Essay Prizes

Thank you for your interest in Peterhouse's Vellacott History Prize, Kelvin Science Prize and Thomas Campion English Prize.

The 2017 competitions are now closed for entries.

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.


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 compeition. 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 admissions team.

The deadline for you to submit your essay is 16:00 GMT on 17th March 2017. 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 23rd March 2017 – 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.

All three competitions have a top prize of £500 and a second prize of £250; several further essays will be highly commended. 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 2016


Ruby Hamilton (The Charter School) who considered how writers “catch” their “Age”.

Eliza Tewson (Magdalen College School) who considered how William Wordsworth constructs space in his sonnets.



Ben Gregson (The Judd School)

Anna Seale (Highgate School)

Grace Tierney (The Catholic High School, Chester)

Vellacott History Prizewinners 2016


Matthew Thorne (King's College Taunton) who discussed why child labour was a problem for 19th century societies.



Caspar Paton (Hampton School) who argued that Edgar was the first ruler of the English.

Lydia Hale (Woodford County High School for Girls) who considered alliances between European powers and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries.



Bethany Mulgrew (Chelmsford County High School For Girls)
Bert Stocks (Oundle School)
Eleanor Pendle (Chichester High Schools Sixth Form)
Kaler Wong (King Edward's School, Birmingham)
Andrew Loy (Ermysted's Grammar SChool)
Rachel Tustin (Sevenoaks School)


Kelvin Science Prizewinners 2016


Ludo Fraser-Taliente (Eton College) who used physical laws to explain how tall trees could grow.



Ben Norris (Bancroft's School) who discussed the claim 'There is no such thing as electron deficient compounds, only theory deficient Chemists.'



Robert Ogilvy (Loretto School)
David McMahon (Coláiste Choilml)
Prasanna Suresh (Dr Challoner's Grammar School)