Essay contests often get a bad rap - and sometimes, it's deserved. Many contests are more like the lottery, and don't really reward great writing.
Certainly, you should read and choose carefully among the various essay contest "scholarship" contests. (I suggest skipping any that charge a fee to enter.) On a positive note, your odds of winning an essay contest are almost certainly better than winning the lottery.
Below, six essay contests (with cash prizes and scholarship $$) geared for high school/college-bound students. Sharpen your pencils (or stick some fresh batteries in your keyboard) and start writing!
1. Do something! -- not all writing-based, but there is writing involved. I like Do Something! because it encourages taking action to improve life around you...you pick the area of life/society you want to work to improve. Deadlines vary.
2. Read any good Ayn Rand books lately? If objectivism is your bag, this is your site. You'll have to register to get info about contests and deadlines. Primarily for college students.
3. The Williams-Mystic Essay Contest in Honor of Joseph Conrad accepts fiction or non-fiction entries about the ocean or any major body of water. $400 prize. Deadline in October.
4. What's your Superpower? Find it and get your entry in before the end of March. Open to writers ages 13 and up! $250 prizes.
5. Engineers are kind of like superheroes... this contest from Engineer Girl has a February deadline.
6. The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage essay contest for high school students (grades 9-12) selects a winner from every state. Deadline January 4, 2017.
Want more? Scholarship Mentor has a long, long list of other writing contests to sort through.
Write Smart to Write Your Best College EssayScholarship mentor has a helpful checklist - do yourself a favor and read it:
Here's my favorite tip from the Ayn Rand essay contest site: read the winning entries from previous contests! It's like a study guide. Take advantage of it.
And the most basic advice you need to get started: BIC. (Butt in chair.) You can't get it done until you begin.
Good luck and have fun writing!