesian communities. Submissions can include an original, unpublished work in English, such as a short story collection, flash fiction, nonfiction essays, scripts, poetry, or visual art collection. Authors and artists must be able to receive prizes through Paypal or an Amazon gift card and permit the winning submission to be published in the Kinsman Quarterly, promotional announcements, and social media outlets. Copyrights for the individual submission remain with the author or artist, while copyrights for the anthology as a collection are reserved by Kinsman Avenue Publishing, Inc.

Deadline: October 31, 2023

  • First Place: $500 cash prize and publication in the Kinsman Quarterly and Native Voices
  • Second Place: $250 cash prize and publication in the Kinsman Quarterly and Native Voices
  • Third Place: $100 cash prize and publication in the Kinsman Quarterly and Native Voices
  • Six Finalists: $25 gift card and publication in the Kinsman Quarterly and Native Voices
  • Six Honorary Mentions: Publication in the Kinsman Quarterly and Native Voices

John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

High school students across the United States are invited to participate in one of the best writing competitions 2023 - the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Craft an original essay, between 700 and 1,000 words that delves into acts of political courage by U.S. elected officials from 1917 onward. Explore their principled decisions, despite political pressures, for the greater good. Utilize a minimum of five varied sources and adhere to contest requirements. This opportunity is open to high school students in the U.S. and those studying abroad, except past winners and finalists, as well as employees of John Hancock Financial Services and their families.

Contest Topic: Describe and analyze an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official who served during or after 1917.

Deadline: Submissions open on September 1, 2023, with a deadline of January 12, 2024.

  • First Place: $10,000
  • Second Place: $3,000
  • Five Finalists: $1,000 each
  • Ten Semifinalists: $100 each

The AIIRA Writing Contest

The A.I. Institute for Resilient Agriculture is dedicated to advancing A.I. in agriculture. This contest seeks to spark discussions, promote A.I. education, inspire creativity, and provoke nuanced thought about A.I.'s role in shaping careers and industries.

Contest Topic: How will AI change the landscape of your career within the next decade?

Deadline: September 30, 2023.

  • First Place: $500 USD
  • Second Place: $400 USD (x2)
  • Third Place: $250 USD (x3)

OxBright Essay Competition 

Join the OxBright Essay Competition 2023 by submitting your essay exploring the role of long-term thinking in fostering optimism about the future, including the perspective of women in STEM and various subject categories. Being 15-18, you stand a chance to win over £100,000 worth of academic prizes, including exclusive opportunities and recognition. Submit your entry by September 30, 2023, and get ready for a chance to shape the future.

Deadline : September 30, 2023

  • Most Outstanding Essay: Win a place on the Oxford Scholastica Academy's residential Oxford summer school worth £6,495.
  • Best Essay (per subject category): Get an OxBright online course or internship worth £995.
  • Highly Commended: The top 20% of entries receive a certificate of achievement

Essay Writing Contests

Bennington Young Writers Awards

The Bennington Young Writers Awards celebrate the literary talent of high school students, offering recognition and substantial prizes. Whether you excel in nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, this competition welcomes fiction writers to submit their original work. Not only can you win up to $1,000, but exceptional students may also secure scholarships valued at up to $60,000 for Bennington College.

Deadline : November 1, 2023

  • First-place winners in each category: $1,000
  • Second-place winners: $500
  • Third-place winners: $250

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

The Atlas Shrugged essay writing contest, inspired by Ayn Rand's epic masterpiece, is a global platform for students to explore and express their ideas. Atlas Shrugged is a heroic mystery novel written by Ayn Rand. Participants are invited to choose a prompt and craft an 800-1,600-word essay that delves into the novel's themes and philosophy. This contest is open to students from around the world, offering them the opportunity to engage with Rand's thought-provoking work and compete for significant cash prizes.

Deadline : November 6, 2023

  • First prize: $10,000
  • Three second prizes: $2,000 each
  • Five third prizes: $1,000 each
  • 25 finalists: $100 each
  • 50 semifinalists: $50 each

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The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

This is one of the top poetry contests, hosted annually by the esteemed Kenyon Review, and is a celebration of young literary talent. Established in 2007, this prize aims to honor exceptional young poets who exhibit promise and creativity. Winners of this prestigious prize not only receive scholarships to the Young Writers Workshop but also the opportunity to see their work in print through publication. If you're in grades 10 or 11 and have a passion for poetry, this competition is the perfect platform to showcase your skills and gain recognition.

Deadline : November 1-30, 2023

  • Scholarships to Young Writers Workshop
  • Publication

The Heartland Review 

ElizabethTown Review Press invites writers to submit their best creative nonfiction pieces during their Fall 2023 open call. With a generous word limit and an open canvas for topics, your work can stand alone or be a glimpse of your larger literary journey. Submissions must not exceed 5,000 words and can be flash pieces or chapters from your unpublished book (in the U.S.). Upon publication, rights revert back to you. Be part of the first 50 submissions in August and September for your chance to be featured in our upcoming journal.

Deadline : November 15, 2023

Book Prize - Unleash Press

Calling all authors, Unleash Press invites submissions of novels, short story collections, and creative nonfiction manuscripts across a diverse array of genres, including Essays, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Memoirs, Novels, Short Stories, and Nonfiction. If you're looking for resources like free Harvard online courses to hone your writing skills, consider entering this competition. The coveted Editors' Prize offers not only a $1,000 cash reward but also the prestigious opportunity to secure a publication contract with Unleash Press, catapulting your work into the literary spotlight. Plus, the winner receives ten printed copies of their final book to proudly share with friends and family. With additional prospects for outstanding manuscripts, this competition opens doors for both emerging and seasoned writers.

Deadline : December 15, 2023

  • $1,000 cash prize
  • Publication contract with Unleash Press
  • Ten printed copies of the final book

Essay Writing Contests

Editor's Choice Award

Are you a poet or writer with a penchant for pushing the boundaries of traditional genres? The Editor's Choice Award beckons you to submit your most intriguing hybrid creations—whether they are lyric essays, prose poems, short-shorts, collages, or micro-memoirs, and let your imagination roam freely. Get set to participate as the competition swings open its doors for entries starting May 1, 2023. With an impressive word limit of 8,000, there's ample room for your artistic expression.

Deadline : October 16, 2023

Anthology Poetry Competition 

Renowned as one of the premier writing contests of 2023, the Anthology Poetry Competition stands as a beacon for poets seeking recognition and a platform for their work. Established with the noble goal of recognizing and fostering excellence in the art of poetry, this competition welcomes original and previously unpublished poems in the English language, transcending borders and inviting poets from all corners of the world to participate. Your poetic creations should not exceed 40 lines, giving you the canvas to craft a concise and impactful piece. The competition is open to multiple entries per person, each requiring a separate entry form and a modest entry fee of €18.

Deadline : October 31, 2023

  • First Place: €1,000 cash prize + the honor of seeing their work published in an upcoming Anthology issue
  • Second Place: €250
  • Third Place: €150

The Chilling Pen Award

The Chilling Pen Award 2023 invites writers from across the globe to explore the multifaceted theme of betrayal in both fiction and nonfiction pieces, transcending personal, political, and societal dimensions. If you have an interest in participating in essay writing contests, this competition offers a unique platform. With a maximum word limit of 1,000 words and an open embrace of all genres and styles, entrants are encouraged to craft original, unpublished works. Submissions must be free from A.I. assistance and can be submitted via our designated form on Google Drive. Winners will be revealed on October 31, 2023, with first, second, and third-place entries showcased on our website and social media platforms.

Deadline : October 1, 2023

  • $500, $300, $100

The SmokeLong Grand Micro Competition 

The SmokeLong Quarterly Micro Fiction Writing Competition beckons writers of literary fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid genres to craft compelling micro-narratives of up to 400 words (excluding the title). The entry fee is a modest $13, and submissions can be in any language accompanied by an English translation, fostering inclusivity. Authors and translators may equally share the prize money. Entries, both previously published and unpublished, are welcome, with blind judging conducted by a panel of 15 SmokeLong editors from around the world. The competition closes on November 10, 2023, and all shortlisted entries will be featured in the December 2023 issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Deadline : November 10, 2023

  • Grand Prize of $1500
  • Second Place at $500
  • Third Place at $300

The Moth Nature Writing Prize

A beacon among the notable writing contests of 2023, The Moth Nature Writing Prize is a celebration of the exquisite craft of nature writing. This prestigious award, open to writers of short stories, essays, and poetry, seeks to foster a deeper connection with the natural world. With a generous word limit of 4,000 words, entrants have ample space to craft their narratives. Open to individuals aged sixteen and above, as long as the work is original and previously unpublished, this competition stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of literary excellence and reverence for the natural world.

  • €1,000 cash prize for the 1st prizewinner + an enriching week at Circle of Misse in France
  • A 2nd prize of €500
  • A 3rd prize of €250

In 2023, the world of writing competitions offers a diverse tapestry of opportunities for writers across the globe. From exploring the depths of nature to delving into the mysteries of microfiction, these competitions beckon with enticing prizes and platforms for your creative voice. So, pick your favorite, sharpen your pen, and embark on a journey of literary excellence!

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$1000 for one winning personal essay.

2024 Contest Deadline: March 28, 2024

Edna Staebler was a pioneer in the field of literary journalism and a beloved figure in her (our) home region of Waterloo, Ontario. Her first article, “Duellists of the Deep,” a story about swordfishing with Neil’s Harbour fishermen, and published in  Macleans  when she was in her forties, won the Canadian Womens Press Club Memorial Award. Edna went on to publish with  Macleans ,  Chatelaine ,  Saturday Night , and other flagship magazines, while her books include the  Food that Really Schmecks  series—cookbooks so entertaining that people read them in bed. Edna led by example in other ways as well, founding eponymous writers’ awards, scholarships, and bursaries to nurture writers. She helped to found  The New Quarterly  in 1981, and in 2005 her generous bequest allowed us to establish this award, in her honour.

personal essay writing competition

  • A $1000 top prize will be awarded for one personal essay.
  • All entries will be considered for publication in The New Quarterly ($250 paid upon publication).
  • Entry fee: $40 per essay (includes a 1-year Canadian subscription or renewal to The New Quarterly ).
  • Entrants’ anonymity will be preserved throughout the judging process.
  • Decisions will be posted by late August. Finalists will be notified ahead by email.


  • We are interested in essays in which the writer’s personal engagement with the subject provides the frame or through-line.
  • Entrants must be Canadian (citizen or resident).
  • Submissions must be unpublished, nor can they be accepted for publication elsewhere.
  • Submissions are accepted online only.
  • We also accept payment by cheque or credit card over the phone. Contact us for more information.

Formatting Guidelines

  • While there is no word limit to personal essay contest entries, most essays fall within the range of 2000 – 5000 words.
  • Kindly use 12-point font and use 1.5 spacing in your personal essay submission.
  • Include a word count at the end of your personal essay.
  • Include page numbers at the top right hand corner of your submission. Format page numbers as: “Page 1 of x.”
  • Submissions must be in .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .Pages format.
  • Do not include footnotes or Works Cited in your submission. If external sources are absolutely necessary to include in your personal essay, please reference them within the text.
  • Entrant’s name must not appear in the essay.
  • If names used in your essay might reveal your identity, please use pseudonyms and make a note on your entry form; that way we can ask for real names should the piece go to publication.

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Essay contests & non-fiction writing competitions.

Quick links on this page:

  • featured essay contests
  • regular essay contests
  • prestigious competitions offering large monetary prizes
  • annual essay contests
  • memoir competitions
  • one-off essay competitions
  • other non-fiction competition lists
  • closed competitions - a history for reference
  • user comments

Last updated 25th November 2023

Below are tables listing various essay contests and other non-fiction writing competitions, prizes and awards. Some are academic, some offer scholarships and others are just for fun.

Please read and make sure you fully understand the rules and the terms & conditions of each competition listed before entering.

personal essay writing competition

If you run an essay competition or non-fiction writing contest and would like me to add it to the lists below, please contact me providing the following information in the body of an email:

  • How often you will be running the contest (eg, annually, quarterly, one-off)
  • The name of your competition
  • A link to your website
  • The country you run the competition from
  • Closing date
  • The date you announce winners
  • Maximum word count for essays
  • Any other details, including how winning writers' essays might be published and any guidelines on theme / style of essays you accept

I do my best to keep this page up-to-date, but if you spot any errors, incorrect information or links that no longer work, please get in touch and let me know. I try and fix any problems quickly :-)

Free Writing Course

Note On Essay Writing Service Providers Offering Scholarships

Some of the contests and scholarships that used to be listed on this page were run by essay writing service providers. The more I found out about these types of business, the more I felt that they're not ethical. Essentially, they allow students to cheat, by paying someone else to write their essay/thesis for them. While some of them do offer large cash prizes, so can be of benefit to writers, I wasn't comforable promoting these brands or being associated with them.

Due to my reservations about this business niche, essay writing service providers that offer a non-fiction writing opportunity were removed from the lists in my 2019 January update. You will find them in the history section of the page , with a note that says, ' Essay writing service provider – unethical, so removed from lists '.

Elegant Literature Monthly Fiction Magazine and Contest

Note On Affiliate Websites Offering Scholarships

In 2017 I started to receive a lot of requests for listings by affiliate websites that have little or nothing to do with writing. They often offer scholarships with decent cash prizes, but were run by websites that promoted vacuum cleaners, or baby products etc. My audience are writers, so I want to keep this page on topic and relevant to them.

Therefore I am no longer accepting listing requests from websites that are not about writing. I've also moved any listings I did have for off-topic websites into the History of Closed Contests list, with a note saying, ' REMOVED because website has nothing to do with writing '.

personal essay writing competition

Featured Essay / Non-Fiction Contests

Do you run an essay competition or non-fiction writing contest? Do you want it featured at the top of this page? If so, get in touch .

Featured Competition: FanStory

FanStory writing competitions

You'll Enjoy

  • Contests. Enter all contests with cash prizes for free with upgraded membership. That includes many non-fiction contests. New contests with cash prizes are announced weekly. Click here to view the listing.
  • Feedback. Get detailed feedback for everything you write. All skill levels welcomed.
  • Community. Share your writing and grow your fan base. Click here for info.

Non-Fiction Contest Highlights

  • A First Book Chapter : Share the first chapter of your novel. Non-fiction writing is welcomed. Enter for your chance at the cash prize . Deadline Jan 13th.
  • True Story Contest : We all have stories to tell. True stories, small or large, that have impacted our life. Share your true story to enter this writing contest with a cash prize . Deadline Mar 9th.
  • Non-Fiction Writing Contest : Share a nonfiction story to enter this writing contest. Share a memory, a difficult time or whatever you feel from the story of your life. Cash prize to the winner. Deadline May 8th.
  • True Story Flash : Here is a challenge. Share a true story. But there is a catch - you only get 100 words. Have fun with this writing challenge. The winner takes away a cash prize . Deadline May 27th.

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Regular Essay / Non-Fiction Contests

This table lists non-fiction competitions that are run regularly; weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-annually etc.

Writing Improvement Software

Prestigious / Large Prize Essay / Non-Fiction Contests

This table contains details of renowned contests, often offering large amounts of prize money. Any prize awarded in excess of £1,000 ($, € or other currency) is listed here.

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Annual Essay / Non-Fiction Competitions

This table lists contests that are run on a yearly basis.

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Memoir Competitions

This table lists contests that are run on a yearly basis. There are very few current memoir competitions. If you know of any, please let me know .

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One-Off Essay & Non-Fiction Writing Competitions

This table lists details of one-off essay and non-fiction competitions.

personal essay writing competition

Other Non-Fiction Competition Lists

Here you will find details of other online resources that provide lists of non-fiction and essay competitions.

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A History of Closed Essay Contests

For reference, a record of non-fiction writing contests that have closed.

How to Write a Short Story by Christopher Fielden

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Leave your comments

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Your Details:

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Cathy M I am semi retired and thinking about taking up writing. I am in the process of putting together my biographical memoirs about a woman growing up during the 20th century in America. I have had a fairly interesting life being born in Southern California just after World War II and wondered if you could direct me to whomever might be interested in reviewing it.

Chris Fielden Cathy, you could try some memoir writing competitions. I know Fish Publishing and Writers Digest accept memoir entries and are well renowned. You could also try the Creative Nonfiction website as they accept all sorts of nonfiction submissions.

If you want to do some research, the Writers' & Artists' yearbook is a good place to start. It's UK based, but contains all sorts of details about different publishers that might be appropriate for you.

I hope that's helpful and wish you the best of luck with publishing your work :-)

Justin S Hi Christopher, this question is purely out of curiosity and not at all an attempt at criticism, but when you post potential writing competitions on your website, have any of them turned out to be fraudulent? I've heard people running into problems with the Essays Capital essay competition and was wondering if you had any more information on the legitimacy of the company and the contest.

Chris Fielden Hi Justin. No, I haven't heard of any problems regarding the Essays Capital competition.

The only website I've ever encountered that kind of problem with was called Chapter One Promotions. A couple of my users highlighted issues and with a bit of research (and personal experience, unfortunately - I had a short story due to be published by them at the time; needless to say, it never happened) I found that there were lots of complaints about the contest and made that clear on my site, linking to other resources that highlighted the problems.

So, if you have any information on issues with this particular competition, please let me know so I can research it. And if there are any relevant links you can send, that would be much appreciated.

Justin S Hello Chris. Well it's mostly from what I've seen from their facebook page. They announced a very truncated time - roughly 6 days - until winners would be notified of their status, however, there hasn't even been any emails of declination. My nephew who entered the competition told me there were no confirmation emails; no social media status updates and basically no aid from their 24/7 help desk. Looking at your description of their competition, it seems like they've done this more than once (since you wrote they hold it biannually in their description).

I'd love to know more about it if you find more information about their legitimacy.

Chris Fielden Hi Justin. Great stuff, thanks for letting me know.

I’ve had a search about and can’t find any other feedback about them, but their Twitter hasn’t been updated for months either.

It looks like there might be issue, so I’ll change the listing on my site to reflect this and link to their Facebook profile as an example. That might spur them to get in touch.

I’ll let you know if I hear from them.

Madeeha K Hi Christopher. Thanks for the links which provide us with information regarding Essay writing contests. Back in August I participated in the EssayPro writing contest. Later they extended the date for the submissions to their essay writing contest. It's now December 2016.

I've also participated in EssayHelp's writing contest which happens to also be a project linked with EssayPro writing services. Now it's been a month, I'd like to know about some Twitter handle for EssayPro so that I can know about the results of the contest, but I'm not able to get in touch with any of customer service representatives there.

It's making me a bit confused and I would very much appreciate it if you could help me in solving this matter. If the chat option is available on their site, why don't they respond to my queries?

Chris Fielden Sorry to hear about your experiences with EssayPro. And thank you for letting me know about it.

I recently liaised with Kurtis (in November), who runs it. So I assume the contest is still active.

I’ve emailed him for you and asked him what is going on.

I’ll let you know if I hear back from him.

In the meantime, this is their Twitter profile: @EssayPro_

Madeeha K Many thanks for your response. I'll be glad if you'll let me know when you hear back.

Chris Fielden Hi Madeeha

I’ve heard back from Kurtis. Please see his message below.

He said you can feel free to contact him.

I hope that’s helpful. Please let me know if you need any more help.

Hi Christopher,

The contest is actually extended, that's absolutely right. We are going to announce names of the winners after the contest is over.

We decided simply to update the page with the contest details rather than get in touch with the participants because there were not many.

EssayHelp is another organization and I can't help with that.

But I will be happy to help this person with the EssayPro contest and to answer all the questions she/he has.

Thank you for this letter.

Let me know if there is anything else you'd like to clarify.

Regards, Kurtis

Madeeha K Thanks Christopher, I've just heard from Kurtis and have found answers to most of my queries.

Chris Fielden Hi Madeeha. OK, great – thanks for letting me know :-)

John S Hi - was looking through your list of essay prizes, and didn't see one on there which you might want to add: The Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay Prize.

Chris Fielden Thanks for this, John – much appreciated. I’ve added the competition to the listings.

Madeeha K Hi Chris. Thanks for your effort in compiling this page of essay writing competitions. Last year, I was declared winner in the edubirdie writing competition listed on your page. I also received an appreciation certificate from lifesaver essay contest, but still have some doubts about writing essays for these essay service providers.

You have mentioned that some of the contests on the page are run by essay service providers, but don't you think that most of them are run by theses types of services? I'm confused, if I write for some contests run by these services, what are they going to do with my essay later on? This is putting me off participating in these types of competition.

I haven't found any other site with this much information and love to write essays, but the thing which is confusing me is the fact that writing competitions listed on your site under the heading of regular and prestigious competitions are all run by essay service providers. Is it fine to write for them?

Chris Fielden Hi Madeeha. No problem. And congratulations on winning the edubirdie competition – that’s great news.

A lot of the contests I list are run by essay writing services. I guess it makes sense for them to run these types of competitions as they are relevant to their websites and help with marketing their brands.

Most of the competitions listed publish winning essays on their websites. That’s good for a writer’s portfolio. And cash prizes are always beneficial :-) Beyond that, I haven’t seen any other statements about what the competition administrators might do with an essay you submit. As you own the copyright, they couldn’t do anything without your permission anyway.

I don’t think there is any harm in submitting to these competitions. I just question the ethics of an industry that offers a service that writes essays for students – to me, it seems like offering a way of cheating. Still, the contests are separate from that and can help a writer develop and add credits to their CV. I guess it’s your call, but personally I don’t see a problem with submitting to contests run by these businesses.

If you’re worried about it, I’d simply submit to contests that are not run by these types of business. There are other sites outside of the essay writing service industry listed on my site. Maybe try some of those?

I hope that answers your question, but please let me know if you require any further information.

Padma P Hi Christopher. I want to write a novel about a girl's life - inspirational, loving, entertaining  mood swings, family, schooling and her entire life in different  situations. I want to publish it but I don't know whom to trust my novel story with.

Chris Fielden You could try Inkitt . They offer a trustworthy platform. It's free to use. I deal with them regularly and they seem like good people.

I hope that helps - good luck with your book :-)

Sandeep N Hi Chris, you are doing great service through this site. Thank you!

I have written a book on raising human consciousness, titled RENEWAL, which I have been advised to enter into competitions. That search is what got me to your site.

Would you have any suggestions for me? Would you like to read a copy?

Chris Fielden Hi Sandeep, thank you for your message. And congratulations on publishing your book.

There are lots of competitions for books, but you'd have to look through all the rules / terms and conditions and see which ones might be suitable for your style of writing. I have a book and novel contest list on my site. You can see that here .

I receive lots of requests to read books and can't accommodate them all, I'm afraid. But thank you for the offer.

I wish you all the best with submitting your book to competitions.


Chris Fielden Thank you Sandeep :-)

The copyright of the stories and content published on this website remain with the author.

Christopher Fielden and all the other contributing authors published via this website have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of these works.

The stories and articles on this site are provided for you to read free of charge subject to the condition that they are not, by way of trade or otherwise, copied, lent, sold, hired out, printed or otherwise circulated in any format without the author’s prior consent.

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The Writing Contests, Grants & Awards database includes details about the creative writing contests—including poetry contests, short story competitions, essay contests, awards for novels, and more—that we’ve published in Poets & Writers Magazine during the past year. We carefully review the practices and policies of each contest before including it. Ours is the most trusted resource for legitimate writing contests available anywhere.

Coffee-House Poetry

Troubadour international poetry prize.

A prize of £2,000 (approximately $2,548) is given annually for a single poem. A second-place prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,274) is also given. Both winners receive...

Friends of American Writers

Literature awards.

A prize of $2,500 is given annually for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction published during the current year that is set in the Midwest or by a writer who is a resident...

Story Foundation Prize

A prize of $1,500 and publication in Story is given annually for a short story. Using only the online submission system, submit a short story of no more than 10,000...

Center for Book Arts

Poetry chapbook contest.

A prize of $500 and letterpress publication by the Center for Book Arts is given annually for a poetry chapbook. The winner will also receive 10 copies of their chapbook, an...

Willow Books

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication by Willow Books are given annually for a book of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by BIPOC writers. Using only the online...

Gival Press

Poetry award.

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Gival Press will be given biennially for a book of poetry. Beverly Burch will judge. Submit a manuscript of at least 45 pages with a $20...

Longleaf Press

Book contest.

A prize of $1,000, publication by Longleaf Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner will also be invited to give a virtual reading in...

Codhill Press

Pauline uchmanowicz poetry award.

A prize of $1,000, publication by Codhill Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. James Sherwood will judge. Submit a manuscript of 48 to 70...

Virginia Commonwealth University

Cabell first novelist award.

A prize of at least $3,000 is given annually for a debut novel published during the current year. The winner will also receive lodging and travel expenses to attend the First...

American Library Association

W.y. boyd literary award.

A prize of $5,000 is given annually for a novel published in the current year that is set in a period when the United States was at war. Publishers or authors may submit seven...

Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Literary awards.

Four prizes of $1,000 each are given annually for a poetry collection, a first novel, a book of fiction, and a book of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) by African...

Michigan Quarterly Review

Jesmyn ward prize in fiction.

A prize of $2,000 and publication in Michigan Quarterly Review is given annually for a short story. David Lynn will judge. Using only the online submission system,...

Burnside Review Press

A prize of $1,000, publication by Burnside Review Press, and 10 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Arda Collins will judge. English translations of works...

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

A prize of $2,500 and publication in LitMag is given annually for a short story. The winner will also have their work reviewed by agents from Bankoff Collaborative,...

University of Tampa Press

Danahy fiction prize.

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Tampa Review will be given annually for a short story. Using only the online submission system, submit a story of 500 to 5,000...

Florida Review

Jeanne leiby memorial chapbook contest.

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Florida Review is given annually for a chapbook of short fiction, short nonfiction, or graphic narrative. Submit a manuscript of...

Laurence Goldstein Prize in Poetry

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Michigan Quarterly Review will be given annually for a single poem. Lawrence Joseph will judge. Using only the online submission...

Poetry Society of America

Robert h. winner memorial award.

A prize of $2,500 and publication on the Poetry Society of America website is given annually to a poet over 40 who has published no more than one book. Nathan McClain will...

Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers

A prize of $1,500 and publication in Boulevard is given annually for a short story by a writer who has not published a nationally distributed book. The editors will...

Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry

Griffin poetry prize.

A prize of $130,000 Canadian (approximately $96,748) is given annually for a poetry collection published during the current year and written in, or translated into, English....

Poetry Prize

A prize of €6,000 (approximately $6,572) and online publication in the Irish Times is given annually for a single poem. Three runner-up prizes of €1,000 (approximately...

Tupelo Press

Dorset prize.

A prize of $3,000, publication by Tupelo Press, and 20 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner also receives a two-week residency at Gentle House in...

Baton Rouge Area Foundation

Ernest j. gaines award for literary excellence.

A prize of $15,000 is given annually to an emerging African American writer for a book of fiction published in the current year. The winner also receives travel and lodging...

Ohio University Press

Hollis summers poetry prize.

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Ohio University Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Using only the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 60 to 95...

Hub City Press

C. michael curtis short story book prize.

A prize of $5,000 and publication by Hub City Press is given biennially for a short story collection. Writers who have not published more than one book in any genre and who...

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The Winners of Our 3rd Annual Personal Narrative Essay Contest for Students

Eight short, powerful essays from teenagers about the moments, big and small, that have shaped them.

personal essay writing competition

By The Learning Network

For a third year, we invited students from 11 to 19 to tell us short, powerful stories about a meaningful life experience for our Personal Narrative Writing Contest . And for a third year, we heard from young people across the globe about the moments, big and small, that have shaped them into who they are today: a first kiss that failed to meet expectations, a school assignment that led to self-acceptance, an incident at airport security that made the world look much less sweet, and more.

Our judges read more than 11,000 submissions and selected over 200 finalists — eight winners, 16 runners-up, 24 honorable mentions and 154 more essays that made it to Round 4 — whose stories moved us and made us think, laugh and cry. “I’m always blown away by the vulnerability and tenderness so many of these stories hold,” one judge commented.

Below, you can read the eight winning essays, published in full. Scroll to the bottom of this post to find the names of all of our finalists, or see them here in this PDF .

Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who shared their stories with us.

(Note to students: We have published the names, ages and schools of students from whom we have received permission to do so. If you would like yours published, please write to us at [email protected] .)

The Winning Essays

“the best friend question”, “504 hours”, “t.s.a. and cinnamon buns”, “lips or slug”, “the bluff”, “autocorrect”, “purple corn”.

By Blanche Li, age 13, Diablo Vista Middle School, Danville, Calif.

“All right, class, settle down! Your last Spanish essays were the worst I’ve read in my 22 years of teaching. So today, I’m requiring you to be specific. You must use new vocabulary to write about your best friend. I don’t want to hear that your best friend is nice. I want to know how. Begin, and no talking!” my Spanish teacher, Señora Morales, shouted at the class.

I sat with my pencil hovering over my paper and then slowly began to write in Spanish: My best friend is Hayley. She’s a soccer champion who colored a red streak in her hair to support her team. She plays cello, like I do, and we car pool to our orchestra every Saturday. She uses funny English words like “shenanigans” and “bamboozle,” and describes angry people as “ballistic.” We’ve been best friends since fourth grade.

This is my standard response to the “best friend” question, no matter who asks. The problem is, Hayley isn’t real. I had to come up with a fictional best friend because there have been too many writing prompts asking me to describe this person, too many moments when I’ve replied, “I don’t have one,” and too many times I’ve heard, “Why not? Are you just not the type of person who wants a best friend?” It’s as if people think I’m too introverted and gloomy to even bother. Truth is, during school, I’ve watched with envy the best friends who ice skate together and the best friends who call each other nicknames like “Homeskillet” and “Key Chain.”

Of course, I have plenty of acquaintances — those who I talk to at lunch about conspiracy theories: that the school’s macaroni and cheese has neither macaroni nor cheese and that our beloved janitor is actually God. But the friend who I can depend on when my bully calls me “Bleach” doesn’t exist.

I’ve often wondered, does not having a best friend make me defective? Should I be embarrassed that the only people I hang out with at the farmer’s market are my parents? Should I be worried that my primary cure for loneliness is my cats? Will I have to face heartbreak and failure alone?

Not having a best friend means I have no one to text late at night when I can’t fall asleep and no shoulder to cry on when I fail my orchestra audition. Sometimes I tell myself, “You’re such a baby; just toughen up. There’s no way you’ll ever succeed because you can’t deal with the smallest issues in life.” Considering these thoughts makes me lock myself in my room, sit against the door, and take psychology tests on my phone to prove why I am defective.

But as I scroll through my phone, I ask myself, what would Hayley say to me right now? As an imagined character, Hayley can say what my mind tells her to. So Hayley sits down and puts her arm around me. Her lips curl slightly upward, and her brown eyes zoom in on my face. She tells me, “You can only do so much, and bringing yourself down uses most of the ‘so much’ you can really do.”

When Señora Morales hands back my paper describing Hayley, she tells me, “She seems like a great friend!”

“Yeah,” I grin. “She’s the best friend I’ve ever had.”

By Lyat Melese, age 16, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

The shrill sound of a whistle slices through the gym, slowly halting the bouncing basketballs, squeaking tennis shoes and background chatter. My P.E. teacher stands in the middle of the room, looking around in distaste at the disarray of basketballs, hula hoops, and volleyball nets. He asks for volunteers to help clear the gym.

Saanvi raises a lone hand into the air. Everybody else refuses to meet the teacher’s eyes, focusing on the floor, their hands or the ceiling.

I sigh as it strikes again.

It is hard to define the Amharic word in English. It describes the feeling comprising a mishmash of extreme empathy and the inability to say “no.” It is a trait I see in my mother and, much to my annoyance, myself. While yilugnta makes me a kind and respectful daughter at home, it makes me a pushover susceptible to guilt-tripping at school.

I raise my hand, “I can do it.”

Saanvi and I collect all the balls and ropes, rolling the carts into the storage room.

We are alone when she suddenly stops and looks at me.

“Did you get accepted?” she asks, referring to the highly selective admission to the local STEM high school.

“Yeah,” I reply. “You?”

She looks away. Her hands fist at her sides as a frown is etched on her face.

I look down. “I’m sorry. I know how badly you wanted to go.”

“You don’t understand,” she spits out. “You obviously got in because you are Black.”

I don’t respond, focusing instead on the colorful hula hoops I am stacking in a pile: green, yellow, blue.

When we first moved to America, my parents went to great lengths to avoid the term “Black.” They instilled in me that I was not just Black, I was Ethiopian. I used to think it was because they didn’t want me to forget my culture. Now I think they were protecting me because the term “Black” shoulders the weight of history.

My Nigerian neighbor always grits his teeth and talks to himself when he watches Nigerian news. He blames Britain for forcing the tribes together. He says Nigeria should not have existed. Now, his wife hides the remote because his blood pressure grows too high.

My mom’s friend’s African-American partner goes to town halls and protests every week. He still waits for the day he will get the reparations his ancestors were owed.

My mom tells me that we are not like them. Our ancestors were not colonized or enslaved. Don’t carry the burden that is not yours.

In my head, I want to scream that I did not choose to carry anything. It was shoveled on top of my head. Much like my yilugnta , it is a trait I have to own, no matter how I wish otherwise.

The age of shackles and scramble for land has long passed, but the aftermath reverberates in our ears, whispering words like “victim,” “predator” and “diversity hire.”

Black is black is black.

I turn back to look at Saanvi.

“The admissions are race-blind,” I state.

“Everybody knows that’s not true,” she scoffs. “So few Black people apply, you are guaranteed a spot.”

She pushes past my shoulders and marches out of the room.

Her bag lies forgotten on the floor, a key chain with a colorful peace sign dangling from the front.

I stare at it, contemplating leaving it there.

I pick up the straps and haul it over my shoulder, once more carrying the weight I do not own.

By Elise Spenner, age 15, Burlingame High School, Burlingame, Calif.

It felt like there was no air in the room. Mom sat on the mint green chair in the corner. The white exam paper crinkled under me as I gripped my knees to my chest and rocked back and forth. My tears blurred the cheery posters on human anatomy, balanced eating and mask etiquette into a mosh pit of swirling words and colors. The doctor’s words were garbled, blocked out by a rushing storm of shame.

“Hospital … patient care … check if they have beds.”

“Disordered eating … bradycardia … not enough blood to the heart …”

I didn’t need to listen to her. I already knew everything. I am a straight-A student. I have a solid grasp on cause and effect. Two plus two is four; not eating and exercising too much is an eating disorder. I’ve watched enough “Grey’s Anatomy” to know when doctors have bad news. I could tell by the way she walked into the room: the weary smile that screamed pity and heartache and the look that said, “I came into this profession to save lives, but that means I have to ruin yours.” I knew before that, when the nurse’s brow furrowed at the 42 on the heart rate monitor, and her icy fingers pressed my wrist to recalculate. I knew when I left that morning for my ritualistic five-mile run, leaving the remains of a breakfast pecked at and shuffled around on the plate. Of course I knew.

For a moment, as I listened and cried and the world swirled around me, I was relieved. Relieved that I could let go. That I wouldn’t have to think about what I ate or how fast I ran because my hands were being forcibly removed from the steering wheel.

But the world wouldn’t stay on hold until I was ready to start living again.

While I sat shellshocked, Mom canceled next week’s vacation to the bungalow rental by the beach. Dad sent a terse email to my soccer coach explaining why I would miss our first training camp in a year. For the next three weeks, I would participate in my summer courses from the four walls of a hospital room, with my computer angled to block out the nurse that would routinely flush my IV, the tangled mess of green and yellow wires that would tie me to a 24-hour heart rate monitor, and the makeshift sofa that one of my parents would sacrifice their back to sleep on each night. And two months later, my dad would open the mail to find a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Enough to account for the 504 hours I would spend in a hospital room, the 126 meals and snacks I would eat over those 504 hours, and the nurses who would wait on me for every single one of those 504 hours.

As I rocked compulsively on the glaring, white exam paper, relief quickly gave way to guilt. Gnawing guilt that in my undying pursuit for some ideal, I had destroyed my parents, my relationships and my life. I thought the numbers on the scale were some test to be passed or game to be won, until winning left me in a hospital bed for the summer. My choices were real. And the consequences? They were even more real.

First, after I finished sobbing, I wanted to scream, “Why me?” Then I wanted to pray to a god I didn’t believe in to turn back the clock and rewrite my story. But finally, with my face still buried in my knees, all I could do was whisper “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.

By Ruhani Chhabra, age 16, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, Calif.

“You’re going to have to take that thing off, sir.”

Yet another T.S.A. officer had just arrived. I cast a nervous glance at my father, who was extremely calm, even as he explained — for the third time — that he couldn’t unwrap the turban on his head. One, it would take too long to put back on. Two, it was against his faith.

The sentence hung heavily in the cinnamon-scented air. I resisted the urge to run through the metal detectors, shoes on and everything.

Make no mistake, I didn’t want to be embarrassed about my religion; in Sikhism, dignity is as fundamental as the turban. But when you’re 12 years old, awkward, pimply and painfully aware of the stares and mutterings from speedy holiday travelers, it’s hard to muster that pride.

It shouldn’t have turned out like this. My father and I had embarked on an impromptu trip to surprise his relatives, and the events resembled a Charlie Brown Christmas special — until we reached that dreaded corner of the airport.

To distract myself, I concentrated on the sugary aroma coming from the diner in the terminal. We always ate there before our flights; I loved their cinnamon buns. I associated a peculiar sense of freedom with those baked goods — their sweet taste meant we’d finished with security, freed of scrutiny.

Having brown skin and a head-covering means you’re practically begging for a “random” T.S.A. check. I figured that out at around the same age that I learned how to put on an airplane seatbelt on my own. However, this demand was significantly worse. Still, I wanted him to comply, wanted to rid myself of the scathingness of being “different.”

My father, who knew he would forever be considered “different” from the moment he walked into this country, persisted. He’d been to this airport before, and they let him have his turban scanned instead of removing it — what could’ve changed?

“It’s the holiday season,” the palest officer said, rolling his eyes. “Security is tighter. Just make a decision. Can’t you see your little girl’s waiting too?”

If I was embarrassed before, it was nothing compared to how I felt now. With all eyes on me, I wanted to shrink to the ground.

I had always feared the possibility of such humiliating “precautions” imposed on my father, and I had always thought that I would speak up. Even a simple “Don’t talk to him that way” would suffice.

Yet I looked up, turned to my father, and said, “Just take it off.” And the way he sighed let me know that I’d won. It was a rather haunting victory.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on my younger self. After all, I was severely insecure and surrounded by years worth of schoolyard ignorance (“So … why does your dad wear that rag?”), which morphed into my buried shame, and it took me a while to realize I had to dispel it. It took me even longer to learn how.

In the years to come, I’d discover the cathartic space of transcribing my feelings on paper. At that moment, though, I simply internalized everything: the embarrassment, the confusion and, most of all, the gnawing guilt. I watched impassively as my father removed his turban, every layer of meaningful fabric peeled away in front of a whole crowd.

The officers, circling him like angry piranhas, took one long look and then dismissed us. It was over.

Or so I thought. My father, never one to hold a grudge, still bought me some cinnamon buns. I took them onto the flight and looked out the window at the bright blue American sky, wondering why they didn’t taste as sweet as before.

By Daniella Canseco, age 17, Saint Mary’s Hall, San Antonio

When I was younger, I romanticized the thought of my first kiss. I thought it would be the most extravagant thing I would experience with the most handsome boy ever. I wanted the whole shebang: a Zac Efron look-a-like, roses, candles. When I did have my first kiss, was it like this? Nope. My first kiss was in a church parking lot after a musty dinner at the local food court. Just like everyone else, I remember the experience vividly, even though I try to forget.

The first red flag with this guy should’ve been the fact that when my mother Googled him, a picture of my last failed attempt at a relationship came up. They knew each other. Why didn’t I bail that very moment? Well, I was so desperate for even a hue of male validation that I put my blinders on for all red flags. I even ignored the fact that he had shirtless mirror pictures on his Instagram. How I cringe.

In my blue Mazda with the sticker “Let me see your kitties” on the back, I drove into the desolate Mission City Church parking lot, not knowing what fate awaited me. For about 30 minutes this guy showed me his entire music library, which consisted of subpar rap songs that his ex-girlfriend had introduced him to, and his entire camera roll, which was all pictures of him shirtless in front of a mirror, except for two, which were, surprisingly, shirtless pictures of him not in front of a mirror. So unpredictable!

A heavy rain started and, with each drop of water smacking my car, a loud slap would reverberate inside and inhibit our ability to hear one another. This unfortunate turn of events resulted in a conversation where the question “WHAT?” was said every other statement. We made small talk by screaming (well, him just screaming about himself at me) for about 10 minutes until the atmosphere in the car thickened with anticipation.

“Have you ever been kissed before?” he asked, breaking the silence.


Taken aback by this overwhelming question, I felt heat rush to my face as my body tinged with panic: Will he think I’m weird if I say no? Should I lie? I shouldn’t have eaten that Greek salad with onions.

“It’s OK if you haven’t.”

I pulled out my metaphorical white flag of surrender and admitted to my lack of achievement of this milestone. Suddenly, I saw his body lean over the dashboard that separated us; his hand reached for my cheek and, just like that, he started kissing me. The fumes of hot onion breath were shared between us as his wet lips slid against mine like a slug. This went on for a good three seconds, which really felt like a good three years, until I pushed him away, overwhelmed by the discomfort I had just experienced. My hand lunged for my cup of water as I attempted to wash down the dissatisfaction of something I had yearned for for years.

“Oh, are you OK?” he questioned, as I violently gulped down my water.

“ARE!? YOU!? OK!?”


I drove him back to his house, the only sounds the ending of the once violent storm and his ex-girlfriend’s rap music playlist. The awkward end-of-date goodbye ensued, and I drove back home in silence rethinking what happened, my lofty expectations deflated. Most of life’s presumptions will not be close to reality, but that’s just how things work.

By Marion Cook, age 14, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.

Thirty feet below me and the quivering gray of the diving board, the ocean howled its lonely tune. It whispered and wept like a child lost at the market. It was restless. The wind blew to the same beat at which my heart quickened. It thumped almost audibly despite the shouts of encouragement from strangers, their presence adding a touch of surrealness to my already fraught situation.

I wonder how many people I disappointed that day. I wonder if they remembered my face as I disappeared into the lottery of daily life.

Slowly, my cousins began to run off the sharp angle of the board. I watched some of them fall; there was always this flutter of panic before they all resurfaced, laughing.

I wanted to, too. I wanted to be like them. They said it felt like flying. I remembered thinking that I wanted to know what it felt like to have wings.

The concept of voluntary risk leaked from my brain in the same way water leaks through one’s cupped hands. I think I blame cancer. My mom was diagnosed. Skin cancer. On her head. Not like one surgery and it’s gone type cancer, like fighting for more time type cancer. I was nine years old. Instead of worrying about what to wear to school, I worried about whether or not my mom would wake up in the morning. And how I wouldn’t know until later because a hospital bed cradled her arms and IV bags hugged her, instead of me.

I didn’t really think about my partially broken urge to take on fear because I was too busy with school and birthday parties and the full-time occupation of being the kid of a sick person.

So I didn’t. For years I would come back. Sometimes I would watch my cousins or strangers fall and just say that I didn’t feel like it or that I had just dried off or that the water was too cold. The ocean didn’t judge me, and the sky didn’t care.

But I still felt regretful whenever I walked away. Slowly, I remembered that I had still wanted to know what it felt like to fly.

All of life is temporary and like a dream in the sense that when it will end is as obscure as the already forgotten beginning. Perhaps the greatest people are those who understand that risk is what makes life count. You can be alive for lifetimes without ever really living at all. Sometimes fear is what makes existence tangible as we crisscross our strings of consciousness, floating haphazardly in the void.

I remembered this. I think, to some degree at least, it saved me in a way. I ran off the board. Partially because heights and I are not compatible, and partially because life’s too short to spend time hesitating.

And I did fall. I think I screamed. The whole ordeal happened as spontaneously as the disease that had engulfed my mother. It was over faster, though. And hurt less than radiation and needles and drugs sometimes did. My mom was there that day. Despite relapses and tumors, by the time I was 14, she was extraordinarily cancer-free. The ocean consumed me. I felt small again, like a kid, like I had traveled back to before the Big Bang, and everything forever was silence and the bubbles caused by the air escaping my lungs. And then I resurfaced. I was OK.

I was going to be OK.

By Ellen Xu, age 16, Del Norte High School, San Diego

I stare at the texts on my phone screen, sent from Dad an ocean away: “Love you.” “Miss you.” “Call?” When I was young, I used to play a game where I would repeat a word enough times for it to sound foreign. Now, I’m playing the same game but in reverse, attempting to remember what it was like when his texts still held their meaning.

Out of habit, I type out “Lub”— my way of saying “love”— and press send, a fraction of a second too late before I see the letters rearrange themselves on their own accord. “Lin.” My mom’s name. Not again. I’m convinced autocorrect has a mind of its own; or, maybe it knows that there is a part of me that has a hard time letting go, that wants to revert to a time when her name was not taboo when sent to him.

Dad moved to China the summer after sixth grade. I remember the long nights we would sit at kitchen table discussions, a tug of war between “job” and “family.” Whenever I look back, I’m reminded of the movie “Interstellar”; not just because it was our favorite movie, but because if I had only been smart enough like Murphy, I would have told him to stay. It was not long after he left that distance severed the bond between my parents, like the expanding universe pulling stars out of orbit. Like Cooper pounding his fist on an interdimensional bookshelf, I am banging on the keyboard hoping the right words will fall out. But all that ends up on the other side is empty text and autocorrect.

I write “Lub” again, this time removing the autocorrect and appending a gauche apology. He texts back: “Call for just one minute?” I think of all the things I want to say: It’s not the same to call. It’s been two years since I was last with you. I just had my first driving lesson today and don’t you remember promising me years ago that you would be the one to teach me to drive? Do you know how many memories we’ve traded for texts and calls?

But I don’t say this. I bite back the frustration and text back “OK,” and in the next instant, his face lights up my screen.

We don’t say much in that minute. He doesn’t ask me how I am, because “good” is never a good enough answer. I don’t ask about his new life, his job, his family, or any of the questions I used to hurl at him. His tear-filled smile, creased with hope and sadness, makes me swallow all the things I want to say. The fact that he is OK with this, that he would keep calling and texting me every night even if I never answered, that just being able to see me on the other side of the screen is enough, makes it enough for me to let go. To move past my anger and regret at how, when I needed it the most, my words came out jumbled in those crucial moments at the kitchen table, where I could have changed things.

I’m not angry anymore. He looks at me and tells me he loves me. And for once, my words come out just as I want them to: no longer autocorrecting to the bitterness of a past left behind.

“I lub you, too.”

By Lillian Sun, age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

Part of my youth remains in China, in the suburbs of Hangzhou where the children feed stray cats on the open streets and the elders take leisurely walks in the quiet parks. The roads were barely wide enough for one car to pass through, not that very many people knew how to drive. My grandpa owned a bicycle that he used to take me to wherever I wanted to go. At 70 years old, he could still pedal the two of us through the town fast enough for the wind to tousle my hair and send my hat flying.

The bicycle only had room for one passenger, so I walked with my grandpa and grandma whenever all three of us went downtown in the summer. We bought our groceries in a spacious multistory shopping mall that sold everything from cellphones to raw meat. I wasn’t tall enough back then to push the cart and decided to drift from stall to stall, eyeing the different foods on display designed to catch the eye of a wandering child. No matter how much I begged, my grandpa never bought me shiny red candy or steamed custard buns: Wai puo and I can cook better food for you.

Once back in our apartment, my grandparents got to work, creating an aroma that seeped through the kitchen and into the living room where I was reading an old book. Within half an hour, a whole steamed fish, white rice, and purple corn were laid out on the table. I always finished the fish and rice first, leaving the corn for last.

My grandparents only bought the freshest vegetables, especially so when it came to purple corn. They knew which corn was the most tender just by looking at the husks. Then, they boiled the corn for a good 10 minutes on their gas stove to ensure that it was fully cooked.

I was not a patient granddaughter and often burned my fingers picking up the purple corn, though my complaints were forgotten after the first bite. The kernels stuck to my teeth and filled my mouth with warmth. I chewed the glutinous corn until my jaw ached and my teeth were stained purple, leaving a wholesome aftertaste on my tongue.

After two years of living with my grandparents, I flew back to the United States. The streets here were loud and dogs barked all day long. The corn in American grocery stores was pale yellow, small and watery. I didn’t burn my fingers when I ate it, nor did I chew it for very long. Juice from the corn dripped down onto my plate and I wished I was back in China, walking hand in hand with my grandparents. Here in America, I could eat all the candy I wanted, but there were only so many pieces I could swallow before the sugar became nauseating and I threw up, crying.

My mother eventually found frozen purple corn at a Chinese supermarket, packaged in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. When boiled, the corn softened to a chewy texture, but I could no longer taste Hangzhou summers in this purple corn.

Student Personal Narrative Contest Finalists

In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.

Daniella Canseco, age 17, St. Mary’s Hall, San Antonio: “Lips or Slug?”

Ruhani Chhabra, age 16, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, Calif.: “T.S.A. and Cinnamon Buns”

Marion Cook, age 14, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.: “The Bluff”

Blanche Li, age 13, Diablo Vista Middle School, Danville, Calif.: “The Best Friend Question”

Lyat Melese, age 16, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.: “Guilted”

Elise Spenner, age 15, Burlingame High School, Burlingame, Calif.: “504 Hours”

Lillian Sun, age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.: “Purple Corn”

Ellen Xu, age 16, Del Norte High School, San Diego: “Autocorrect”

Bailee Cook, age 17, Hanford High School, Richland, Wash.: “To Cry”

Esther Lee, age 16, St. Paul Preparatory, Seoul: “Warmth Behind Unfamiliarity”

Anjanette Lin, age 14 Groton School, Groton, Mass.: “Orange Nikes”

Jimmy Lin, age 17, BASIS International Park Lane Harbor, Huizhou, Guangdong, China: “The Front Seat”

Robin Linden, age 13, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.: “Goodnight, Mom”

Sybellah Kidd-Shugart, age 15, Sprayberry High School, Marietta, Ga.: “A Watch Wound Back Seven Years”

Sim Khanuja, age 17, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.: “An Angel’s Eyes”

Maximus Masucci, Harmony Middle School, Purcellville, Va.: “How I Learned to Break Out of My Shell: An Autistic Boy’s Perspective on Communication”

Pranav Moudgalya, age 17, University High School, Irvine, Calif.: “Talking Turkey”

Jack Quach, age 17, St. Ignatius High School, San Francisco: “A Mighty Pen”

Sum Yu Tian, age 15, The Hockaday School, Dallas: “The Ever-Moving Train”

Ryan Thomas, age 16, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, Ill.: “The Pyrotechnician”

Yihan (Laura) Wang, age 13, Shrewsbury International School Bangkok Riverside, Bangkok: “Confession”

Elizabeth Warren, age 17, The Hockaday School, Dallas: “El Xbox”

Stella Wu, age 16, Taipei American School, Taipei, Taiwan: “Anonymous”

Jerry Xu, age 16, Sacred Heart Schools Atherton, Atherton, Calif.: “What’s in a Name?”

Honorable Mentions

Jayda Brain, age 15, Illawarra Christian School, Albion Park, Australia: “The Viking Revenge Flume”

Claire Beeli, age 15, Woodrow Wilson High School, Long Beach, Calif.: “When Airplanes and Rocket-Copters Were Stars”

Tony Cai, age 17, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H.: “A Coin Never Delivered”

Czarina Datiles, age 16, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, San Diego: “Bystander”

Jinane Ejjed, age 13, The Seven Hills School, Walnut Creek, Calif: “The Flying Turtle”

Elena Green, age 17, Washington-Liberty, Arlington, Va.: “Modern Education”

Viona Huang, age 16, Diamond Bar High School, Diamond Bar, Calif: “Born a Crime”

Chloe Jacobs, age 17, Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, Conn.: “Heart Hearth”

Yoo Jin Cho, age 16, Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Sydney: “Lost Your Voice?”

Eve Kaplan, age 16, Community High School, Ann Arbor, Mich.: “Boy Crazy”

Liana Kim, age 15, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, Va.: “Echoes of My Blood”

Gwen McNulty, age 14, Lincoln High Schoo, Lincoln, R.I.: “You Don’t Dry Them”

Asher Mehr, age 17, De Toledo High School, West Hills, Calif.: “I Remember August”

Atena Mori, age 16, Iolani School, Honolulu: “Not Throwing Away Any Soup”

Eojin P.: “Withering Cards”

Anya Pan, age 14, International School of Beijing, Beijing: “White Rabbit Under the Sun”

Raymond Pan, age 17, Aurora High School, Aurora, Ontario: “10,000 Kilometers”

Stewart Payne, age 16, Western Albemarle High School, Crozet, Va.: “Playing Games”

Arian Salamat, age 17, Branham High School, San Jose, Calif.: “Boneco”

Alexander Sayette, age 16, Winchester Thurston School, Pittsburgh, Pa.: “400 Meters”

Lauren Strauch, age 18, St. Mary’s Hall, San Antonio: “Two Women Baking”

Cheyenne Toma, age 17, Leonardtown High School, Leonardtown, Md.: “Mourning the Dad I Never Had in Nine Innings”

Paul Wallace, age 16, Glenbrook North High School, Northbrook, Ill.: “Unholy Night”

Madison Xu, age 17, Horace Mann School, Bronx, N.Y.: “Table for Three”

Round 4 Finalists

A PDF of all the winners and 154 more great narratives that made it to Round 4.

Thank you to all of our contest judges!

Sara Aridi, Erica Ayisi, Edward Bohan, Julia Carmel, Amanda Christy Brown, Kathryn Curto, Nicole Daniels, Dana Davis, Shannon Doyne, Alexandra Eaton, Jeremy Engle, Arden Evers, Vivian Giang, Caroline Gilpin, Michael Gonchar, Robyn Green, Emma Grillo, Annissa Hambouz, Michaella Heavey, Kimberly Hintz, Callie Holtermann, Jeremy Hyler, Susan Josephs, Tina Kafka, Shira Katz, Varya Kluev, Megan Leder, Phoebe Lett, Kathleen Massara, Keith Meatto, Sue Mermelstein, Andy Newman, Amelia Nierenberg, John Otis, Fran Pado, Kim Pallozzi, Olivia Parker, Ken Paul, Anna Pendleton, Raegen Pietrucha, Natalie Proulx, Christina Roberts, Kristina Samulewski, Katherine Schulten, Juliette Seive, Jesica Severson, Rachel Sherman, Ana Sosa, Arman Tabatabai, Mark Walsh and Kim Wiedmeyer

… and how to put them right! Advice and opportunities for new, aspiring and upcoming journalists and writers of non-fiction

Writing competitions

personal essay writing competition

For North America, click here .

We aim to avoid listing competitions whose terms and conditions request copyright in entries submitted — or make other unreasonable demands. T&Cs are usually checked, but some may slip through. Please check carefully before participating. 


18th December The Leah Leneman Essay Prize – Women’s History Scotland For an essay “on an aspect of women’s or gender history, focused on any time period and geographical area”. £200 prize. 

31st December The Writers College Free Writing Competition “Write us a 600-word piece on the theme: The best writing tip I’ve ever received … the winner receives £100.”


14th January T acchi Morris The Page is Printed Competition For any piece of writing, on one side of A4 only. Modest entry fees / cash prizes. Two age groups: over and under 18s. “Best of the night” prize too. 

15th January The Nature Chronicles Prize For “any work of non-fiction prose between 2,000 and 8,000 words long on a topic the writer considers to be contemporary nature writing”. £15 entry fee (some sponsorships available). £10,000 / 5 x £1,000. 

Barbara O’Neill Local History Writing Competition — Past Forward Essay Competition For an article “on a local history topic within the geographical boundaries of Wigan Borough”. Children’s plus adult categories. Various modest cash / voucher prizes and word-length requirements. 

22nd January Guild of Food Writers Awards Various categories. 

31st January Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize 4,000 words max. €18 (€11 subsequent entries). 1st: €1,000. Two runners-up: €300 + online course. 

The Plaza Memoir: First Chapters Prize Submit a 300-word synopsis of your memoir, plus opening chapter(s) (5,000 words max.). £20 entry. Prizes: £1,500 / £300 / £100. 


1st February St Gallen Symposium Global Essay Competition Topic question: Striving for more or thriving with less – What pressing scarcity do you see, and how do you suggest to tackle it? 2,100 words max. CHF20,000 prize fund (three winners). Open to university graduates or postgraduates.

12th February Northern Writers Awards One award for narrative non-fiction, and one for debut narrative non-fiction (each combined with fiction). Generous cash awards to work on projects. 

29th February The Observer/Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism £10 entry fee. For “an 800-word review of a recently released book, film, album, concert, exhibition, ballet, play, TV show, online stream, performance art piece or anything else that could be covered by a newspaper’s arts review pages”. £3,000 / 2 x £500 prizes. 


1st March Haklyut Society Essay Prize “Open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university or equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years.” Essays: “should be based on original research in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences, and on an aspect of the history of travel, exploration and cultural encounter or their effects, in the tradition of the work of the Society.”. 6,000–8,000 words. £1,000 prize (may be shared). 

The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize Opens 1st January. Theme TBC. £3,000 + 2 x £1,000. 


NB : Most of the following are included on the basis of having run in the previous year, but are provisional or as yet unconfirmed for the upcoming date specified.

October 2023 Mountaineering Scotland Mountain Writing Competition

November 2023 JKP Writing Prize

December 2023 Writing Magazine’s Creative Non-Fiction Competition The Philosophy Essay Prize

January 2024 The European Society of Literature Writing Prize The Plaza Prizes: Memoir: First Chapters ABSW Awards

February 2024 The Wincott Awards Southword Literary Essay Competition The Welkin Prize

March 2024 Cambridge Centre for Animal Rights Law Essay Competition Fitzcarraldo Editions / Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize New Welsh Review Writing Awards Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award NAWG Members Writing Competition BBC Young Reporter Competition Wild Atlantic Writing Creative Nonfiction Award The Richard Wise / ICP Prize Black Ink Prize

April 2024 The Libra Essay Prize Young Norfolk Writing Competition The Sophie Coe Prize

May 2024 Creative Futures Writers’ Award Design Writing Prize The Martha Mills Young Writers’ Prize MTP Short Story Competition Wasafiri Essay Prize The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Critical Writing Prize John Locke Institute Essay Competition The Irish Food Writing Awards

June 2024 Write By the Sea Literary Festival (WBTS) 2023 Writing Competitions Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition Art UK Write on Art Prize Love Books Competition John Locke Institute Essay Competition Hubert Butler Essay Prize South Warwickshire Literary Festival Writing Competition Marlborough Lit Fest’s Love Books Competition

July 2024 Exisle Publishing Your Big Break Book Pitch Competition Forum for Modern Languages Essay Prize Young Wild Writer Competition Quiet Man Dave Prize Working Class Writers Nature Prize The Laurie Lee Prize for Writing AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award The Nan Shepherd Prize The Burlington Contemporary Art Writing Prize Sarah Hughes Trust Prize William T Hearn Student Essay Prize  

August 2024 Source Writing Prize Brian Black Memorial Award 2023 Morley Literature Prize for Writers of Colour Brontë Studies Early Career Research Essay Prize RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards for Non-Fiction British Guild of Beer Writers’ Awards Scottish Mental Health Arts Foundation Writing Competition Garden Media Guild Awards

September 2024 Planet New Writers Competition The Gardens Trust Mavis Batey Essay Prize Ireland’s Own Writing Competition Bridport Prize Memoir Award The Moth Nature Writing Prize Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust / Scottish Islands Explorer Writing Prize

October 2024 Writers and Artists Working-Class Writers’ Prize   Bar Council’s Law Reform Essay Competition The Barbellion Prize RUSI’s Trench Gascoigne Essay Prize Writing East Midlands The Solstice Prize

November 2024 The Benjamin Franklin House Literary Prize Writing East Midlands Nature, the Environment & Sustainability” Short Story Competition Anthology Travel Writing Competition The Somerset Maugham Awards


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