Hit the mark dead center when you focus your essay for a writing contest.
How long would it take you to earn $500? Sixty hours after deducting taxes and such?
High school students often overlook a great moneymaker — writing contests and other kinds of writing competitions. High school counselors and teachers frequently get flyers and email notifications about essay contests, but it’s the rare student who enters them. With a little research and a focused essay, you can win $500 or $1,000 or more for the effort of an hour or so — nice pay for a relatively short investment of time.
Here are some tips about writing contest essays:
- As you research contests choose topics about which you can write passionately, so that you are vested in your essay.
- Read all the material provided by the organization. “Listen” to what the organization is telling you about how the essay will be judged.
- Make sure you understand the actual topic.
- Outline the question. Often there are several areas of focus the organization would like you to address. Make sure you — as the illustration above indicates — hit the mark of what the contest creators want.
- Research the issue thoroughly, choosing reliable sources. Make sure you have the latest information, as often these are news driven. For example, if you are being asked to discuss solutions to solve a university system’s budget crisis, you need to know the current issues. Go to creditable sources, such as several news organizations that will give you varied perspectives about the issues.
- Organize your essay appropriately, according to the essay type. For example, a reflective essay is organized differently than a persuasive essay.
- Get feedback from a trusted adult, and revise your essay carefully.
- Proofread meticulously — make sure there are no errors.
- Follow all the specific directions for submission. It would be sad if your entry was thrown out simply because you didn’t, for example, put your contact information in the correct spot.
One current example is the annual John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Essay Contest (http://www.jfklibrary.org/Events-and-Awards/Profile-in-Courage-Award/Profile-in-Courage-Essay-Contest.aspx). Each year the JFK Library challenges high school students to write a focused essay about an elected official who has risked his or her career to demonstrate political courage. The website offers many links to help students about the elements of a strong essay, guidelines for citations, and other information. This is a very prestigious contest — one that could provide you with $10,000, as well as an exciting trip to Boston.
At the time my oldest child was applying to colleges, affirmative action was an issue regarding college admission. Colleges had been admitting quotas of minority students, relaxing standards at times so as to achieve ethnic diversity on their campuses. One statewide organization sponsored an essay about this topic, and my daughter entered the contest. She worked hard to get the latest news information — which was breaking almost daily — and wrote a strong persuasive essay arguing against quotas. She was one of a half dozen students who won a $400 award, which the organizers presented to her and the other winners at a stunning reception at the top of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.
Winning that award was a huge confidence builder for my daughter, who went on to get her master’s degree in education and to teach high school English.
My theory is that someone has to win these contests — and that someone might as well be one of my students . . . or even you!