Contest Guidelines

Live Deliberately Essay Contest Guidelines & Tips for Writing your Essay

  • Submission: Essays should be submitted using the online form only. Please do not email or mail entries. Each participant can submit one entry for consideration (per year).  The youth or his or her adult sponsor (see below) can submit the essay. Note: While we had a visual essay track for 2015--2016, we have decided not to continue that track.  For 2016-2017, all entries are to be in essay form.
  • Deadline: The 2016-2017 Essay Contest Deadline is March 15, 2017. Entries received after Midnight EST on that day will not be considered.
  • Length: Essays should be no longer than 750 words. This is a maximum word count; if your ideas can be clearly and powerfully communicated in fewer than 750 words, that is great.
  • Eligibility: The contest is open to youth around the world. Youth must be at least 14 years and no older than 21 years of age at the time of submission. Past winners are not eligible to participate.
  • Adult Sponsor: Each contestant who is 17 years of age or younger must have a teacher, club advisor, parent, or other adult sponsor. The sponsor will serve as the contact between the Walden Woods Project and the student. He or she should also review the contestant's work prior to submission to ensure that it meets essay guidelines.
  • Language: Essays should be written in English and represent the youth's original work.  Youth are welcome to write their essay in their own language but it must be translated into English prior to submission.
  • Original Work: A teacher/sponsor can provide pre-writing activities and appropriate review, editing, and translation support, but the ideas, content, structure and style of the actual essay MUST come from the youth alone.
  • Titling Documents for Submission: To help us organize and manage the significant number of files that are submitted, we ask you to use the following guidelines when titling your document prior to submission:
    • Please name the file "LastnameFirstinitial_Essay2017". For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic's submission would be titled "RetallicW_Essay2017".
  • Winners: A panel of reviewers selected by the Walden Woods Project will judge entries and will award one Winner and a limited number of Honorable Mentions for each of three age categories: 14-16 yrs, 17-18 yrs, and 19-21 yrs. Winning essays and those receiving Honorable Mention will be featured on our website, alongside a brief profile and picture of the participant. The winner for each age group will receive a $250 cash prize, a certificate of recognition from the Walden Woods Project and a special autographed copy of Walden. Students receiving Honorable Mention in each category will receive a certificate of recognition and a special autographed copy of Walden.
  • Evaluation Criteria (Written Work): Essays will be evaluated using the following criteria:
    1) Focus and Organization: The essay clearly addresses the contest question or topic
    and is well-structured. Key points and ideas stand out.
    2) Voice and Originality: The essay is compelling and uses a highly engaging and
    personal style. The student finds fresh or interesting ways to convey ideas.
    3) Evidence of Personal Reflection: The essay shows that the student has genuinely
    explored the topic and how it relates to his or her own life, beliefs, and actions.

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Tips & Suggestions for Writing Your Essay

  1. Make the essay personal. Make a personal statement or tell a story that provides insight into your own experiences and views. Use the pronoun "I".
  2. Use "talk it out" or "rapid free write" activities to spark ideas. Pretend a journalist or interviewer has asked you to comment on the essay topic. Respond out loud, off the top of your head. Record your response or have a friend take notes about what you said. Alternatively, give yourself five minutes to write a response. Don't stop to edit yourself. Just write. Analyze your response. What worked? What didn't? Were there any particularly strong points or angles?  Repeat the activity. This time, deliberately change your approach (try to answer the question a different way).
  3. Try an idea web or mapping brainstorm activity. Use a graphic organizer or make your own. Draw a circle or bubble at the center of a piece of paper. Write 1-3 words that capture the essay topic or theme inside the bubble. Think about words, ideas, memories associated with the theme. Write each in other bubbles surrounding the one in the center.
  4. Visit the "For Students" section of the Walden Woods Project website for inspiration. Read and discuss excerpts from Thoreau's works.
  5. Browse the This I Believe website for examples of great essays. This I Believe is a well-known essay program that presents amazing personal statements and stories written by a wide variety of people, including students.