Essay Prizes

Thank you for your interest in Peterhouse's Vellacott History Prize, Kelvin Science Prize and Thomas Campion English Prize. Entries to the 2018 competition are now closed but teachers can still approve entries submmited before the deadline via our online system. Results will be announced here in the summer and winning candidates will be contacted directly.

Results of the 2017 competition can be found below.

Instructions for entrants and essay questions are provided for the Kelvin, Vellacott and Thomas Campion prizes. There is also an FAQ page for entrants and their teachers, as well as a guide for teachers on how to use our online system to run an internal competition within school and how to approve or modify essays.

  • Eligibility

    The prizes are open to all students in year 12 or equivalent (i.e. in their penultimate year of school and usually aged 16 or 17), regardless of nationality or school country. Essays must be written in English. Please note that essays must be uploaded as pdf documents through our online submission system, which will open later this term. All entries must be verified by a teacher and must conform to the guidelines given in terms of length and content, making sure that all citations and quotes are acknowledged using any recognised system. There is a strict limit of two entries per prize per school or college, unless your school requests extra entries before the closing date of the competition. Extra entries are granted at the discretion of the prize co-ordinators and must be arranged in advance by your teacher.

    The online submission system includes the facility for teachers to run an internal school competition before deciding which essays to approve - for more details please contact the team.

    The deadline for you to submit your essay is 16:00 GMT on 20th March 2018. Essays which are not submitted by this time will not be considered under any circumstances. Your teacher will then receive emails from Peterhouse asking them to confirm that you are eligible and that the work complies with our guidelines, as listed in this document and on our website. They must do this by 16:00 GMT on 27th March 2018 – please inform them of this. Essays which have not been approved by a teacher will not be considered. For this reason, submission by post, fax or email will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances, and only by prior arrangement.

    Each competition has a prize pool of £750. Winners will be contacted by post - please make sure your postal address and other contact details are entered correctly!

    Additional information, such as the word limit, is included in the list of questions for each prize. Bibliographies are not included in the word count.

  • History and purposes of the prizes

    For many years, Peterhouse has been proud to organise the Vellacott History essay competition and the Kelvin Science essay competition was set up in 1999 to try to duplicate its success. In 2008 we instituted the Thomas Campion English essay competition, kindly funded by the Friends of Peterhouse.

    All three prizes have the following aims:

    • to give students in Year 12 or Lower Sixth who are considering applying to university an opportunity to write about a subject in which they are personally interested, developing and experiencing the independent study skills which they will need in order to do well at A level and university.
    • to support teachers by providing challenging extension work for talented students and by giving those students contact with Higher Education.
    • to encourage high-flying students to consider applying to Cambridge by giving them a taste of the type of work they would experience here.
    • to recognise the achievement and effort of the best of these students through prizes and commendations and to give them the opportunity of receiving feedback from leading scientists, historians and English specialists.
  • How the winners are chosen

    The standard of entries is always high and choosing winners is extremely difficult. The judges are particularly looking for originality of thought, a clear writing style, breadth of research and source materials (including books, websites and other sources) and a critical approach to those sources. They are also looking for a clear structure to the essay.

    We are aware that websites that purport to offer to write or complete essays for this and other competitions exist. Entries composed in this way are fraudulent and will not be accepted. It is also worth noting that many of the websites themselves appear to be scamming operations.

    Huge congratulations go to the winners of last year's competition, listed in the drop-down menus below. In addition, we would like to reiterate how high the standard of entries was and how hard it was to choose our winners. We would not wish those not mentioned below to lose interest in applying to Cambridge on the basis of this competition. If you have any questions about applying to Cambridge, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Admissions Office; unfortunately, we are unable to give bespoke feedback on the essays submitted to this competition.

  • Thomas Campion English Prizewinners 2017


    S B from Brighton College with an essay on the treatment of deception in literature


    N S from King Edward VI Grammar School with a discussion of the ways in which critics or writers converse with voices from the past


    G W from Eton College with an essay on the treatment of deception in literature

    G W from Henrietta Barnett School - "What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?" (ALFRED HITCHOCK). But how and why might  drama keep the dull bits in?

    E A from Lancing College for a discussion of the ways in which critics or writers converse with voices from the past

  • Vellacott History Prizewinners 2017


    G F from Woldingham School with 'Why did early modern people accuse their neighbours of being witches?'

    I C from King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon with 'Probably there are countries where you can predict a man's opinions from his incom e, but it is never quite safe to do so in  England'. Do you agree with George Orwell?'


    O B from Sherborne Girls - "Whatever Africans share, we do not have a common traditional culture, common languages, a common religious or  conceptual vocabulary... We do not even belong to a common race" [APPIAH] What is African history?

    H R from St John Baptist High School - Was Enlightenment an elite phenomenon in eighteenth - century Europe?

    S K from The King David High School, Manchester - What was the role of imperialism in the fall of the Qing dynasty?

  • Kelvin Science Prizewinners 2017


    N Y from Loretto Senior School who wrote an essay on why there isn't a cure of cancer yet


    D L from JFS who answered 'How can a doctor know whether they are doing their job well?'


    A S from Canford School - Which crop would you grow on Mars and how would you do it?

    C M from Coláiste Choilm - If I asked you to clone a mammoth, would "When?" or "Why?" be the right  response?

    E J from Mount Kelly - How far is it to the moon?

    N V from Northampton School for Girls - Why isn't there a cure for cancer yet?

    A G from Withington Girls' School - What are NMR ring currents and why are they useful?