I love being part of a small, tight-knit community that's old and traditional but also interesting and quirky.

Essay Prizes

Thank you for your interest in Peterhouse's Vellacott History Prize, Kelvin Science Prize and Thomas Campion English Prize. The competition opens for Year 12 students in February. 

This year's questions are now published for the Campion and Kelvin Prizes. Please note that the Vellacott Prize has changed and has no questions set for it. Please read through the attached information carefully. All essays should be no more than 2,000 words, incl. footnotes and appendices, and should be submitted as PDFs. The deadline is 16:00 GMT Monday 20th April 2020 and the deadline for teacher approval is 16:00 GMT Monday 27th April 2020. If you are entering the Vellacott Prize, you must send the intended title of your essay to essayprize@pet.cam.ac.uk by 16:00 GMT Monday 16th March 2020.

Last year we received over 600 entries from students from over 300 different schools. The standard was incredibly high and the judges found it really difficult to select the winners, but we were excited to invite 35 winners to Peterhouses and commended a further 15 students. Congratulations to all the entrants; the time you spent researching your topics and writing your essays has been invaluable preparation for university study. We look forward to hearing from any of you who are interested in applying to Peterhouse.   

The Peterhouse Essay Competitions are a great opportunity for Year 12 students to start exploring their subject and get a taste of university-level research. Each competition has a prize pool of £750. Instructions for the prize are available on the left hand side of this page as attachments. Please see below for further details. 


UPDATE: Results have now been sent out to all entrants. We are unable tp provide individual feedback, due to the volume of entries. If you have any other queries, please email essayprize@pet.cam.ac.uk


Instructions for entrants and essay questions are provided for the Kelvin, Thomas Campion and Vellacott prizes on the lefthand side as attachments. 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.

If you have any further questions, after reading through the FAQs and the guides to submitting, please get in touch with Catherine Walker, our Schools Liaison Officer, at essayprize@pet.cam.ac.uk

  • 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. 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 will be the 20th April 2020. 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 27th April 2020 – 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. 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 who did not win 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.

I love being part of a small, tight-knit community that's old and traditional but also interesting and quirky.