How To Prepare For the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Group of high school students sitting in classroom and writing in notebooks.

How To Prepare For the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest

What is the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest?

The Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) is an annual competition organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association (HUEA).

The essay competition is open to high school students of any year, providing a fantastic opportunity for them to demonstrate an accomplished level of writing and understanding of economic theory. Through the contest, student competitors hone their academic and professional skills, exhibiting their knowledge to future employers and academic programs.

Competitors must construct a convincing argument using economic theory and real-world examples. Winning essays will be published on their website and available for the greater Harvard community to read. Essays should focus on argumentation supported with facts and references, although data-based support is also welcome.

How do you participate in the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest?

Choose one of the four prompts and write your response within a 1500-word limit. Submit your essay through the HUEA website—only your first submission will be considered. Each essay submission requires a $20 reading fee, payable upon submission. If this fee is a significant financial burden for your family, email the organizers for assistance. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM EST on January 5th, 2024.

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The board of the HUEA will evaluate the essays. The top 10 submissions will then be reviewed by distinguished Harvard professor and 2016 Economics Nobel Prize winner, Oliver Hart.

  • Eligibility: Grades 9 to 12 students can participate
  • Cost: $20 reading fee (financial aid is available on case-to-case basis)
  • Prize: The top three winning essays will be published on the website with the authors’ permission. A list of finalists will be posted online and reviewed by 2016 Economics Nobel Prize winner, Oliver Hart. The names of those receiving the “Highly Commended” distinction will also be published online.

Important Dates

Dates Events
November 2, 2023 Release of Essay Prompts
January 5, 2024 Deadline for Essay Submission
Late February 2024 Notification of Highly Commended and Finalists
Early March 2024 Notification and Publication of Winning Pieces

Contest Rules and Regulations

Please take note of the following terms and conditions as they will be adhered to strictly by the organizing committee:

  • The word limit of 1500 must be strictly followed, with any excess words being truncated. This limit excludes references, footnotes, titles, headers, and footers.
  • Essays must be solely written by the entrant, and any outside assistance must be declared at the beginning or end of the essay.
  • Only the first submission will be accepted; additional submissions will not be read.
  • References are required, and any plagiarism will result in disqualification. References must follow either Chicago or APA format.
  • Submissions must be in PDF format only. Other formats will not be accepted, and no refunds will be provided for non-compliance with this rule.
  • No refunds will be granted under any circumstances.
  • The essay must not be submitted to any other competition or published elsewhere.
  • Individual feedback on essays will not be provided.
  • Decisions made by the HUEA in the final round of adjudication are final.
  • All winners consent to having their names published on the HUEA website.

Harvard International Economics Essay Contest 2023 Prompts

The HUEA is looking for an essay that not only embodies and discusses the following prompts but also applies economic policies and concepts to the essay.

  • Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to affect growth, inequality, productivity, innovation, and employment. OpenAI’s ChatGPT, in particular, has greatly increased public awareness about the significance of AI and its implications for the future. What impact will the development of AI have on economic inequality, the composition of the workforce, and economic output as a whole? How can nations prepare for the micro and macroeconomic changes brought about by AI?
  • Measuring national and global economic activity allows us to understand how economies change in size and structure—how they grow and contract. In addition to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), government budgets, and the money supply, alternatives like the Human Development Index (HDI) and Gross National Income (GNI) are used to assess economic progress. What are the advantages of our current economic indices, including GDP, HDI, GNI, government budgets, and the money supply, and in what areas are they lacking? Which of these indices do you find most helpful, and how can we enhance or combine them to improve our understanding of economic measurement?
  • Proponents of income redistribution support the idea that redistribution policies will increase economic stability and give more opportunities to the less wealthy. Others, however, are more skeptical and believe it could have negative consequences for economic growth. Current methods of redistribution include taxation, welfare, public services, and other monetary policies. What strategies for income redistribution should the U.S. adopt from other countries? What economic impacts could a wealth tax or super millionaire tax have? What type of redistribution is most effective and feasible? What would be the impacts of the U.S. enacting universal basic income? Discuss the implications of any of these issues and feel free to expand on other areas of economic redistribution.
  • As the United States weighs the impacts of China’s rise to global prominence, economics and national security have become increasingly intertwined. As a result, the United States government has imposed both tariffs and investment restrictions on China to limit the nation’s access to both US markets and intellectual property (specifically in sensitive industries such as semiconductors). What are the economic implications of these policies for United States firms, consumers, and workers? Discuss the most important perspectives of the US-China trade war and provide suggestions on how both countries can manage the prospect of a changing economic order.

What are the criteria for judging in the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest?

The Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) typically evaluates submissions based on a set of comprehensive criteria to ensure a fair and thorough assessment of each essay. While the specific criteria may vary slightly each year and the organizing team team does not typically publish the criteria for judging,  the following are common judging criteria for such contests:

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  • Understanding of Economic Theory: Depth of understanding and application of economic concepts and theories relevant to the chosen topic. Accurate use of economic terminology and principles.
  • Clarity and Coherence: Clear and logical structure, with well-organized arguments. Coherence in presenting ideas, ensuring that each part of the essay contributes to the overall argument.
  • Originality and Creativity: Innovative approach to the topic and unique perspective. Originality in argumentation and insights.
  • Use of Evidence and Examples: Effective use of real-world examples and data to support arguments. Integration of relevant research, statistics, and case studies.
  • Analytical Skills: Depth of analysis and critical thinking. Ability to evaluate different viewpoints and present a balanced argument.
  • Writing Style and Presentation: Clear, concise, and engaging writing style Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Referencing and Citations: Correct and consistent use of citations (Chicago or APA format). Inclusion of a well-formatted bibliography or reference list.
  • Adherence to Guidelines: Compliance with the word limit and formatting requirements. Submission of the essay in the correct format (PDF).
  • Impact and Persuasiveness: Overall persuasiveness of the essay. Ability to make a compelling case and leave a lasting impression on the reader.

These criteria ensure essays are judged fairly and thoroughly, recognizing your intellectual capacity and creativity.

How can you write a captivating essay that will stand out in the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest?

1. Introduction

Objective: Grab the reader’s attention and introduce the main argument or thesis.

Start with a Hook: Begin with a startling fact, a question, a quote, or an anecdote related to your topic. This engages the reader right away.

Example: “Imagine a world where economic decisions are made without considering human behavior—this is the reality we risk without incorporating behavioral economics into policy making.”

Introduce the Topic: Clearly state what the essay will discuss.

Example: “This essay explores the importance of behavioral economics in shaping effective public policy.”

Present the Thesis Statement: Clearly state your main argument or position.

Example: “Behavioral economics provides crucial insights that traditional economic theories often overlook, making it essential for effective policy making.”

Excerpt from HIEEC 2022 Top 3 Finalist

“The duty of a central bank is to pursue monetary stability — customarily defined by low inflation and steady output growth. Recent inflation levels have run larger than ever in the last half-decade (Desilver, 2022). In response, central banks across the world are synchronously hiking interest rates without consulting each other (Moschella et al., 2022). This raises the question: what is the most effective way for Western central banks to tame inflation while limiting recessionary forces globally?”

Ashwin Telang, Inflation and Monetary Policy Cooperation 

“…While the numbers are frightening, the reason remains ambiguous. Some blame insufficient supply stemming from the Great Recession and social movements such as NIMBY for fueling high prices. Others posit that recent inflation and soaring mortgage rates of 7% have hindered buyers’ ability to afford a down payment and mortgage. What is the origin of this affordability crisis? Why is unaffordability inexorable in the current housing market? How should governments and people respond?”

Nanxi Jiang, Affordability Crisis: A Mirror of Inequality

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2. Body

Objective: Develop your argument with supporting evidence and analysis.

Structure with Clear Paragraphs: Each paragraph should focus on a single point supporting your thesis.

Example: “One key aspect of behavioral economics is the concept of ‘bounded rationality.’ Unlike traditional models that assume perfect rationality, bounded rationality recognizes the limitations of human decision-making.”

Use Evidence and Examples: Support your arguments with data, research findings, and real-world examples.

Example: “Studies have shown that policies incorporating behavioral insights, such as ‘nudge theory,’ have significantly increased retirement savings rates.”

Analyze the Evidence: Explain how the evidence supports your thesis.

Example: “This increase in savings rates demonstrates the practical benefits of understanding and leveraging human behavior in economic policies.”

Address Counterarguments: Consider and refute opposing views to strengthen your position.

Example: “While some argue that behavioral economics is too focused on individual behavior, it actually complements traditional theories by addressing their blind spots.”

Excerpt from HIEEC 2022 Top 3 Finalist

“Loss of biodiversity is another impact of climate change, as certain species are unable to adapt to increased temperatures and changing conditions (IPCC, 2014). Williams et al. (2007) posit that a 2°C increase in global temperature could lead to the extinction of up to 18% of plant and animal species. Since biodiversity plays a key role in supporting ecosystems such as pollination and water purification, and industries like tourism, the loss of biodiversity incurs heavy costs in the economy (IPCC, 2012).”

“Overall, there are a variety of abatement policies that governments can enact to protect the environment whilst minimising the impact on economic efficiency. Mckinsey (2009) estimated the carbon potential (ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere) and the cost of aggressively pursuing various abatement schemes compared to a ‘business-as-usual’ case and compiled them into a marginal abatement cost curve (MACC).”

Duncan Wong, On Carbon and the Economy

3. Conclusion

Objective: Summarize the main points and reinforce the thesis, leaving a lasting impression.

Restate the Thesis: Summarize the main argument without simply repeating it.

Example: “In conclusion, the integration of behavioral economics into public policy is not just beneficial but necessary.”

Summarize Key Points: Briefly recap the main arguments discussed in the body.

Example: “By acknowledging human limitations and utilizing insights like ‘nudge theory,’ policymakers can design more effective and realistic economic policies.”

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End with a Strong Closing Statement: Leave the reader with a thought-provoking idea or call to action.

Example: “As we move forward, embracing the complexities of human behavior will be key to crafting policies that truly work for society.”

“Local and state governments should prioritize loosening zoning restrictions to accommodate duplexes, triplexes, and apartments in diverse neighborhoods. This would lower the cost of separate housing units, ensuring prices are more attainable for renters. The local government could also modify property taxes on additional homes. Assigning a higher assessment rate on additional homes increases property tax, lowering the incentive for wealthier people to occupy multiple homes while reducing the tax for single-property owners.

Individuals have little power to influence market realities, but homebuyers should save early to purchase sooner. Most homeowners will rationally continue capitalizing on housing as it generates personal wealth. However, rethinking how they can support positive change in ways that affect them minimally—lowering rent increases for rental properties, supporting more inclusive zoning, and becoming educated on the situation—can initiate a small impact locally. While housing affordability is far from superficial, balancing housing inequality at all levels bolsters overall social equality, which fosters housing affordability in return.”

Nanxi Jiang, Affordability Crisis: A Mirror of Inequality

“DICE has shown that unsustainable economic growth is inconsistent with a healthy environment; MACC analysis shows that it is imperative to pursue abatement and innovation in order to achieve sustainable economic growth. Internationally, a successful solution to the climate problem requires countries to be less mercenary as national incentives often conflict with global interests. And while consumption often leads to higher levels of social welfare, a wise economist would take a step back and take care of the lifeblood humanity so desperately relies on.”

Duncan Wong, On Carbon and the Economy

Improving Your Essays

  • Be Clear and Concise: Avoid unnecessary jargon and ensure your writing is easy to follow.
  • Show Originality: Offer unique insights or perspectives on the topic.
  • Maintain a Logical Flow: Ensure that each paragraph naturally leads to the next, creating a cohesive argument.
  • Proofread: Check for grammatical errors and ensure all references are correctly formatted.

By following these guidelines, you can craft an essay that not only stands out but also effectively communicates your understanding and analysis of economic topics. For more specific examples and detailed analysis, we recommend reviewing past winning essays from the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest, which you can usually find on their official website.

Further readings to prepare for HIEEC

To prepare effectively for the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) and increase your chances of winning, you should explore a range of resources that will deepen your understanding of economics and enhance your essay-writing skills. Here are six recommended resources:

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Books and Ebooks

  • “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: This book explores economic theory applied to various real-world scenarios in an engaging and thought-provoking way.
  • “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith: A foundational text in economics that provides deep insights into classical economic theory and principles.

Blog Sites

Marginal Revolution: A popular economics blog run by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok that covers a wide range of economic topics and current events.

EconLog: This blog features posts by various economists who discuss contemporary economic issues and theory.

YouTube Channels

  • CrashCourse Economics: A YouTube series that offers comprehensive and engaging lessons on various economic concepts, theories, and real-world applications.
  • Economics Explained: A YouTube channel that breaks down complex economic topics and current events simply and understandably.


  • Planet Money by NPR: A podcast that explores the complexities of economics through stories, interviews, and insightful discussions.

Other Supplemental Materials

  • Khan Academy Economics and Finance: An extensive collection of free online courses and tutorials that cover the fundamentals of economics and finance.

Is the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest prestigious? Should I do it?

The Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) is prestigious, organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association (HUEA), and attracts talented high school students from around the world. Participating in this contest can enhance your academic profile, showcasing your analytical and writing skills to top universities and future employers. It also provides an excellent opportunity to deepen your understanding of economics and engage with complex economic issues.

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Participating in the Harvard International Economics Essay Contest (HIEEC) can significantly boost your college application by showcasing your passion for economics and ability to engage with complex topics. Winning or even just participating in this prestigious contest demonstrates to admissions committees that you possess strong analytical and writing skills. Researching and writing your essay also develops critical thinking abilities essential for college-level coursework. Publication and recognition from the contest further highlight your accomplishments, setting you apart from other applicants. All of these qualities are highly in demand in the college admissions setting.

If you’re passionate about economics and enjoy writing, participating in the HIEEC is a valuable and rewarding experience.



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