Frequently Asked Questions

How do I participate?

By filling out the application form and submitting your essay online. Applications are now closed for the 2011-2012 Contest year.

Am I eligible to participate?

Students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Armed Forces schools abroad, and students in United States territories are eligible to participate in the contest. Because Essay Contest winners are decided by contest region, please visit our state map to see which region you are in and to find out which states you are competing against.

In addition to going to school in a contest state, you must be in grades 9-12.  You must also meet our eligibility requirements.  If you meet these criteria, you or your teacher can submit your essay!  (Homeschool students too!)

Am I eligible to submit an essay if I was a winner in a previous year’s contest?

Yes, winning teachers and students from previous years are eligible to participate in subsequent contests.  The essay submitted must be new and different from your previous winning essay.

If I didn’t win a prize, can I still find out how well I did in the Contest?

Because we receive so many essays each year, it is not possible to give individual feedback on essays.

Is a title required for my essay?

No. Titles are not required for essays and will not be part of the evaluation process.

Do I need a Works Cited section/page with my essay?

We do not expect or require a Works Cited page or section for Contest entries. If you use quotes from individuals or research, simple citations will suffice. For example:

An example of what I am referring to comes from James Madison when he said in Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”


“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” (James Madison, 1788)

Either format for citing sources used in your essay will suffice.

As a teacher, am I limited to the amount of essays I can submit on behalf of my students? (NEW ANSWER THIS YEAR!)

No. Provided students meet all of the eligibility requirements, you may submit as many student essays as you would like. Students are able to submit essays on their own this year but are limited to one essay per student. This will be closely monitored and any student who submits two essays will be disqualified.

What are the prizes?

In each contest region, winning students, and their teachers, are eligible for thousands of dollars in cash prize money. For a complete list of prizes, please click here.

What are the judges looking for?

Being an American Essay Contest submissions will focus on various Founding principles in answering the question of “How does the Constitution establishes and maintains a culture of liberty?” All essays must reference the Constitution. There are no principles or Founders, which are “preferred” over others, provided the principle is from the approved list of Founding principles. A well-written essay will completely adhere to the topic and fully answer all parts of the question. Judges are looking for the following:

-adherence to the Essay Guidelines (as stated in Section III of the Rules and Regulations)
-understanding of Founding principle
-depth of analysis of documents and enduring importance
-strength of personal response
-writing style

View the complete contest rubric here.

How long does my essay have to be?

There is no minimum required length for an essay; however, you cannot exceed 1,000 words with your essay. For more information on what constitutes a complete essay, please review the contest question here.

Will my essay be disqualified if I go over the 1,000 word limit?

We have designed the form used for entering essays and submitting them to allow for a little flexibility in the word limit. If the submission field accepts the essay for submission, then your essay will not be disqualified for being over the word limit.

When will the winners be announced?

Winners for the 2011-2012 Bill of Rights Institute’s Being an American Essay Contest will be announced on this website in February of 2012.

If I need help and can’t find the answer online, what do I do?

You can contact us via email at or you can call us at (703) 894-1776, ext. 15.