Everything You Need To Know About The New York Times Student Essay Contest

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman writing a letter on a paper.

Everything You Need To Know About The New York Times Student Essay Contest

Without a doubt, the New York Times is one of the most well-regarded and well-read newspapers in the entire world. Ever since it was first founded in September 1851, the paper has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories of the modern world. For that reason, there are many high schoolers who dream of one day breaking stories with a byline at the New York Times. While those dreams take years to achieve, high school students are able to get involved with the famous paper thanks to the New York Times Annual Student Essay Contest. But what is the New York Times Student Essay Contest and how does it work? If you are interested in learning that and more, then you have come to the right place!

A male college student doing homework at home.

If you are a high schooler who is a passionate writer and wants to put your skills and abilities up against some of the most talented writers in the world, then the New York Times Annual Student Essay Contest could very well be for you!

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it our goal to help the most committed high school students get into the college or university of their dreams. A very big part of enjoying success when it comes to applying to some of the more competitive schools in the world such as Yale or Princeton, students will want to make sure that they have not only excelled in the classroom but out of it as well.

This may mean being a star athlete, leading your school’s debate team to a state championship, or being the lead in the major theater productions at your school. If you are a writer, a great way to set yourself apart is to enter – and gain national or international recognition for your work.

Without a doubt, you will have the ability to do so if you submit to the New York Times Annual Student Essay Contest.

Let’s get started on everything you need to know about this highly competitive and highly impressive essay contest.

Overview of the New York Times Student Essay Contest

2021 marks the eighth year that this essay contest has been offered. Since it first began, tens of thousands of students from all over the world have answered a specific set of questions in the form of short opinion essays.

A person's hand writing in spiral notebook placed on a wooden desk.

Through the years, students have made incredible arguments that apply directly to their lives and to the greater world around them. One thing that makes the New York Times Student Essay Contest stand out from many of the other highly competitive essay contests in the world is that every year, the questions that students have to answer are the same. Those questions are:

What makes you mad?

What would you like to see changed?

What do you wish more people understood?

Just from reading them, it becomes abundantly clear that these questions allow writers to dive deeply into things that they are passionate about, no matter what those things may be.

From the essays that are written each year, the best of them – otherwise known as the annual winners – are able to root their arguments in strong evidence, but also engage readers with a strong voice, and rhetorical style.

Another thing that sets this competition apart is the length of the essays submitted. While many essay contests ask for essays that are 1,000 words, 2,000 words, or even more, the New York Times Student Essay Contest allows essays of just 450 words or fewer. That’s a little bit less than a page of single-spaced copy on Microsoft Word!

While the short length of the essay you can submit may make this contest seem like a breeze, the brevity of the competition actually can make it quite hard. Students who want to gain recognition in this contest need to make sure to make every single word that they use count. Nothing can be wasted when it comes to convincing judges to care just as much about your topic of choice as you do.

How to submit to the New York Times Student Essay Contest

Another great aspect of this writing contest is that it is open to a huge number of students. In fact, students anywhere between the age of 11 and the age of 19 can submit. This contest is also open to students from anywhere in the world.

In order to easily decide how to, simply look at the following questions. If you answer “Yes” to each of the questions below, then congratulations! You are eligible to submit using the contest’s student submission form:

  • Are you a middle school or high school student currently living in the United States or the United Kingdom who is between the ages of 13 and 19?
  • Are you a middle school student residing in any country outside the United States or the United Kingdom who is between the ages of 16 and 19?

Even if you have answered no to both of these questions, you can still submit easily to the New York Times Student Essay Contest. You simply have to have the help of an adult to do so.

Adults can submit on behalf of any middle or high school students between the ages of 11 and 19.

If an adult is submitting on behalf of just one student, they can use this submission form.

If an adult is submitting on behalf of multiple students, they can use this form.

What are the rules of the New York Times Student Essay Contest

While you know the questions that you will be expected to tackle, as well as the unique length restriction for this essay contest, there is still quite a lot that you do not know about what the judges expect out of the pieces that are submitted.

Students sitting at a shared desk, busy answering questions during a school exam.

Do not worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are the primary contest guidelines that everyone who is thinking about submitting should know if they want to have a chance of gaining worldwide recognition.

Students should choose a topic that they care about and make an argument that will persuade the readers to care as well.

In order to write the best essay possible for this contest, writers should focus on choosing a topic that they naturally care about and are already passionate about. As is the case with most essay contests, students are not encouraged to choose a topic that they think will make them seem more impressive or more interesting to the readers.

Two women talking in a room.

In fact, sometimes, the simpler and more personal to you the better! A good way to get started on this is to ask yourself the three questions posed earlier in this breakdown and just let your brain take over.

Another good way to approach this is to think about topics where you are already well educated and informed. For example, some of the topics that have won in recent years have had to do with a love of video games, a specific health complication that one student entrant dealt with, and one student simply wrote about why they thought it was unfair that their messiness was seen as a negative characteristic!

So, you see, this essay that you write does not have to be about some obscure crisis or major accomplishment that you have enjoyed. It simply has to be about you and something you are passionate about!

Though your editorial must not exceed 450 words, you have to make sure your argument is focused and defended strongly.

No matter what topic you land on, you need to constantly be keeping the word restriction of this essay in mind. As we previously mentioned, you may fool yourself into thinking that the short nature of the essays allowed in this contest may make the overall process easier.

In fact, many writers may find the restriction to be just that – a restriction. It can be hard to figure out how to passionately argue a point that you care a lot about in such a short amount of time. Therein lies what makes this contest so unique, so fun, and ultimately so impressive to excel at!

Remember that 450 words probably do not leave enough room for you to explain and argue your thoughts on a highly complex or far-reaching topic. For that reason, remember to think small. Make a claim that you will be able to extensively argue. That is the most important thing!

One thing to keep in mind regarding the length is that – thankfully – your title and the list of sources that you reference in your piece will not count towards the total length of your piece.

Gather your evidence to bolster your argument and use at least one source that was published in the New York Times and at least one source that was published elsewhere.

In any form of argumentative essay writing, you are going to want to use fact-based publications to back up your claim. This is something that any high school student will be heavily familiar with, and it will only become more important in college.

That is why this contest encourages those who submit to deepen and strengthen their arguments by using face-based sources.

While there is technically no limit to how many sources a student can use in this competition, they will be expected to use at least one source published by the New York Times and one published somewhere else. After all, there is a reason why there is a dedicated field in the submission form that allows students to cite the different sources that they use. Readers and judges should always be able to find where a student got their sources from.

When it comes to sourcing quotes, students need to be very careful to put quotations around any direct quotes that they use. They must also be careful to cite the source of anything that is paragraphed. The last thing judges want to do is find a sentence in your essay, only to put it through a Google search and find that you have pulled something directly from a published piece without citing it.

Students are able to collaborate on their editorials but should only submit one essay per individual.

The New York Times knows better than anyone that the process of an editorial is often a group affair.  For that reason, students are able to work with their fellow students in order to form and defend their arguments. However, every student should only have one submitted piece to their name. Simply remember, if you are submitting as a group, submit all of your names when you post the energy. Beyond that, if you are submitting as an individual, you should not also be submitting as part of a team.

Keep this rubric in mind when submitting.

Of course, you do not want to write your essay simply because you think the people judging it will enjoy it and rank it highly. However, there is nothing wrong with taking a look at the specific rubric that they use when reviewing work.

It can help as a guideline as you being to craft your own essay.

Essay rubric

Students must be aware of the strict submission deadline.

Just as is the case with other essay contests, students need to be absolutely sure that they are submitting their essays on time in order to be entered into the competition. In 2021, the submission deadline was April 13 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Of course, the essay contest is willing to allow for some flexibility in certain circumstances related to technical difficulties, but in order to avoid risking major disappointment, simply do everything you can in order to hit that deadline.

Frequently asked questions about the New York Times Student Essay Contest

Now that you have a basic understanding of the New York Times Student Essay Contest, chances are good that you have specific questions that have yet to be answered. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that students have once they learn about this fantastic contest.

How will my essay be judged?

Once you submit your essay, your work will be read by a journalist at the New York Times, as well as by Learning Network staff members and educators from all over the United States. The judges will all use the rubric above.

What is the prize?

Winners of the contest have their work published on the Learning Network and are eligible to have their work published in print in the New York Times. While this may seem like a little less exciting of a reward when you compare the fact that many other essay contests come with major amounts of money as rewards, the recognition that you gain from publications in journals such as these is invaluable. Truly, they can help make the difference between getting rejected or getting into some of the most impressive colleges and universities in the world!

When are winners announced?

Winners are announced between six weeks to two months after the contest closes each year. For that reason, you should be sure to check your email inbox for any message as finalists are notified that way. Beyond that, if you are under the age of 18 years old, you will need to have a parent or guardian sign a permission form to have your name and work published on their site.

Will I receive guidance if I am not a winner?

Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of submissions sent each year, students will not get personalized notes on their work. However, you can always apply again next year as long as you meet the criteria for eligible students.


Hopefully from this breakdown, you have gathered all of the necessary information that you need in order to decide whether or not the New York Times Student Essay Contest is right for you.

This essay contest is as challenging as it is unique and it is meant to encourage students to really think about what they care about deeply as well as how to effectively argue their beliefs.

When it comes to using writing contests as a way to impress college admissions offices around the country, you should make sure to not only mention the fact that you submitted work to contests such as these but also whether or not you gained recognition for your piece.

Even if you were not a winner, admissions offices love seeing that students are going out of their way to explore and grow intellectually and otherwise outside of the classroom. A student’s natural curiosity and desire to grow often bodes very well for how they will contribute and succeed once they are on their own on a college campus.

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it our number one priority to help students get into the college of their dreams. If you are a superb writer who believes that you could make a claim and defend your argument in a short amount of page space, then the New York Times Student Essay Contest could be a perfect option for you!

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