Essay Prize 2020

The Robinson College Essay Prize 2020 has now closed. Winning and highly commended entrants have been alerted and comments on these essays can be found here.

If you are interested in entering the competition in the future, please read the below information. This is subject to change, but outlines the broad structure of the Essay Prize. Further details for 2021 entry will be released in June.


The Robinson College Essay Prize is open to all students currently in Year 12 (Lower Sixth, or equivalent) at a UK School. It is designed to give students the opportunity to develop and showcase their independent study and writing skills. By creating the opportunity for students to experience the type of work that they might be expected to do at Cambridge, we hope to encourage inquisitive and industrious students from all backgrounds to apply to the university – and hopefully to Robinson College.

We welcome entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects. Entrants are invited to submit a response to any one of the questions below, which should be no longer than 2,000 words (including footnotes and captions).  The questions may be discussed with reference to any academic discipline or area of interest. All sources must be appropriately acknowledged and cited, and a bibliography (including websites consulted) should be attached, although this is excluded from the word count. Up to three entries may be submitted per school, so please discuss your application with your school prior to entry.

There are many angles from which to approach the questions and we encourage applicants to ‘think outside the box’ and answer through the lens of a field or subject that greatly interests you.  Good essays will present a clear and concise argument using specific examples, but beyond this there is scope to interrogate the questions in any way you please.

Three prizes will be awarded, each person receiving book tokens to the value of £100. Further essays will be commended for their high quality. Winning and highly commended entrants will be invited to the College for a prize-giving ceremony and celebratory lunch with fellows and Directors of Studies at the college [Update: in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is possible that the prize-giving ceremony will not go ahead in the planned format. Essay Prize Winners will be informed of arrangements in due course].

The deadline for submiss ion of essays is 5pm, Friday 14th August. All entries should be sent via the online submission form below where you will be asked to upload a PDF/word document of your essay and your completed covering sheet. Entries will not be valid without this information. Please note: due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have removed the teachers' section of the covering letter, and teachers do not need to fill out or sign any part of the form. When using the google form, you will be prompted to confirm you have discussed your entry with a teacher.  

Please note: a Google account is required to complete the form below. If you do not have a Google account, please send your essay via email to by the deadline, with the cover sheet attached. Please write 'Essay Prize Submission 2020' as the e-mail subject. In the body of the email, please state your full name, school and question you answered. 

Essay Prize Submission Form

Essay Prize General Information 2020

Essay Prize General Cover Letter 2020


Essay Questions:

Discuss, with reference to any academic discipline, any area of interest raised by one of the following


1. "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (Benjamin Franklin) Do you agree?

2. Does the theory of evolution by natural selection tell us anything interesting about how we should live?

3. Watch the following TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. TED Global. (2009) Available online via: What are novels for? Answer in light of the TED talk and any one or two text(s) you have read recently. 

4. “A true war story is never moral. […] If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever.” (Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, 1990). Write about any piece of war literature or art about war in light of O’Brien’s claim. 

5. There is no such thing as ‘untranslatable’. Discuss.