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15 Creative Writing Competitions for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Old quill placed on a table.

15 Creative Writing Competitions for High School Students

Creative writing competitions for high school students offer a unique platform to hone their writing skills, express their creativity, and gain recognition. These contests serve as a valuable opportunity for young writers to challenge themselves, explore different genres, and potentially earn awards or scholarships.

1. Ocean Awareness Student Contest

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: November 2024
  • Application Deadline: June 10, 2024
  • Eligibility: Students aged 11-18 from all over the world can join the contest in the Junior Division (11-14) or Senior Division (15-18) based on their age at entry.

The 2024 Ocean Awareness Contest, aptly themed “Tell Your Climate Story,” invites young individuals aged 11-18 from across the globe to articulate their personal encounters with climate change. This 13th edition of the contest serves as an educational and expressive platform, encouraging participants to delve into the impacts of the climate crisis on both a personal and communal level. Participants are encouraged to convey their insights, experiences, and perceptions of the evolving climate reality through creative mediums such as art, writing, performance, film, or multimedia. Submissions can range from fiction, like short stories, to creative nonfiction, including personal narratives and journalistic pieces.

A student holding a model of the earth

The contest not only fosters an understanding of environmental issues but also enhances skills in communication, critical thinking, and creativity. It’s a chance for young creators to grow their portfolios, gain recognition through global exhibitions and publications, and earn cash awards up to $1,000. Participants also become part of Bow Seat’s extensive global community, contributing to significant environmental conservation and advocacy efforts. The contest aligns with the interests of prospective college students, offering an opportunity to showcase commitment to environmental issues and creative expression in their college applications.

2. River of Words Poetry and Art Contest

  • Location: Saint Mary’s College of California
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: Early April 2024
  • Application Deadline: February 29, 2024
  • Eligibility: Open to students aged 5 to 19 enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade

One of the widely-known creative writing competitions for high school students is the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest. It is an esteemed international youth competition, motivating students to articulate their environmental observations through art and poetry. Organized by River of Words® (ROW), a part of The Center for Environmental Literacy at the Kalmanovitz School of Education, the contest encourages participants to delve into themes that resonate with them, be it a specific aspect of nature, an ecosystem, or reflections of their cultural experiences. Each participant can submit up to 10 entries, with a maximum of five each for poetry and art. These entries are categorized and judged across four age-based groups, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Approximately 100 finalists in both art and poetry categories are chosen for publication, alongside the Grand Prize winners. Participating in the River of Words Contest not only nurtures creative expression and environmental consciousness but also offers significant benefits for college applications. It aids students in building a robust portfolio and developing skills like critical thinking and global awareness, which are invaluable in college and future career paths.

3. Thespy Playwriting

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Varies (per chapter)
  • Contest Date: June 23-28, 2024 (International Thespian Festival)
  • Application Deadline: May 8, 2024 (for Final Round qualification)
  • Eligibility: Participants must be active Thespians (grades 9-12) and Junior Thespians (grades 6-8) in chartered Thespian troupes.

The Thespy Playwriting (formerly Thespian Playworks), a highlight of the Educational Theatre Association’s International Thespian Excellence Awards, offers an exceptional platform for young playwrights. As part of a broader program that acknowledges outstanding achievements in school theatre, both in performance and technical aspects, this competition specifically focuses on the art of playwriting. It invites high school Thespians to submit original short plays, emphasizing the importance of authentic storytelling and deep personal connection to the themes and characters.

Students acting in the stage

Participants who achieve an overall Superior rating gain special recognition, with the top scorers in each category being announced live during a showcase event. What sets this program apart is its emphasis on educational development and the substantial rewards it offers. High achievers can earn a share of over $40,000 annually, a significant incentive that underscores the value placed on artistic excellence. For students aspiring to pursue theatre or writing in college, participation in the Thespy Playwriting competition can be a formidable addition to their college applications. It demonstrates their dedication to their craft, their ability to engage in complex creative processes, and their capacity for original thought – all qualities that are highly regarded in higher education and beyond.

4. Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest

  • Location: Hollins University
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: March 2024
  • Application Deadline: October 31, 2023 (Passed)
  • Eligibility: Young women who are US citizens and are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school.

The 60th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest, sponsored by Hollins University, offers a unique opportunity for young women in their sophomore or junior year of high school to gain recognition and scholarships for their poetic talents. This contest encourages participants to submit up to two of their best and unpublished poems, with the promise of substantial rewards for the winners. The first-place winner not only receives a $350 cash prize and publication in Hollins’ acclaimed literary magazine, “Cargoes,” but also ten copies of the magazine, a renewable scholarship of up to $5,000 per year for four years if they enroll at Hollins University, and free tuition and housing for the university’s Hollinsummer creative writing program. 

The second-place winner also enjoys the prestige of being published in “Cargoes,” along with two copies of the magazine, a renewable scholarship of up to $1,000 per year for four years at Hollins, and a $500 scholarship for the Hollinsummer program. Participation in this contest not only bolsters a student’s portfolio for college applications but also offers a glimpse into Hollins University’s vibrant writing community. Winning or participating in the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest can be a significant advantage for college admissions, demonstrating a student’s creative abilities and potential for literary achievement.

5. Princeton University Writing Contests

  • Location: Princeton University
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: June 2024 (Ten-Minute Play Contest); April 2024 (Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry)
  • Application Deadline: April 1, 2024 (Ten-Minute Play Contest); November 26, 2023 (Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry)
  • Eligibility: The contests are open exclusively to U.S. and international students who are in the eleventh grade.

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts annually sponsors prestigious writing contests for high school students, supported by generous donations from alumni and friends of the Arts. The Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize, judged by poets from Princeton’s own Creative Writing faculty, celebrates exceptional poetry by student writers. Contestants may submit up to three poems, with the opportunity to win substantial cash prizes: $1,500 for first place, $750 for second, and $500 for third. Similarly, the Ten-Minute Play Contest provides an exclusive opportunity for 11th graders to demonstrate their playwriting skills. Each year, a notable guest playwright judges the submissions. Students can submit one play, competing for prizes of $500, $250, and $100 for first, second, and third place, respectively. 

Blair Hall on the Princeton University campus.

Winning or even participating in creative writing competitions for high school students can significantly bolster a student’s college application, highlighting their creative abilities and showcasing their affiliation with a prestigious institution like Princeton University, which is known for its excellence in the arts. Participating in these contests displays students’ commitment to their craft and ability to compete at a high level, qualities that are highly valued in the competitive college admissions process.

6. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $10 per individual entry; $30 per portfolio
  • Contest Date: January (Regional Awards); March (National Awards)
  • Application Deadline: December–January (varies by region)
  • Eligibility: Participants must be students in grades 7-12, at least 13 years old, and reside in the United States, U.S. territories or military bases, or Canada.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have fostered creativity in American teens for over a century. This prestigious program allows young artists and writers to explore a wide range of topics freely, encouraging bold and original ideas. Initially, students compete regionally, with the potential to earn various awards. At the national level, winners are celebrated at a star-studded ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City, with past guests including prominent figures like Oprah Winfrey and Amy Schumer. The national stage not only recognizes their talent but also showcases their work in regional and travelling exhibitions. Outstanding works are also featured in the annual art catalog and writing anthology, with all National Medalists listed in the Yearbook.

National Medalists are eligible for scholarships up to $12,500, highlighting the program’s commitment to supporting young talent financially. Full-tuition scholarships are also available for recognized teens to attend summer art or writing programs. Additionally, designated scholarships in partner colleges and universities emphasize the program’s influence on higher education. Participation in this program can significantly enhance a student’s college application, demonstrating their dedication and talent in the arts. The opportunity to earn scholarships and recognition at national and regional levels provides a substantial advantage in the competitive college admissions process, setting these young artists and writers apart.

7. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $15 (submission fee)
  • Contest Date: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Eligibility: All high school and college students, including those from other countries and those who finished school a semester early, can participate in the contests.

The Adroit Prizes, presented by The Adroit Journal, a literary and arts nonprofit organization established in 2010 by poet Peter LaBerge, stands as a prestigious recognition in the literary world. The journal annually awards two students of secondary or undergraduate status. These students are typically emerging writers from high school or college whose exceptional works make them stand out. Participants are allowed to submit up to five pieces across poetry and prose categories. For poetry, each submission can include up to six poems, not exceeding ten single-spaced pages. In contrast, prose submissions can contain up to three pieces of fiction or creative nonfiction, with a combined word limit of 3,500 words, including excerpts.

Winners of The Adroit Prizes receive $200 each, and their work, along with that of the runners-up, is featured in The Adroit Journal. Additionally, runners-up and finalists are gifted a copy of their judges’ latest book. This recognition sets the program apart among creative writing competitions for high school students as it not only offers financial rewards but also provides significant exposure and publication opportunities for young writers. Being recognized by a well-regarded journal like The Adroit can be a valuable asset in the competitive college admissions process, highlighting a student’s creative abilities and potential for success in higher education and beyond.

8. The Claudia Ann Seaman Award for Young Writers

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $5 submission fee (for Fall, Winter, and Summer Contests ONLY)
  • Contest Date: Varies (depends on Reading Periods and Seasonal Contests)
  • Application Deadline: Varies (depends on Reading Periods and Seasonal Contests)
  • Eligibility: High school students worldwide aged 14 to 18, are eligible to participate.

The Claudia Ann Seaman Awards for Young Writers, established in memory of a young poet by the Seaman family, celebrate and acknowledge excellence in teen writing across poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Each year, the editorial staff selects nominees from works accepted for publication, and a panel of professional, published authors then chooses a winner in each of the three genres. Winners receive a $200 cash award, and two honorable mentions are also recognized in each genre.

View of a student using her laptop while writing.

This opportunity is not just about publication and the cash prize; it’s a chance for young writers to engage with a global literary community, receive valuable feedback from experts, and enhance their writing skills. Furthermore, the recognition from this award can significantly enhance a student’s portfolio, making it a noteworthy addition to college applications. Being selected or even nominated for the Claudia Ann Seaman Awards demonstrates a student’s dedication to their craft and ability to produce work that resonates with a broader audience.

9. National Council of Teachers of English

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: May 2024
  • Application Deadline: February 15, 2024
  • Eligibility: Sophomores and juniors can be nominated by their school’s English department for Achievement Awards in Writing. Eighth-grade students can be nominated by a school committee or department for the Promising Young Writers contest. US-accredited schools in the Schools in the United States, its territories, Canada, and American Schools Abroad are eligible to nominate students.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is dedicated to enhancing the teaching and learning English and language arts at all educational levels. Among its initiatives, the NCTE hosts two significant writing programs for students: the Achievement Awards in Writing for high school students and the Promising Young Writers program for eighth graders. In both competitions, students must create themed writings based on topics set by the respective advisory committees. This approach challenges students to engage with relevant and thought-provoking subjects and helps develop their critical thinking and creativity.

The top-scoring entries in each category are honored with the First Class distinction in the Achievement Awards in Writing or the Promising Young Writers program. All nominated students receive a certificate from their nominating teacher, and those awarded First Class recognition have their names and their schools’ names published on the NCTE website. Being recognized by a national organization like the NCTE can add considerable value to a student’s college application, showcasing their commitment to and excellence in the field of English and language arts.

10. The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: February 2024
  • Application Deadline: November 30, 2023
  • Eligibility: High school sophomores and juniors are eligible to join the contest.

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers is an esteemed annual contest designed to celebrate and recognize the poetic talents of high school sophomores and juniors. Named to honor Patricia Grodd for her unwavering support of The Kenyon Review and her dedication to education and poetry, the prize stands as a significant opportunity for young poets. The contest’s winners and runners-up earn the honor of having their poems published in The Kenyon Review, one of the most respected literary journals, a testament to the contest’s prestige in the literary world. Additionally, the winner is awarded a full scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers workshop, further nurturing their literary skills.

Being featured in The Kenyon Review is a notable achievement, as it signals a young writer’s entry into the broader literary community and provides substantial exposure. This recognition can be invaluable for a student’s college applications, highlighting not only their talent in poetry but also their ability to achieve at a high level in competitive environments.

11. NaNoWriMo

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: February 1-28, 2024
  • Application Deadline: February 28, 2024
  • Eligibility: Young writers aged 18 years old and under are eligible for NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Young Writers Contest.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), initiated in 1999, presents a formidable yet exciting challenge: writing 50,000 words of a novel within a month. Annually, starting November 1, hundreds of thousands globally embark on this journey, aiming to complete a first draft by month’s end. The Young Writers Program, a vital part of NaNoWriMo, supports writers under 18 and K-12 educators throughout this event and in smaller challenges throughout the year. January and February are designated as “Now What?” months, focusing on revising and polishing the novels aiming towards publication. The program offers grand prizes to one writer aged 14-18 and another prize for writers aged 13 or younger, along with several runner-up prizes. 

Winners are selected by a special guest judge from official finalists and receive recognition on NaNoWriMo’s blog and social media, along with gift certificates for the NaNoWriMo store. In 2022, NaNoWriMo saw the participation of 413,295 writers, including 21,326 young writers, with 51,670 writers meeting their writing goals. Participating in NaNoWriMo can significantly bolster a student’s college application, showcasing their commitment to a substantial project, their ability to meet deadlines, and their creative writing skills.

12. Writopia Lab Worldwide Plays Festival

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Eligibility: The Worldwide Play Festival accepts submissions from playwrights aged 6 to 18.

Writopia Lab, established in New York City in 2007, is a nonprofit organization that offers creative writing workshops and camps for children and teenagers. Since 2010, it has hosted the Worldwide Plays Festival, an annual Off-Broadway event featuring one-act plays written by young playwrights aged 6 to 18. These plays, which range from comedies and musicals to monologues and historical dramas, are brought to life by professional New York City theater artists. Each year, the festival adopts a different theme, with 2023 focusing on “Bravery, MakeBelieve & Language.” Playwrights are invited to write an 8-minute play of any genre, incorporating at least one specified prop or costume.

The standout feature of this festival is the opportunity for young playwrights to see their work produced if selected as winners. This experience not only provides them with a rare chance to engage with theater professionals but also offers a significant boost to their artistic portfolios. Furthermore, participation in the Worldwide Plays Festival can be a pivotal point for college admissions, demonstrating students’ creative abilities and capacity to engage in complex storytelling. Having a play produced at such a prestigious event underscores a young writer’s talent and commitment, making their college applications stand out.

13. YoungArts Program

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $35 (application fee)
  • Contest Date: November 2024
  • Application Deadline: October 2024
  • Eligibility: Artists aged 15-18 or in grades 10-12 who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or legally able to receive taxable income in the U.S. (documentation required) are eligible to join. Previous National YoungArts Week award winners are not allowed to apply, regardless of discipline or category.

Founded in 1981, YoungArts has been pivotal in identifying and nurturing outstanding young artists, dedicating itself to enhancing their potential and supporting their creative freedom throughout their careers. Unique in its approach, YoungArts is among the few U.S. organizations that support artists across 10 disciplines, including writing, which encompasses creative nonfiction, novels, plays or scripts, poetry, short stories, and spoken word. Participation in YoungArts offers several benefits, including cash awards ranging from $250 to $10,000, which can be a substantial aid for young artists. One of the key aspects of YoungArts is the mentorship provided by accomplished artists, helping award winners navigate and prepare for a career in the arts. 

Additionally, YoungArts award winners have the opportunity to be nominated as U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, one of the highest honors for high school students in the U.S. This national recognition not only boosts the profile of emerging artists but also significantly enhances their college applications, showcasing their achievements and potential to academic institutions. The prestigious nature of the award and the recognition from respected artists in their field provide a substantial advantage in the competitive landscape of college admissions and artistic endeavors.

14. Young Authors Writing Competition

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Eligibility: Students from grades 9-12, typically aged 14 to 18 years old, are eligible to participate in the competition.

The Young Authors Writing Competition, hosted by the English and Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, offers a notable platform for young writers to showcase their talents. Participants are allowed to submit up to two works in each of the Creative Nonfiction and Fiction categories, and in the Poetry category, up to two files with 1-5 poems each. This means a total of six files can be submitted across all categories, encompassing a wide range of forms, styles, and subjects. The competition is transitioning to an entirely online and digital format, making it more accessible to a broader range of participants.

Winners of the competition are awarded cash prizes and the opportunity for their work to be published online, providing significant exposure for young writers. What sets this competition apart from popular creative writing competitions for high school students is its affiliation with Columbia College Chicago, a prestigious institution known for its strong writing and creative arts programs. Participating in this competition can significantly enhance a student’s college application, demonstrating not only their writing skills but also their initiative and ability to compete at a high level. Additionally, the chance to have their work associated with a respected college offers young authors a valuable stepping stone in their writing careers, opening doors to further educational and professional opportunities in the literary field.

15. The Bennington Young Writers Awards

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: Free
  • Contest Date: Spring 2024
  • Application Deadline: November 2024
  • Eligibility: Students in grades 9-12 from the United States and international students are invited to enter the competition.

Bennington College, renowned for its rich literary history that includes twelve Pulitzer Prize winners and three U.S. poet laureates, celebrates this tradition with the Young Writers Award. This prestigious competition is aimed at high school students to foster and recognize exceptional writing skills. Open to both U.S. and international students, participants can enter categories of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, each with specific guidelines. First-place winners in each category receive $1,000, second-place winners get $500, and third-place winners are awarded $250. Moreover, Young Writers Award finalists and winners who apply, are admitted, and enroll at Bennington College can receive significant scholarships. Finalists are eligible for a $10,000 yearly scholarship for four years, totaling $40,000, while winners can receive a $15,000 annual scholarship over four years, amounting to $60,000.

The Bennington Young Writers Award stands out for its association with a prestigious institution and the opportunities it offers beyond the competition. The scholarships offered to finalists and winners also provide a substantial incentive, easing the financial burden of higher education. For aspiring writers, this award is not just a competition but a gateway to educational advancement and a successful career in the literary field.

scholarship for students

Participating in creative writing competitions for high school students enhances writing skills, nurtures creativity, and offers a competitive edge in college admissions. Ultimately, it lays a strong foundation for young writers’ future academic and professional success.

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