New York Times Student Editorial Contest: All You Need to Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman writing a letter on a paper.

New York Times Student Editorial Contest: All You Need to Know

If you could have a heart-to-heart with anyone about something that truly matters to you, who would it be, and what would you tell them? This is the question the New York Times Student Editorial Contest is posing to students worldwide in its latest cycle. This yearly writing competition invites students with a desire to make a difference to express their thoughts on personal and societal issues.

Let’s talk more about the New York Times Student Editorial Contest. We’ll walk you through the contest rules and offer tips to help you craft a winning piece. If you’re thinking about entering the contest, you’ve come to the right spot.

What Is the New York Times Student Editorial Contest?

The New York Times Student Editorial Contest, now in its 11th year, is all about getting students to write opinion essays on topics they really care about. But for the 2024 cycle, they’ve mixed things up a bit. Instead of the usual opinion piece, they want students to write an open letter.

a high school student studying

They ask: “What’s bothering you? Who could do something about it? What could you say to them that would persuade them to care, or to make change? And … what if we all read your letter? How could you make us care too?”

There’s no cash prize, but the contest is super popular, with thousands of entries each year. They only pick a handful of winners, though. In 2023, they got a whopping 12,592 submissions but only chose 11 winners—less than 0.1%! So, if you win, it’s a big deal and says a lot about your writing skills. Your winning piece will also be published in the New York Times.

What Are the New York Times Student Editorial Contest Guidelines?

Before you jump in, it’s super important to know the rules of the contest. Here’s all you need to know:


  • If you’re aged 13 to 19 and in middle or high school anywhere in the world, you’re good to go.
  • College students, sorry, this one’s not for you. But if you’re in high school and taking a college class or two, you’re still eligible.
  • If you’re in your first year of a two-year CEGEP in Quebec Province, you can join in too.
  • Even if you’re 19 or under and done with high school but not yet in college (maybe you’re on a gap year or something), you can still enter.
  • The kids and stepkids of New York Times employees can’t enter, and neither can students who live with those employees.

Essay topic

Write an open letter to someone specific and get them to think or do something about an issue.

You’ve got some freedom in choosing who to address your open letter to. It could be your parents, teachers, school board members, mayor, a member of Congress, a big-shot CEO, an artist, entertainer, or even a symbolic entity like “Silicon Valley” or “The Kremlin.”

The key is to think about who actually has the power to change things related to your issue, whether it’s on a local or global level. Your letter should be clear about what’s bothering you and what you want your audience to do about it. And make sure it’s not just meaningful to you and the person you’re writing to, but also to anyone else who might read it.

Essay format

  • Write your entry as if it’s an open letter, not a formal essay. Try to keep it short and sweet, under 460 words. Your title and any sources you use won’t count towards this limit.
  • Back up your points with evidence from at least two sources: one from The Times and another from somewhere else. Make sure your sources are reliable and clearly show where your evidence comes from, whether it’s a direct quote or paraphrased.
  • Make sure everything you submit is your own work and hasn’t been published before. Avoid plagiarism and using AI tools.
  • Include a short, informal “artist’s statement” to talk about how you wrote your piece and did your research.

Young man using a laptop in a table.


The New York Times Student Editorial Contest usually kicks off around March and wraps up in April. The 2024 cycle ran from March 13 to May 1. Winners usually get announced 8-10 weeks after the submission deadline, so around June or July.

If you’re thinking about joining the next cycle, it’s smart to start getting ready early. Even though the format might stay the same, it’s always wise to be ready for any twists. If they go back to an older contest format, you can tweak your prepared work to fit.

New York Times Student Editorial Contest: Writing Tips

What makes a winning entry for the New York Times Student Editorial Contest? Thankfully, they’ve laid out their judging criteria. We’ll break them down and offer some specific tips to help you achieve and excel at them:

1. Purpose

Description: “Open letter calls attention to an issue or problem and prompts reflection or action on it.”

Your open letter has to do a couple of things at once. First, it needs to shine a spotlight on an issue that really matters to you, something you’ve experienced firsthand. But it also has to get your readers thinking or even spur them into action. To make this work, choose an issue that you’re passionate about and know inside out.

For instance, if you’re into environmental causes, you might want to write about how plastic waste is wrecking marine life. To really make your point hit home, use real examples and personal stories that show why this issue is so crucial. Share how it’s affected you or your community, drawing on your own experiences volunteering at beach cleanups, so your readers can really relate.

When it comes to getting people to reflect or take action, you’ve got to make a solid case. Don’t just point out the problem. Offer up solutions or ways to make things better. Give practical steps that individuals, groups, or even policymakers can take to tackle the problem head-on.

For our example above, you could suggest pushing for stricter rules on single-use plastics or organizing clean-up events in your area. The goal is to get your readers to see things differently and feel motivated to make a real impact.

2. Audience

Description: “Open letter directly addresses a specific individual, group, organization or institution appropriate to the issue, but also is written to be read by a public general audience.”

Think about who you’re aiming your letter at. Pinpoint a specific person, group, or organization that can really make waves on the issue you’re fired up about. If you’re all about boosting mental health awareness in schools, you might direct your letter at school bigwigs or the Department of Education.

It’s crucial to tailor your letter to this specific audience. Use language and examples that resonate with what matters to them. To make your letter connect with a wider audience, keep it lively and relevant. Pretend it’s going to be read by anyone flipping through The New York Times. Making your letter relatable to a broad audience boosts the chances it’ll spark crucial conversations and drive real change.

3. Analysis and persuasion

Description: “Open letter convincingly makes a case for why the recipient and public should care about or take action on the issue. It provides relevant background information, valid examples and reliable evidence to support the argument all in a clear and organized fashion.”

Young woman using a laptop while sitting on a couch.

When you’re writing your entry to the New York Times Student Editorial Contest, it’s super important to back up what you’re saying with solid evidence and examples. Start off by giving a quick but thorough rundown of the issue you’re tackling, covering its backstory, current state, and possible outcomes.

If you’re delving into how social media impacts mental health, for example, you could throw in some stats about the rising levels of anxiety and depression in young folks, as well as studies that link heavy social media use to not-so-great mental health outcomes.

To beef up your argument, use credible sources like quotes or stats from well-respected studies. You could mention a study from a reputable journal that highlights the link between social media use and increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. This not only strengthens your argument but also shows just how urgent this issue is.

You could also talk about a buddy who got cyberbullied on social media and how it really messed with their mental well-being. These kinds of stories make the problem more relatable and humanize it for your readers.

4. Language

Description: “Open letter is clearly written as a letter. It has a strong voice and uses language, style and tone appropriate to its purpose and audience. It features correct grammar, spelling and punctuation.”

Go for a style that’s crystal-clear, straight to the point, and grabs attention from the get-go. Keep things simple and skip the fancy words or technical jargon. Instead of saying “utilize,” just stick with “use,” which is more direct and easier to understand.

Make your letter feel like a friendly chat with the person reading it, using a tone that’s warm and genuine. This helps convey your passion and how deeply this issue matters to you.

Let your personality shine in your writing, showing your excitement for the cause. Use a style and tone that match your audience and the message you want to convey. And remember, even though it’s a personal letter, it still needs to be error-free. Make sure your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are spot-on to keep things looking polished and professional.

5. Guidelines

Description: “Writing follows all contest guidelines, including the citation of trustworthy sources (at least one Times and one non-Times source in the Works Cited section).”

To really get your entry noticed, stick to the contest rules. That means following their citation format and including a Works Cited section. Carefully read the contest guidelines and make sure your entry meets all the requirements.

If you want to stand out, go beyond the basics. Use a variety of sources to back up your points. Include one from The New York Times to show you’re in tune with current events, and add another from a different source to demonstrate your thorough research. Ensure all your citations are accurate and follow the contest rules. This demonstrates your attention to detail and respect for intellectual property.

New York Times Student Editorial Contest: Sample Winning Works

Another great way to get a feel for what the New York Times Student Editorial Contest is all about is to check out the past winners. These essays really impressed the judges, so there’s a lot you can learn from them to help with your own entry. Let’s take a look at a few of the Top 11 winners from the 2023 cycle.

a top view of a person holding a coffee-filled mug and a laptop on their lap

1. “The Case for an AI Pause” by Gabriel Huang, 17, from Tower Hill School, Wilmington, Delaware

Summary: Huang’s essay makes a strong argument for putting the brakes on AI development for a bit. He points out the risks AI poses to society, like deep fakes, chatbots spewing racism and sexism, and the looming threat of lots of jobs disappearing. Huang thinks hitting pause would give governments and policymakers a chance to catch their breath and figure out how to regulate AI tech properly.

What makes it stand out

Huang’s essay dives into a relevant and controversial topic: the risks of AI. He suggests hitting the pause button on AI development for a bit to give everyone a chance to figure out how to regulate it properly. This topic likely got the judges and readers thinking, considering how important AI is in today’s world.

Then, Huang backs up his argument with solid evidence and reasoning. He points out the dangers of AI, like deep fakes and people losing their jobs, and explains why we need to take a breather on AI development. He wants us to think about what uncontrolled AI could mean for us and to support the idea of pausing its development. This call to action gives his message urgency and pushes us to do something about it.

Also, Huang lays out his ideas in a clear and logical way, making it simple for readers to get on board with his argument. This is key for getting complex ideas across to a wide audience.

2. “Proud Menstruating Student” by Cindy Chen, 13, from Beijing Ritan Middle School, Beijing

Summary: Chen’s essay boldly tackles the stigma surrounding menstruation. She draws from her personal experience to highlight the shame and embarrassment often associated with it. She calls for a change in societal attitudes and advocates for destigmatizing menstruation.

What makes it stand out

Chen takes a bold and personal approach and tackles a topic that’s often seen as taboo. The judges probably liked how she wasn’t afraid to share her own story and challenge the status quo. She starts things off with a super vivid anecdote about getting her first period in class, showing just how awkward and shameful menstruation can feel.

Chen then calls on folks to rethink how they view menstruation and to educate themselves and others. You can really feel her urgency in lines like, “I refuse to be ashamed any longer. When our parents, schools, and government officials fail us, we must stand up for ourselves.” This call to action gives her message weight and pushes readers to take real steps to destigmatize menstruation.

Here, Chen hits the contest’s theme right on the head, which is to get people thinking or acting on a specific issue. She doesn’t just talk about the stigma around menstruation. She challenges readers to question why it exists and what can be done to change it.

Chen’s essay is packed with a strong voice and clear purpose, two things that can really make an entry shine. She writes with so much passion and conviction, which makes her argument super compelling. Plus, her essay is well-structured and easy to follow, making it accessible to a wide audience.

Writing on an arm chair.

3. “It Is So Hard to Be Trans” by Callisto Lim, 16, from Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Houston

Summary: Lim’s essay really dives into the tough stuff faced by transgender folks. They talk about the hurdles and discrimination, especially with new laws trying to limit transgender rights and healthcare access. Lim gets personal, sharing how they’ve felt pushed to the sidelines and scared because of how society and politics treat transgender folks.

What makes it stand out

Lim’s essay in the New York Times Student Editorial Contest really makes an impact for a few reasons. First off, they bring a lot of emotion and personal stories into the mix, showing just how discriminatory policies affect real people. Lim gets real, sharing experiences like being compared to a school shooter and feeling scared for just being themselves. These stories make the essay hit home and make you really feel for what transgender individuals go through.

The essay hits the contest’s theme right on the nose. It’s not just about pointing out the problems—Lim calls for action against discriminatory laws. “We cannot sit here and let anti-trans bills become law across the country,” they write.

Lim writes with a strong voice and clear purpose. They’re passionate and convincing. This is key for getting complex ideas across to a wide audience, as it keeps folks interested and engaged. All in all, Lim’s essay is a heartfelt plea for understanding and acceptance. It’s informative, persuasive, and just really well-done.


The New York Times Student Editorial Contest is a great opportunity for young voices to speak up about important stuff and push for change. In their essays, students show off not just their writing chops, but also how well they get complex issues and how much they care about making things better.

The contest gets students thinking hard, digging deep into research, and getting their point across clearly, which is super empowering. Looking at the awesome essays from past winners, it’s clear the contest is all about inspiring and boosting the voices of the next wave of thinkers and doers.


Who can join the New York Times Student Editorial Contest?

If you’re between 13 and 19 years old and in middle or high school anywhere in the world, you’re eligible. If you’re the child or stepchild of a New York Times employee, though, or you live with one, you can’t enter.

Who is the topic of the New York Times Student Editorial Contest?

You have the freedom to write about any issue you’re passionate about. For the 2024 cycle, they asked participants to write an open letter to someone who can make a difference regarding the issue they chose.

How many entries does the New York Times Student Editorial Contest receive?

They receive thousands of entries every year. In the 2023 cycle, they got 12,592 submissions, but only 11 of those were chosen as winners.

What do you win at the New York Times Student Editorial Contest?

While there aren’t any cash prizes, winning this contest is a big deal. Your winning piece gets published in the New York Times, which can really make your college applications shine.

When is the deadline for the New York Times Student Editorial Contest?

Usually, it runs from March to April, and they announce the winners around June or July. For the 2024 cycle, the deadline was May 1st.


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