Student Essay Contests

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As part of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s 25th Anniversary celebration, we are pleased to announce a new contest for elementary school students for the 2019–2020 school year. 

Elementary school students in grades 4 and 5 are encouraged to take part in the 50 States, 1 Nation Contest. (Students in grade 6 are also eligible to enter the contest if they are currently enrolled in an elementary or K–8 school, and they are studying US history.) Inspired by the work that most elementary school teachers already do with students, our goal for this contest is to help expand students’ understanding of how their families, towns, and states connect with each other and with American history. 

Students will have the opportunity to hone their analytical and creative writing skills through one of three means of expression: essay (3–5 paragraphs), short story/historical fiction) (3–5 paragraphs), or poem (not to exceed 12 lines). 

All participants will receive a certificate of participation, delivered to their school. Selected entries will be recognized with cash prizes and publications by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, as follows:

  • 1st Prize for each category in each grade level (essay, short story, poem): $100 and a set of 3 Gilder Lehrman Institute posters
  • 2nd Prize for each category in each grade level: $75 and a set of 3 Gilder Lehrman Institute posters
  • 3rd Prize for each category in each grade level: $50 and a set of 3 Gilder Lehrman Institute posters
  • Two honorable mentions (in the form of a special certificate and a bundle of Gilder Lehrman Institute books) will be awarded to strong entries in each grade level, for a total of four honorable mentions.
  • Teachers of each prize winner and honorable mention recipient will receive a copy of Teaching with Documents: Colonial America to Reconstruction.

Entries are being accepted now and will be accepted on a rolling basis. To be considered for the 2019–2020 program year, entries must be received by March 30, 2020. Winners for 2019–2020 will be announced on April 21, 2020.

For more information on the 4th and 5th/6th Grade prompts, along with Common Core State Standard alignments for each grade and information on how to enter, click here. In future years, we expect to add second and third grades to contest eligibility.

Contest Information Enter the Contest Now


After twenty years, the Gilder Lehrman Institute is retiring the Civil War Essay Contest. While we received hundreds of entries each year, that is but a small fraction of the number of students studying American history annually. We felt we could reach far more students by redirecting resources to our other programs.

To better serve middle and high school students, we have developed a curated guide for students participating in National History Day, which engages more than half a million students. We hope that the resources on this year's topic, Breaking Barriers in History, are useful for your students. We also encourage your students to use our online AP US History Study Guide and keep an eye out for our new Hamilton Education Program Online, which will be available next fall.