Essay Competitions for Year 12 Students: A Complete Guide

essay competitions for year 12 2024Today we’re sharing our guide to essay competitions in the UK for Year 12 English students. This article was last updated in January 2024

I must confess that essay competitions were not a thing when I applied to uni. But then when I applied to uni, all that was required was a decent pass in all my A-Levels and a part-time job in McDonalds. The story for today’s teens is not so simple.

Today I’m sharing a guide to independent essay competitions run by colleges and other organisations. This is a chance for students to share work they’ve already done, or create a fresh essay on a topic set by the organisers.

While you’re here, don’t miss our other guides for Year 12 students:


Why essay competitions are useful

Essay competitions for Year 12 students are a great way to build up your UCAS application. They’re a great example of a super-curricular activity. They show universities that you have a genuine interest in a subject, and expending your learning beyond the classroom.

This is important if you are applying for a competitive course like English or Psychology, or a competitive university like Oxford or Cambridge. We’ve focused on English and humanities here because that’s what my teen is researching. But if you want to study something else, this guide includes relevant essay competitions in other areas for Year 12 including law, philosophy and history.

There are essay competitions in LOADS of subject areas. The below essay competitions for Year 12 (and sometimes other years) could help. Not only by showing your commitment. If you win a prize, then you could mention this in an application. Some essay competition prizes include attendance at a university open day, providing a valuable way to stand out to admissions teams.

Complete Guide to Essay Competitions for English Lit Students

Below you’ll find a list of Year 12 essay writing competitions that are aimed at, or suitable for, English students. Some of these competitions won’t open until later in the academic year. Others are open for entry in 2024 for students applying to university in 2024/25. I’ve indicated a month of closing for each competition. I’ve also provided a brief description of each competition and details of prizes. Click through to find out more.

essay competition guide

Girton College Humanities Writing Competition

Girton College, Cambridge, runs an annual competition for humanities essays, which is suitable for students wanting to apply for English at university. It’s also a great opportunity for students of history, geography, economics and other humanities.

The essay prompt is an exhibit from the college’s museum collection, and students are invited to submit an essay inspired by that item. Winners receive prizes of up to £200. It’s worth noting that only three students per school can enter this competition. The submission deadline is MARCH and the prize is £200.

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Minds Underground Essay Competitions

This scientific focused from Minds Underground essay competition has a category aimed at ‘senior’ students, which means Year 12. There are actually multiple essay categories covering science, geography, medicine, veterinary science along with history, english and classics.  The submission deadline for all categories is April 3, 2024.

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Immerse Education Essay Competition

This annual essay competition has an unusual prize – a place at the annual pre-university summer school run by Immerse Education in Oxford, Cambridge or London. It’s a highly competitive competition and the standard of entries is high. The deadline is January each year, further details available online.

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Sheffield Philosophy Essay Competition

This competition has small prizes of £50 but worth entering for the kudos. It’s open to students in Years 10, 11 and 12, and invites you to write an essay of 1,500 words on one of five ethical/moral questions like ‘Can animals be moral?’. The competition opens in January and closes in May.

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Sheffield History Essay Competition

The University of Sheffield is also running a history essay competition for 2024, which is open until April 26, 2024. To enter the competition, Y12 students must create a 1500 word essay on one of 5 history prompts. Worth noting you can win £100 if you get a prize, but there can only be two entrants from each school or college.

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ISA Essay Competition

While some competitions are only open to state school students, the ISA Essay challenge is open only to students attending independent schools that are part of the Independent Schools Association.

The competition is open to students of all ages and entries are judged in various categories, including one for Year 12 and 13 students. The competition opens in February 2024 and closes in May. There’s also an annual poetry competition that might be worth considering for literature students.

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New College of Humanities Essay Challenge

NCH London also runs an annual essay competition for Year 12 students, which is open worldwide. The contest includes various categories that may be of interest to future English students. Entry is open to students in Year 12, and the essay prompts will be published on September 5 or thereabouts. Students need to submit a 1,500 word essay by the following January. The overall winner of this competition gets a £1,000 prize. There’s also £500 or £200 for the runners up.

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essay competitions for Y12 2024

NU London Essay Competition

This competition is not yet open for 2024, but information on the annual essay competition run by the Northeastern University, London can be found online. The competition is open to students in Year 12, and covers technology, social science and humanities topics. Expect questions to be posted in January and the competition usually runs until April.

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Fitzwilliam College Essay Competitions (various)

This year, Fitzwilliam college, Cambridge, is running a series of essay competitions in Ancient World and Classics, Archaeology, Economics, History, Land Economy, Medieval World and Slavonic Studies. Entries must be submitted by the end of March 2024. Students must be in year 12 and there is a limit of 5 applications per school per competition. Helpfully, the college is running a couple of webinars in essay writing, to help students make the most of the competition.

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The Hugo Young Award

If you’re a budding journalist or activist, the Hugo Young award is run annually by the Guardian newspaper and is open to people aged 16-25. The prize is to create a short piece of journalism on a topic of your choosing.

There is a specific category for 16-18 year olds (if you’re under 18, you’ll need an adult to confirm your entry) and the award is open to anyone from a state school background, although entries from traditionally under-represented groups are especially welcome. You can win £100 in book vouchers, a Guardian subscription and certificate.

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The Rex Nettleford Prize

Run by Oriel College, Oxford, this essay competition focuses on the enduring influence of colonialism on our lives. The rules encourage students to engage with the legacies of colonialism in all its forms – historical, political, economic, social, cultural. Entry is via a 2,500 word essay, and is open to students in Year 12. The prize is £250, and your entry needs to be submitted by 15 March, 2024.

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essay competitions for english students

Newnham College Essay Competitions

The Newnham competition has been in the news recently because it has changed its rules so that students from independent schools may NOT enter their essay competition. Newnham is a Cambridge college, and as such, they’re trying to distance themselves from the idea that they favour students from privileged backgrounds. Fair enough.

The Newnham competition offers a number of essay prizes, that are open to female students in Year 12. The college provides webinars and guides outlining how to submit and create your essay. Entries are submitted each March, and there is a maximum of four entries permitted in each subject, per school. Details of the Woolf essay, which opens each summer, can be found online.

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LSE Undergraduate Political Review

This competition has not yet been opened for 2024 but you can see the format of the competition for 2023 and the winning entries on the LSE UPR website.

This competition invites students in Year 12 to write an 1,000 word essay on a political prompt. The prize includes a £100 Amazon voucher, a certificate signed by the head of LSE’s government department and a chance to present at the annual LSEUPR conference.

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Trust for Sustainable Living Essay Prize

This competition is open to school students of all ages but the secondary category is for students aged 11-18 and only requires a 600-word essay on a topic around sustainability.The brief for 2024 – “How can nature help us achieve the UN SDGs in my community?” You will need to have your entry submitted by a teacher or other adult aged 18+.

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The Peter Cane Legal Reasoning Prize

If you’re an aspiring lawyer in Year 12 or Year 13, this competition by Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The competition opens in January and closes in February. Winning entrants will be invited to a debate at the college later in the year. This year’s essay prompt is a hypothetical legal case and students are invited to submit an essay outlining their view of the case and reasons why they take the position they do.

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The Libra Essay Prize

The Libra competition is for students in Y11 and Y12 preparing for university – it opens each year in January and closes in April 2024. There are actually essay questions across eight categories including science, English, history, economics and more. Essays can be up to 2,000 words and winners will receive vouchers of up to £50 for each category.

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Essay Competition

If you reckon you could write 1,200 words on the theme ‘Can Machines Think’ then you might be up for the first ever Royal Institute of Philosophy Think! essay competition. There aren’t any monetary prizes but the winners’ entries will be published by the Institute and that’s got to be worth mentioning on your university application!

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The St Johns College Classics and Ancient History Prize

This annual competition is now open and closes in March 2024. There are questions for students of classics and history, including classical literature. To enter, students must submit a 2,000 word essay on one of five questions, and could win a £100 book voucher as a prize. In addition, everyone who submits an essay is invited to the college for an open day, including tours and workshops.

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Oxford IQ Essay Competition

Similar to the Immerse Education essay competition, the Oxford IQ essay competition gives students the chance to win a free place on a summer pre-university programme in Oxford. Essays are judged on a rolling basis, but must be submitted by March 2024. Entering is something of a process. You need to first register interest in the summer programme including writing a statement on why you want to attend the session, and you’ll receive details of the competition and the essay questions within 48 hours. You can then start your entry, and you’ll be informed within a week of submission if you have been successful.

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The Mary Renault Prize

St Hughes College Oxford runs two essay competitions each year. The first focuses on history, the second on classics. The classics essay is worth considering if you’re aiming for an English degree. The competition welcomes entries from students not currently studying Latin/Greek at A-Level, and your essay can focus on classical literature. There are 2 prizes available, worth up to £500. Entries must be 2,000-2,400 words and submitted by late July. Winners are also invited to visit the college for tea!

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Queens College Year 12 Essay Contest

Queens College Cambridge runs an annual English essay competition for Year 12 students, demanding a 2500 word essay for a change to win a £500 prize! Entries close in March and the winner is announced in May. In addition to the cash prize, the winner is invited to the college open day and several previous winners went on to study at Cambridge.

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The John Locke Institute International Essay Competition

While not strictly aimed at English students, this global contest is very well known and the breadth of topics means you can take a literary approach to another discipline. Students can submit essays across seven different subjects. They are Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology and Law. There are three questions set for each topic, and you can choose your favourite. Entries close in June each year.

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The Betty Haigh Prize

Many sixth form students of literature will study Shakespeare and this essay competition is the perfect place to showcase your best work.

To enter the competition, students need to write a 1500 word essay that compares a scene in a Shakespeare tragedy to a film or TV adaptation, OR write a standalone essay exploring how a TV or film adaptation of a Shakespeare drama has thrown new light on the original text. Entries close in September 2024, and winners generally receive book vouchers as prizes.

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2022 essay competitions

Gould Prize for English Literature

One of the best essay competitions for english students is the Gould Prize, which is awarded annually by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Candidates are invited each year to submit an essay of between 1,500 and 2,500 words on a topic to be chosen from the list of questions. Entries must be submitted by August 1, with a first prize of £600 to be split between the student and their school or college. Each year there are six questions to choose from, covering novels, poetry and drama.

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Robinson College Essay Prize

You don’t enter the Robinson College essay competition because of the prizes – you’ll get a £50 book token if you win. But you’ll get lots of kudos AND an invite to a celebratory award lunch at the college, where you can meet the dean. Similar to the Gould prize, the Robinson College prize poses a series of challenging questions and invites students to answer them from their own perspective. Questions are carefully selected so they’re applicable to literature but also philosophy, history, law and science. This particular competition will not run in 2024.

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There you have it! 26 of the best essay competitions for Year 12 students, that you can apply for in 2022. Missed something from our guide? Let me know in the comments!



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