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Essay Contest Optimist International Logo

The Essay Contest is sponsored by Optimist International to give young people the opportunity to write about their own opinions regarding the world in which they live. The approach can encompass a young person’s personal experience, the experience of their country or a more historical perspective. In additional to developing skills for written expression, participants also have the opportunity to win a college scholarship!

How to Enter

Interested students prepare an essay on the pre-assigned topic and submit it to their local Optimist Club. The essays are judged at the Club level, District level and the International level. 

Applications, official rules and a program guide are available from the Optimist International website.  The official Club Essay Contest program planning guide (Club Chair Packet) contains full instructions, forms and planning materials for organizing and conducting your Club’s Essay Contest.  The planning guide includes a copy of the entry application and official rules.  It is available on the Optimist International website at

A package of materials on how to plan for the Essay Contest is available on the Package Programs page of the OI website:  Here, Clubs can find useful materials that will help them organize and run their Essay Contest program. 

Eligibility: Contestants must be under the age of 18 years who have not yet graduated from high school  or equivalent.  There is no minimum age.  See the official contest rules for additional eligibility requirements.  Students attending school on military installations outside the are eligible to enter in their last home of record.  Students who have previously won an Optimist International Essay Scholarship are not eligible to compete in this competition again.

Topic: "Chasing Optimism in the Face of Challenges"

Length of Essay: The essay must be between 700 and 800 words in length.

Prizes: Club level – medallion.  Clubs are allowed to give monetary awards of up to $500 per winner for the Essay contest in addition to the official medallions. The Club level awards may be given in the form of a scholarship, savings bond or cash prize but are completely discretionary.

District level–plaque and a $2,500 college scholarship for the first-place winner.

International level – First-place:  winner’s plaque, recognition in The Optimist magazine

Key Dates

·         Clubs entries must be delivered or mailed to the District chair and be postmarked no later than February 28, 2017.  Entries must include all of the following four documents:

1.      District Essay Contest Entry Form (see Club Chair Packet)

2.      Copy of the club winner’s application form

3.      Copy of the club winner’s birth certificate

4.      A typed, double-spaced copy of the essay with cover sheet.

·         By April 15, 2017, the district winner will be named and notified and all necessary information will be sent to Optimist International for the international competition.  The first-place winner will be invited to the third quarter NC East District meeting to present his or her essay and receive his or her award.

Some Hints on Getting Essay Contest Candidates

  1. START EARLY! Most public, private and charter schools set their curriculums and select their educational projects over the summer or early in the first part of the academic year.  This requires clubs to make these contests known to the faculty and staff at or before this time. Note that the Optimist Essay Contest is recommended by both the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Association of School Administrators.  This endorsement can go a long way when your Club is requesting that principals and teachers offer this program to their students.
  2. Contacts for each of the public schools can be found at the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) web site.  The directory for DPI and school district staff and school principals is located at:

    A directory providing contacts for the each of the NC charter schools can be found at

    A directory providing contacts for the each of the private schools in North Carolina can be found at the NC Department of Non-Public Schools web site.  For the directory, go to
  3. Many clubs have had good success in getting contest candidates through their home school organizations.  Because the families who home school their children are usually more flexible in their curriculums, they are often open to trying something new.  Check out the website for North Carolinians for Home Education at Also found there is contact information for the home school support groups for individual counties.  For the name of the regional director for your area, go to the Home School Resource Guide at
  4. News releases are a good way to announce your upcoming contest and to recognize the winners (and publicize your Club’s efforts) after the contest.  A variety of sample news releases are available on the O.I. website.  All you have to do is fill in the blanks!  The Essay Contest news releases can be found at the following location:
  5. You can inform the public of the availability of the contest through a public service announcement (PSA) on your local community radio station.  A 30-second PSA on the Essay Contest can be downloaded from the O.I. website and delivered to the station.  The  PSA is located at:
Publicize the Essay Contest
Optimist International has developed a series of news releases that Clubs and Districts can use in connection with their participation in international programs. Below are sample news releases that Clubs and Districts can use to promote their Essay Contests. Please note that the .doc version enables users to type their information into fields*, while the .pdf files are for viewing only.

Essay Contest - Prior to event (.doc)
Essay Contest - Prior to event (.pdf)
Essay Contest - After event (.doc)
Essay Contest - After event (.pdf)
District Essay Contest - After event (.doc)
District Essay Contest - After event (.pdf)

Optimist International sponsors three scholarship contests for students to earn money to pursue opportunities in higher education: the Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH), the Essay Contest and the Oratorical Contest. The contests are conducted at the Club level, then Zone and Regional (if necessary) and at the District level. District-level scholarships are funded by the Optimist International Foundations and awarded by Optimist International.


Essay Contest
This contest requires students under the age of 19 who have not yet graduated from high school or the equivalent to compose a 700- to 800-word essay around a central idea. The contest is designed to develop writing and critical thinking skills. One scholarship of $2,500 per District is awarded by Optimist International each year. For more information, click here.

Oratorical Contest
The Oratorical Contest is open to students under the age of 19 who have not yet graduated from high school or its equivalent. Students are required to prepare a 4- to 5-minute speech on a pre-assigned topic. This contest is designed to assist youth in gaining public speaking experience and provide them with an opportunity to compete for a scholarship. For more information, click here.

Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Students who are certified to have a hearing loss of 40 decibels or more may compete in this contest designed to help them develop the skills and confidence to present in sign or orally to an audience. For more information, click here.