Complete Guide to John Locke Essay Competition

For high school students interested in the John Locke Essay Competition but don’t know where to start, this is the guide for you!
Complete Guide to John Locke Essay Competition
1. What is the John Locke Essay Competition?

The John Locke Essay Competition is organized by John Locke Institute, an independent education organization located in Oxford, UK. Professors at the John Locke Institute are from famous universities like Oxford, Princeton, Brown, and Buckingham University. 

The John Locke Institute encourages young people to cultivate the characteristics of great writers: independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis, and persuasive style. Students are challenged to explore a wide range of questions beyond their school’s curriculum. 

Obtaining prizes in the competition can greatly enhance the competitiveness of undergraduate applications at American, Canadian, and British universities. College admission for students in previous years includes Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge, University of Toronto, and other world-renowned schools. 

Students from all countries and schools can participate. There are two levels of the competition, one for high school students from 15 to 18 years old and the Junior Prize, focused on middle school students 14 years old and younger.  

2. What are the topics discussed in the competition?

Students are required to submit an argumentative essay of fewer than 2000 words. The overarching themes of the competitions are: philosophy, politics, economics, history, psychology, theology, and law.

For 2021, the questions are: 


Q1. Are there some subjects about which we should not even ask questions? 

Q2. What is slavery? Is jury duty? Is conscription? Is income tax? 

Q3. Are you more moral than most people you know? How do you know? Should you strive to be more moral? Why or why not?


Q1. Discrimination on the basis of race is widely condemned, but on the basis of nationality it is widely accepted. Is it not odd that you may not discriminate against me for where my great-great-grandparents were born, but you may discriminate against me for where my parents were born? 

Q2. Should the John Locke Institute change its name? 

 Q3. Do we need Greta? 


Q1. How would the education sector change if governments were no longer involved? 

Q2. There is considerable excess demand for undergraduate places at Oxford. The admissions process rations supply by favouring cleverer students at the expense of others. Is this fair? Does it exacerbate inequality? What is the University’s optimal response to this scarcity? 

Q3. Should we abolish the minimum wage? 


Q1. Should we judge those from the past by the standards of today? How will historians in the future judge us? 

Q2. Has the ‘construct of gender’ been more beneficial or more harmful to humanity throughout history? 

Q3. ‘More history has happened in Oxford, per square foot, than any other place in the world.’ Discuss.


Q1. Do we do everything we do to maximise our own utility? 

Q2. ‘The function of religions and cults, including the political or ideological ones, is to short-circuit the normal ‘common sense’ process of doubt, investigation, further doubt, further investigation… a belief system only requires a rule book (sacred scripture, Das Kapital, or whatever) and a good memory.’ Is this true? Does it matter? 

Q3. Who is responsible for my mental health?


Q1. Is Christianity a religion of peace? 

Q2. Why did Jesus of Nazareth reserve his strongest condemnation for the self-righteous? 

Q3. Did God create coronavirus? 


Q1. Should ‘innocent until proven guilty’ apply not only to courts of law, but also to public censure? 

Q2. To what extent does a codified constitution help or hinder liberty? 

Q3. When should force of law prevent a transaction, entered into freely between two competent, consenting adults?

JUNIOR prize (for age 14 and younger) 

Q1. Should we raise the voting age to 25? 

Q2. Should the John Locke Institute change its name? 

Q3. Is Oxford overrated? 

Q4. Just because you’re a millionaire doesn’t mean you should get better healthcare than the rest of us, does it? 

Q5. What should we do to improve the lives of poor people? 

Q6. Have things improved? 

Q7. Before a certain time almost everybody would have held some belief which we now find repugnant. Does this mean we cannot admire or commemorate the people who helped to shape the modern world? 

Q8. Should the law ever prevent people from freely making self-harming decisions? If so, what should and shouldn’t be forbidden – and according to which principles? 

3. What abilities of students are examined through the John Locke Essay Competitions?
  • The foundational understanding of concepts and structures in philosophy, politics, economics, history, psychology, theology, or law 
  • The mastery of basic writing format and the skills to write argumentative essays 
  • The independent thinking, logical analysis methods, persuasive writing skills  
Guide to john Locke Essay Competition
4. What’s the general structure of the argumentative essay?

An argumentative essay is different compared to other types, because it requires a straightforward and easy-to-follow structure, with a clear point of view and reasoning. We will use an example of an essay from 2020 achieving the First Prize in the Junior Category from the John Locke Essay Competition. The prompt for that year was “Who should own your data? The companies with which you agree to share your data, everybody, just you, or nobody?” The link to the essay can be viewed here.  

A good argumentative essay should follow this structure: 

Introductory paragraph:

This paragraph should outline the topic of discussion with background information related to your argument.  

Today, we produce unfathomable amounts of data, leading the OECD to call data a “key pillar of 21st-century growth.”[1] Legislators, politicians and the popular press have increasingly called for ownership of data.[2] 

Outline the topic of discussion and background information about the state of data ownership.  

Ownership is generally defined as “full and complete control with recognised legal rights,” with legal discretion for the rightsholder to exploit, change, destroy, possess, exclude others from and transfer their property.[3] An ownership right for personal data does not currently exist in the legal statutes of any industrialised country.[4] Property laws intentionally exclude personal data from subject matter definitions and newly introduced regulatory frameworks do not specify data ownership.[5] [6]

Define the subject matter at a high level. In this paragraph, the writer discusses the definition of ownership and the problem of data ownership not specified in the ownership regulation.  

The thesis statement:

This is where students should state their thesis, along with the evidence they will present. The thesis statement should be a concise summary of your main point and introduce the main arguments that will be discussed in the body paragraphs.  

In 1893, Sir William Blackstone noted the human fascination with ownership, saying we desire “sole and despotic dominion … in total exclusion of rights of other individuals in the universe.”[7] In this case, that fascination detracts from the problems and solutions surrounding personal data today. An ownership right should not be created for data. To illustrate this, I shall explore the implications of assigning a data ownership right to corporations, everybody, individuals and then discuss why data should not be owned at all.

State your perspective on the matter and provide the first piece of evidence for the argument. In responding to who should own the data, the writer stated that data should not be owned by corporations, individuals, and everybody, which he discussed later in the body paragraph.  

Body paragraph:

A body paragraph explains the main reasons for your thesis. If you have three main points you want to discuss, each body paragraph should cover each one and only one idea. You can support your claims with examples, research, studies, statistics, and any other information to add credibility and gain trust from readers. In the body paragraphs, you can also bring up opposing claims and provide explanations on why you disagree with the claims. The overall idea of the argument is to convey your idea, explain why the reader should agree, and present opposing claims with evidence-based arguments.  

In the winner’s essay, he provided four main arguments why data should not be owned by corporations, individuals, and everybody, as well we why data should be owned by nobody. He also discussed the consequences of data ownership by these groups.


The conclusion should summarize your arguments and restate your thesis. A good conclusion is always hard to write, a good starting point is to make your conclusion personal is including an anecdote or a personal story related to the topic.  

Today, policy makers must strike a balance between individual rights and extracting societal benefits of data. It is the subject of age-old philosophical debate; whether to prioritise a categorical imperative of privacy at the expense of utilitarian societal progress. Assigning data ownership to a single party means choosing a side, one side will inevitably lose out – sacrificing progress or privacy. Thankfully, reality does not reflect this simplistic trade-off. Ergo, legislators must continue to push for a sector-specific rights-based regulatory framework to complement existing efforts and forgo the need to legislate through assigning data ownership. Therefore, I believe, data should remain as is, res nullius – “property of no one.”

This is an example of a great conclusion, as the writer restates what would happen if you provide data ownership to people, and restates his original thesis that data should not be owned by anyone.  

5. What are the prizes of the John Locke Essay Competition?
  • The prize for each winner of a subject category will receive a scholarship worth $2000 (US Dollars) towards the cost of attending any John Locke Institute program 
  • The best essay overall will receive a $10,000 (US Dollar) scholarship to attend one or more of our summer schools and/or gap year courses. 
  • The essays will be published on the Institute’s website.  
  • Networking opportunities with judges and other faculty members of the John Locke Institute.  

The John Locke Essay Competition is prestigious and attracts thousands of students participating each year. For students who are interested in pursuing a career in writing and gaining more practice and support in writing an essay for this competition, Aralia offers a specialized writing program. Students will have the opportunity to write essays for the competition and receive guidance from an award-winning professor at Aralia. 

Aralia’s tutors are inspired teachers and professors who are committed to student success. They are recognized in their field or are currently teaching at top high schools and colleges/universities in the US. 


Description:Students will learn the nuances of language, including figurative language, effective structuring, and specific forms to apply to their own piece(s). Students will work directly with both literary and media texts to plan and write their piece(s). This class will also help the students write with an aim for an audience as their submission for nation-wide and international writing competitions that are timely with the course schedule.

Project time: Rolling enrollment throughout the year, one class every weekend, 1.5 hours per class 


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