High school students and their teachers are invited to compete for nearly $200,000 in prize money by participating in the fourth annual Being an American Essay Contest. Top prize winners and their teachers will also receive all-expenses paid trips to the nation’s capital.

The largest high school essay contest in the country, awarding 180 students and teachers with cash prizes and attracting more than 31,000 essays last year, explores the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. The contest is administered by the Bill of Rights Institute, a non-profit educational organization in the Washington, D.C. area.

“This contest is unique in that it gives students the opportunity to share their thoughts about how the principles expressed in America’s Founding Documents shape and influence contemporary American citizenship,” said Bill of Rights Institute President Victoria Hughes. “This conversation is vital to preparing the next generation of voters and civic leaders for the challenges that are ahead of them and our country.”

Specifically, students are asked to share their thoughts on American citizenship by answering the following question: “What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American? Trace the enduring importance of this value throughout the American story by discussing: a Founding document that reflects this value; a figure from American history who embodies this value; and examples of how you have and/or could put this value into practice.”

Students in grades 9-12 who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and are either attending public, private, religious, or charter schools, being home-schooled, or participating in a GED or correspondence school program but are no older than 19 years of age. Military bases and U.S. territories are also invited to participate. The essays must be no more than 750 words and are judged on the following criteria:

n Adherence to Essay Question

n Originality

n Organization

n Writing Style

n Depth of Analysis

The deadline for submissions is Dec. 1; winners will be announced in the spring.

The top three student winners and their teachers from each of nine regions will be announced at an awards gala. The winning students will also explore the nation’s capital, meet contemporary American heroes and national leaders, and visit national landmarks.

Additionally, the contest will award 126 honorable mention prizes.

Further information, including submission criteria, lesson plans and background information on the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Founding Fathers and other Americans who have contributed to America’s shared civic values, are available at


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