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Frequently Asked Questions: The Penguin Classics Essay Contest

What do I need to submit?

Every student needs to submit four (4) copies of their essay and four (4) copies of their cover letter.

There is no need to staple your essays or cover letters together, but please collate (i.e., place one cover letter on top of each essay in order).

What should the cover letter look like? 

Here’s an example of a complete and valid cover letter.

Every cover letter must include the following information:

The student’s full name

The student’s current grade (9th or 10th)

The student’s full mailing address

The student’s phone number

The student’s email address

School name

School phone number

School address            

School administrator

School administrator’s email address

School administrator’s phone number

Please make sure your administrator can be reached via email or phone during the summer                 

The sponsoring teacher’s full name

The sponsoring teacher’s email address

The sponsoring teacher’s phone number

Please make sure your teacher can be reached via email or phone during the summer

Certification from the sponsoring teacher that the work is original (a signature is preferred)

Prompt chosen


Please don’t include:

A personal statement

A recommendation from a teacher

Information about your grades or school performance

A photo of yourself

Any other ancillary materials

What is meant by “school administrator”?

A school administrator should be someone who works in your school’s front office and can answer questions about accepting shipments, school tax information, your enrollment, etc. We will need to reach them over the summer, so be sure they are available to answer questions.

Who can sponsor me?

An English teacher at your school must be your sponsor.

You do not have to be currently enrolled in your sponsor’s class. They can be a past or future English teacher who you trust and who can vouch for your original scholarship.

The sponsoring teacher must teach at your current school. (I.e., your middle school English teacher cannot sponsor your essay.) Teachers may sponsor only two students total. Homeschool students should be sponsored by their parent.

What should my essay look like? Is there a specific format I should use?

Essays should be typed, double-spaced, size 11 or 12 font. You can use whichever format (MLA, APA, etc.) you prefer. It’s in your best interest to make the document as readable as possible, so make a wise font and margin choice.

Essays need to be at least two pages long and no longer than three pages. Essays that are longer than three pages are not passed on to our judges for consideration.

What kinds of essays usually win?               

Essays are judged on style, content, grammar, and originality.

Our judges look for clear, concise writing that is original, articulate, logically organized, and well supported. You should demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the themes and issues presented in the chosen book.

You can read winning essays from past years here.

Does my cover letter count toward my page count? What about a works cited page?

Your cover letter does not count toward the essay page count.

We do not require that students include a works cited page—you can answer any of the prompts using only the book itself. If you do want to consult secondary sources and include a works cited page, it will not count toward your essay page count.

I am currently living overseas, but I’m a U.S. citizen. Can I still enter?        

Students who are participating in exchange programs or other travel but are still enrolled in a U.S. high school, and meet all other criteria, are eligible to enter the contest.

We are not able to send prizes internationally—every entrant needs a mailing address in the U.S. in order to receive their prizes.

Can DACA students enter?  

As long as you have a social security number or tax-payer ID and meet all other requirements, you are eligible to enter the contest.

I’m planning to attend a college outside of the U.S. Can I still enter?  

Yes—we have no restrictions on the kinds of higher education entrants and possible winners are pursuing.

How will I know if I’ve won?

Winners will be contacted via email within a week of the official closing date listed in the contest rules, generally from mid-June to July. Winners have 10 days to respond and accept their prize.

If you are not contacted by someone from Penguin Random House by that time, you are not a winner. We do not announce or notify runners-up.

To see who did win, please check this page. Alternatively, you may send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Penguin Random House Education, ATTN: Penguin Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.     

How do the prizes work?

Each of our five winners are awarded $1,000 in the form of a check (made out to the winner). You should receive your check in the mail by the end of the summer. You are free to use the money at your own discretion toward your tuition and/or other expenses related to higher education.

Penguin Random House will also send a Penguin Classics Deluxe Library (around 25 books) to the school or public library of each winner. These books are shipped over the summer to the attention of someone either in your school office or library.

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