English Department

English Department Prize Essay Contest


English 1 Prize Essay Contest

In order to honor excellence in writing created in our English 1 program, the English Department holds an annual essay contest which awards first, second, and third place prizes for thoughtfully crafted argumentative research essays that explore the complexity of the student's chosen topic. Below you will find an explanation of the process, and the criteria used to determine the prize-winning essays. See the links for submission instructions, plus FAQ for faculty and students. The process for submitting your students' essays has been streamlined and simplified, but if you have any questions not addressed here, please contact Diane Arieff at arieff_diane@smc.edu.



1st Place $300.00
2nd Place $200.00
3rd Place $100.00

Essay Prize Links

How to Submit Your Student's Essay
Student Submission Form (Required)
FAQ for Faculty
FAQ for Students

Contest Calendar & Deadlines

The contest draws entries from the full academic year, beginning in summer and concluding for that year at the close of the following spring semester. Winners are announced in late August, and prizes are awarded annually at an informal ceremony, typically during the inaugural fall department meeting.

Instructors must submit student entries (electronically) no later than the faculty's grade submission deadline for that semester. So, for example, entries into the contest for fall of 2020 will need to be submitted by Jan. 2, 2021. Winter, spring, and summer sessions follow the same protocol. Late entries are not accepted.  

Essay Criteria

A submitted essay should be original work. Except for minor proofreading/polishing, it should be the same version that was submitted for grading.  That is, there should be no substantive revision of content after the paper has been graded. It must be a clean copy (no instructor comments or other mark-ups) typed and formatted appropriately, with an accompanying Works Cited. (Essays are submitted electronically by instructors.)

The essay should represent a student's semester-long efforts in developing the skills and habits of thinking as described on the English 1 official course outline of record.  Thus, we will be looking for a 6-10 page argumentative, thesis-driven essay that makes use of researched materials as well as assigned readings in the class.  Specifically, we will look for essays that demonstrate the student's ability to:

  • formulate a focused and properly limited topic
  • offer a strong, clear, argumentative thesis statement
  • select appropriate materials from any combination of academic, popular, personal, visual, audio sources
  • summarize and/or paraphrase source material thoughtfully
  • integrate quotations from sources clearly and seamlessly
  • analyze and evaluate source materials and explain their relevance to the student's argument
    organize information effectively
  • provide accurate documentation of source material in MLA format
  • write an essay relatively free of major errors in syntax, spelling, grammar, and punctuation

Beyond the above, a prize-worthy essay will have qualities that lift and distinguish it from simply meeting the stated criteria.  It may demonstrate the writer's pleasure in exploring the topic, and/or the writer's attentiveness to the reading audience.  It will have subjective but important qualities such as a notable level of intellectual ambition or passion, nuance in the argument, complexity in or artfulness with language.  In short, it will distinguish itself from other essays not only through its competence in following protocols but also through its creativity, strong voice, engagement, individual approach, and/or command of the material.

Submissions are Blind

Two components are necessary for entry into the contest. The instructor submits both:

1. The essay submitted electronically (see link for instructions). Students should retain a copy; entries will not be returned.

2. The Submission Form (see link). It should be completed and signed by the student and returned to the instructor to submit to the contest committee – separately from the essay itself. Only essays for which there is a corresponding Submission Form are eligible.  A signed paper copy of the Submission Form may be dropped off in DH 311A.

When the annual submission period closes, the department will prepare the essays as blind submissions to the prize committee by removing the names of the students and their instructors, leaving only the semester and course section number. The committee will not know who wrote the essay or which instructor submitted it for consideration. 

Prizewinning Essays

Along with offering recognition for noteworthy student work, the Prize offers the English Department the opportunity to consider these essays a resource for other student writers. Prizewinning work is archived electronically via a link on our Homeroom page. Faculty are invited to access these essays and incorporate them into lesson plans; so far, they have been valuable teaching tools and catalysts for discussion in English 1 classrooms.