6 Reasons to Do Extra Work: How essay competitions can help you succeed
Essay competitions may seem demanding, and in your final years at school, coursework and other commitments can seem far more important.
However, the process of participating in an essay competition is one of the most comprehensive and helpful super-curricular activities for a prospective university applicant. Here are six reasons to get involved that we hope will inspire you to give one a shot.
1. You get to try out different subjects
An essay competition is whatever you make of it. This low commitment threshold makes it the perfect way to test out different fields. Sometimes, the sheer number of different paths to explore can feel overwhelming – it’s easy to want to know everything about all of them.
Essay competitions provide a concrete timeline and scope for your exploration, which can be helpful if you sometimes struggle with time management. Each one forces you to dig a little deeper into one of your possible interests. It’s much more immersive than just half-heartedly leafing through books and research papers.
If you do an essay competition in one subject and figure out that path is not for you, that’s great! You can just submit the essay and be done with it. You’ve learned valuable information about yourself and where your interests lie.
The earlier you start competing, the more paths you can try. Trying different competitions, at different times and in different fields, gives some structure to your career exploration. It could also motivate you to take part in a summer course like those at Oxford Scholastica, to delve even further into a field that piques your interest.
This preparation means that, when the time comes to pick a course, your choices will be much more informed. Who knows, you might even find a niche that shapes your whole career!
2. You learn important research skills
Research skills are the bread and butter of any modern degree, but they can be difficult to develop within the confines of a rigid school curriculum, where relevant material comes at the click of a button. In essay competitions, you get to dig a bit further into a chosen subject and you will probably have to trawl through some more academic writing. You’ll see your academic research skills flourish as you do so.
In addition, essay competitions are a great way to build independent thought and strengthen your university application, as admissions officers want to know the applicants they select can cope with what they’re getting into.
After honing your analysis skills with essay competitions, you will have shown that you can.
3. Writing is better than reading
One of the best reasons to do an essay competition is the sheer satisfaction of finishing a piece of high-quality written work. It’s something you can be proud of – and for good reason. Not only does writing help to improve your communication skills, but it also helps teach you how to think.
You will be able to consolidate your ideas much better if you use readings to shape an argument rather than just filing them away in the back of your head. Structuring your thoughts within word limits helps you frame subtle connections concisely.
Today, these skills are much more important than information recall or memorisation. Writing practice also improves fluency and clarity – and that’s never a bad thing.
4. It looks great on your CV
Even if you don’t win a prize! If winning is your biggest motivation – you might want to find a different type of competition. The best essay contests are those that pose a question or introduce a theme that interests you.
Getting recognised for your skills is just the icing on the cake — it confirms your ability to tailor content to an audience, and your commitment to research. However, judges in different competitions look for different styles of writing, and not getting a prize does not diminish your ability or the value of your learning.
It’s what you get out of the process that makes you a better applicant, not just what a panel thought of your work.
5. They don’t require any funding or background knowledge
Most essay competitions are free to enter, and a good essay can be written based on your own ideas and public resources. They can be completed at any time and place, and panels will often accept entries from around the world.
Most can be found online if you look around – a quick Google search usually turns up the most reputable ones. If you’re keen to develop in the STEM field, the Oxford Scientist’s Schools Competition might take your fancy (2). Was the Scholastica Law summer school program (3) right up your alley? Trinity College Cambridge has competitions in many areas, including Law (4).
These, and many other, opportunities are open to anyone, even if you don’t have prior experience.
6. Now is the best time to enter!
Essay competitions are usually based around deadlines. While this may seem scary and overwhelming, it’s the number one reason to start now. With tight time frames, you won’t be able to procrastinate.
Similarly, many are only open to certain year groups or age ranges – so it’s best to seize any opportunity when it arises. That shows proactivity, and gives you more knowledge and skills to build on later. You can apply these new skills to another competition, a job, summer course or your degree.
- Read some top tips on academic writing in English here
- Oxford University have a list of essay and creative writing competitions for students covering a range of subjects
- Keen to try out UK university life? Sign up to one of our Oxford Scholastica summer schools today!
References and Further Reading:
We would love to hear from you
The team at Oxford Scholastica are here to answer any questions you may have about our summer courses or your child’s wellbeing while staying here in Oxford, or any other concerns you might have. Get in touch today!