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Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest Topics For Discussion

Nearly a decade ago, I stumbled across the Atlas Shrugged Scholarship. I had never heard of the author, Ayn Rand, but I needed money for college and this essay contest offered a $10,000 top prize, so I headed to my local library to grab a copy. When I finally located it on a shelf, I could not believe the size of the work – 1075 pages. Whoa! The scholarship deadline was in three weeks, and I seriously doubted my ability to absorb so much material in so little time. Fortunately, the characters in the novel were so compelling that I found it hard to put away and finished it in a matter of days. Although I did not win the scholarship, the novel’s underlying themes stayed with me, challenging what I believed to be essential truths about being human and how one should treat others. Ayn Rand was the creator of Objectivism, a philosophy she described as, ‘…the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’ Most of her work introduces you to the tenets of this philosophy, but even if you disagree with many of its points, her novels do make you think about your role in the world. Although Rand died in 1982, the Ayn Rand Institute continues to open minds, and doors, for students through its many scholarship programs. Each year, over 600 students receive awards to help further their academic studies, with prizes ranging from $25 to $10,000. Here is a short overview of each program and who is eligible to participate.  

The Fountainhead Essay Contest

Who: High school juniors and seniors Number of Awards: 236 Value: $50 to $10,000 Deadline: April 26

We the Living Essay Contest

Who: High school sophomores, juniors and seniors Number of Awards: 116 Value: $25 to $3,000 Deadline: May 6

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

Who: High school seniors, undergraduates and graduate students Number of Awards: 84 Value: $50 to $10,000 Deadline: September 17

Anthem Essay Contest

Who: 8th, 9th and 10th grade students Number of Awards: 236 Value: $30 to $2,000 Deadline: March 2014 (TBA)

In 1999, HBO® produced a movie, The Passion of Ayn Rand, with Helen Mirren and Eric Stoltz, and Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, is currently being filmed (part III). Those who would like to know more about Rand and her philosophy should visit the Ayn Rand Institute online.

While other, more practical students spent their summers entering realistic and potentially profitable scholarship contests, I spent the month of August reading Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.

As anyone familiar with the book will be able to tell you, this was no weekend read. 1,069 pages of tiny print—and, at one point in the novel, a fifty-page-long speech on the light topic of objectivism.

What lured me into such an ambitious commitment? An Atlas Shrugged*essay contest I found amongst my Fastweb scholarship matches, of course.

I entered this reading marathon with two convictions—the first, that I would read the novel slowly and painfully and thoroughly abhor it—the second, that my perseverance in the face of a thousand pages would be rewarded with the ten thousand dollars offered as first prize.

After all, I figured, how many people actually bothered to read this thing?

My first surprise came when, twenty pages in, I realized that I was enjoying the read. Just as the back cover had promised, Atlas Shrugged was “unlike any other book” I had ever read.

I found myself eagerly reading through my thirty-six-page-a-day quota. The prose were well-written, the characters interesting and unexpected, the plot line surprisingly fast-paced and Ayn Rand’s ideas challenging and thought-provoking. In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My second surprise came when I bothered to skim through the past winners of the essay contest. I found students—college students—from places like Princeton and Harvard—taking second and third place. Then I actually read some of the winning essays—and realized that my chances of winning were slimmer than I had thought.

I am actually taking a break from my Atlas Shrugged essay in order to write this article. Just as the novel was “unlike any other book” I had ever read, the essay is proving to be unlike any other essay I have ever written. The competition is forcing me to write with clearer, more articulate wording and maintain stronger organization than ever before.

My point in all of this? You don’t always get the sort of experiences you expect. I might not win any sort of scholarship, but the experience I gained from entering this contest has prepared me for the more challenging work I will hopefully find in my college years and has sparked my desire for deeper, more meaningful reading.

Contrary to popular belief, scholarships can be about more than money. (Though it would be nice if I could win something, too.)

*Note: the deadline for the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest was September 17, 2013, but there are plenty of other scholarships you can apply for – just check out your scholarship matches on Fastweb!

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What scholarship experiences have surprised you?

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