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  • Rikhil Parsram

Exploring Essay Competitions Across the Social Sciences

Updated: May 10

There are a spectrum of essay competitions out there catering to students worldwide across diverse academic disciplines. From the John Locke Essay Competition, focused on philosophical inquiry, to the economics-centred Marshall Society Essay Competition, each contest offers students a unique opportunity to hone their skills and build their profile. Here are some essay competitions available to students in India, and worldwide, to showcase their writing and critical thinking skills:

Program focus: Named after renowned philosopher John Locke, the John Locke Institute hosts an annual essay competition on a variety of philosophical topics, exploring themes related to politics, economics, history, psychology, theology and law. Entry is free and open to students younger than 18 years old from any country. There is also a junior category for entrants younger than 14 years. Essays are judged by a panel of senior academics from leading universities such as Oxford and Princeton.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Up to 18 years old (Junior Category: up to 14 years old)

Registration deadline: May 31, 2024

Submission deadline: June 30, 2024

Late entry deadline: July 10, 2024 ($20 charge)

Prize: $10,000 scholarship for a summer school and an honorary John Lock Institute Junior Fellowship for the best essay overall, $2,000 towards the cost of attending the John Locke Institute for winners of each subject category, essays published on the website.

Program focus: Delivered by the Royal Commonwealth Society since 1883, the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition invites students from across the Commonwealth to submit essays on various themes ranging from sociopolitical to environmental issues. This year, the topics cover the climate crisis, cooperation and community in the Commonwealth, and peace, liberty and progress.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Senior category: 14-18 years / Junior category: under 14 years - (Commonwealth nationals and residents only) 

Submission deadline: May 15, 2024 

Prize: Week of educational and cultural events in London and a special Awards Ceremony for one Winner and one Runner Up in each category. A number of Gold Finalist, Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards in both categories. Certificate of Participation for all successful entries.

Program focus: The Immerse Education Essay Competition invites students between the ages of 13 and 18 to submit essay responses to a question of their choice from a bank of 20 to choose from. Ten winners are granted a 100% scholarship to Immerse programs such as the Cambridge Summer School.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: 13-18 years old 

Submission deadline: September 12, 2024

Prize: 100% scholarship for 10 winners; Partial scholarships up to 50% for runners up; Partial scholarships worth up to 20% for the next category of entrants who are not runner-ups.

Program focus: Northeastern University London organises an essay competition, inviting entries from students in the penultimate year of secondary education (i.e. Grade 11). Essay titles cover a broad range from business and computer science to history and law. Entries are accepted from students all over the world.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Grade 11 students

Submission deadline: December 31, 2023

Prize: £1,000 for the overall winner across all essay subjects, £500 for each winner in each subject category, £250 for each runner up in each subject category

Program focus: The Harvard International Review, a quarterly magazine on international affairs, runs an academic writing contest to encourage high school students to write on topics related to international issues. Participants are invited to submit a 1,200-word article on a topic related to international affairs today such as agriculture, energy and environment or public health.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Grades 9-12

Submission deadline: Spring: May 31, 2024 / Summer: August 31, 2024 / Fall: January 2, 2025

Prize: All submissions will receive a score from the Harvard International Review. Contestants that receive a passing score without qualifying for a HIR Defense Day will receive individual prizes. Finalists will be eligible for Gold/Silver/Bronze medals based on their scores and performance in the HIR Defense Day.


Program focus: Established in 1955, the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs hosts the Dorian Fisher Memorial Prize, an economics essay competition named after Dorian Fisher, wife of IEA founder Sir Antony Fisher. The competition is open to IB and A-Levels students and the essay topics vary year-to-year but often revolve around topics such as the impact of government policies, the importance of individual freedom or the role of markets in addressing societal challenges. Students are typically asked to answer one 1,200-word essay and two 500-word questions.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: A-Levels & IB students

Submission deadline: January 26, 2024

Prize: 1st prize of £500, £250 each for three runners up, £500 for the school with the highest number of entrants

Program focus: The Marshall Society Essay Competition is organised annually by the Marshall Society, the economics society of the University of Cambridge. Open to students aged 16-18 years, the competition sets essay questions on a range of economic themes related to the impact of IA on the labour market to evaluating the efficacy of policies.

Cost: Free

Eligibility: 16-18 years old

Submission deadline: August 2024

Prize: Top 3 winners get their essays published in The Dismal Scientist, the magazine of the Marshall Society with a prize of £50 for 1st place winner and £25 for 2nd place and 3rd place finalists

Program focus: Sponsored by the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association (HUEA), the Harvard International Economics Essay Competition is open to high school students of any year and invites participants to construct a convincing argument to one of four prompts using economic theory and real-world examples. 

Cost: $20 reading fee

Eligibility: Grades 9-12

Submission deadline: January 5, 2024

Prize: Top 3 winning essays published on HUEA’s website; finalists list of top submission published online and adjudicated by 2016 Economics Nobel Prize winner Oliver Hart; “Highly Commended” distinction awarded to a list of names published online

To understand which of these programs is ideal for you, speak to your mentors at OnCourse who will be able to make the most effective recommendations keeping in mind your interests, your current academic standing and your resume. If you are not enrolled with OnCourse, reach out to set up a consultation meeting to understand more about our mentoring programs for students from Grade 8 to Grade 12. 

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