Contest Guidelines

Please read these Guidelines carefully before clicking below to submit. Failure to read and follow these guidelines could result in your essay being ineligible.

Live Deliberately Essay Contest Guidelines:

  • Submission: Essays should be submitted using the online form only. NEW FOR 2019-2020: Each contestant MUST provide contact information for a teacher or other adult sponsor, 21 years of age or older, in order to complete the submission process. Please do not email or mail entries. Each participant can submit one entry for consideration (per year).
  • Deadline: The 2019-2020 Essay Contest Deadline is February 15, 2020. 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 response to the prompt 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 between 14-18 years of age when the Contest closes on February 15, with the following exception.  Nineteen-year-olds who are enrolled in high school or an equivalent program are eligible in the 14-18 age group. Past winners are not eligible to participate.
  • Adult Sponsor: EVERY contestant (regardless of age) must have a teacher, club advisor, parent, or other adult sponsor 21 years of age or older. The Sponsor must review the contestant’s work prior to submission to ensure that it meets contest guidelines. Essays cannot be submitted without providing the name and email address for a Sponsor. The Sponsor will receive an email when the form is submitted confirming that they have been named as a Contest Sponsor.
  • Language: Essays should be written in English and represent the youth’s original work.  Youth are welcome to write their essay in their native language (if not English) but it must be translated into English for 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, please use the following guidelines when titling your document prior to submission. Essays that are not saved with this naming format ARE NOT ELIGIBLE.
    • Name the file “LastnameFirstinitial2020”. For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic’s submission would be titled “RetallicW2020”.
  • Winners: A panel of reviewers selected by the Walden Woods Project will judge entries and will typically award one Winner and a limited number of Honorable Mentions for each of two age categories: 14-16 yrs and 17-18 yrs. The Essay Contest Advisory Board makes the final decisions and has the authority to offer more or fewer awards in any given year, including the possibility of selecting no winner in a particular age group. Winning essays and those receiving Honorable Mention will be featured on our website, alongside a brief profile and picture of the author.
  • Prizes: The winner for each age group will receive a $500 cash prize, a certificate of recognition from the Walden Woods Project and a copy of Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition,  autographed by the book’s editor, Jeffrey S. Cramer, our Curator of Collections at the Walden Woods Project’s Thoreau Institute Library. The cash prize will come in the form of a check (in the US) or wire (outside of the US). If the check expires or is lost, a $29 cancellation fee will be deducted from the total when the check is re-issued. Contestants who receive Honorable Mention will receive a certificate of recognition and an autographed copy of Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Each submission is read by at least two reviewers. Essays will be evaluated using the following criteria:
    • Addresses PromptThe essay effectively takes into account, either literally or metaphorically, the entirety of the prompt. Please do not submit an essay that is being used as your “college essay.” If an essay does not make an earnest attempt to address the Contest’s prompt, it will not be considered for review.
    • Focus—The thesis/main message is clear and supported throughout. The essay does not stray from the main message.
    • Organization & Structure—The essay is organized and well-structured. Author demonstrates command of grammar, spelling and mechanics.
    • Voice/Originality—The essay uses a highly engaging and personal style. The author finds fresh or interesting ways to convey ideas. The author approaches the topic from a unique perspective.
    • Evidence of Personal Reflection—The essay demonstrates that the author has genuinely explored the topic/question and how it relates to his or her own life. The essay reflects a depth in reflection.

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