Essay Contest For College Students 2012

Mark Gimelstein, a senior at Great Neck South High School in Great Neck, New York, won first prize for his essay, “The Audacity of Independent Thought.” He will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. His winning entry is included below.

Nora Faris, a junior at Concordia High School in Concordia, Missouri, took second place with her essay, “What Can I Say?: Free Speech on College Campuses” and will receive a $5,000 college scholarship.

The three third-place winners who will each receive $1,000 college scholarships are:

In his winning essay, Mark argues that “students must persevere to ensure that the freedom of speech is protected.” FIRE’s essay contest engages high school students in this effort as part of our “Know Before You Go” initiative, alerting them to the threat of censorship before they get to campus. This year, more high school students than ever before—almost 3,200—submitted essays explaining why they believe free speech is important in higher education. At a time when far too many students have “unlearned liberty,” their enthusiasm is a hopeful sign for the future of free expression on campus.

FIRE would like to thank all of the participants in this year’s essay contest and wish a hearty congratulations to Mark, Nora, Alexandra, Hannah D., Asheshananda, Clayton, Minhi, Hannah R., and Brian! FIRE would also like to thank the Sandra and Lawrence Post Family Foundation for its generosity in making the 2012 essay contest possible. To read all of the winning essays, visit our contest page.

Mark Gimelstein
“The Audacity of Independent Thought”

Before my parents left the Soviet Union in the 1980s, they lived under an oppressive regime where the concept of free speech did not exist. Anyone perceived to be critical of the government was threatened, imprisoned in the gulags, or even detained in psychiatric wards where mental and physical torture occurred. While most people had no idea that a better life was possible outside of the Soviet Union, my parents knew better, and they decided to move to the United States where they knew their basic rights and liberties would be constitutionally guaranteed. Because of what my parents went through, I’ve always been aware of how important and precious the right to free speech is and how easily it can be taken away. As someone who is never afraid to express his views at school, even though they often differ from those of my classmates, I look forward to college because of all of the opportunities it offers to become even more politically informed and engaged. However, our country’s colleges and universities—despite being elite institutions of learning in the freest nation in the world—instead often choose to indoctrinate students, silence independent thought, and enforce political correctness upon the student body. It is clear that these policies contradict the very mission of higher education, whose advancement is inextricably linked to the exercise of free speech.

When students enter institutions of higher education, they have entered a moment in their lives when their political and intellectual curiosity is at a peak. In an environment of learning, students are supposed to be encouraged to explore and make themselves into well-rounded individuals with their own thoughts and beliefs. After leaving behind the restrictive, routine-based world of high school, college students should have the autonomy to make their own decisions in order to make the transition from naïve teenagers into mature adults. As a result, when students like Andre Massena from Binghamton University and Hayden Barnes from Valdosta State University are seen protesting against their professors and universities for social justice, environmentalism, and other issues by putting up posters or flyers and sending emails expressing their concerns, it should be considered a victory for higher education. When incoming freshmen from the University of Delaware express a wide variety of differing beliefs concerning politics, race, sexuality, and other issues of the day, it should be seen as a positive step toward real dialogue and understanding among the student body. When students like Keith John Sampson of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis read books that interest them in order to educate themselves, we should view this as a success for the university.

However, all of these students who engaged in activism or exercised their right to free expression were not celebrated by their universities, but rather condemned and punished. Student activists like Andre Massena and Hayden Barnes were threatened or nearly expelled for having the nerve to express a concern or gripe with a school’s policies. Many colleges have vigorously tried to cleanse the ideologies of their students and make them only believe the views approved by the school. At the University of Delaware, university officials took “diversity training” too far by asking intrusive questions and making their students feel polarized and guilty for having unique personal beliefs. Keith John Sampson, on the other hand, was charged with violating school policy for reading literature that his university deemed politically incorrect and considered hazardous to its students. These are just a few of the many cases in which colleges and universities across the United States grossly violate their students’ rights to speak freely, which are guaranteed by the Constitution and nearly always by the university itself. From free speech zones, which isolate students into a part of campus that is far too small to accommodate for the massive student body, to speech codes, which unreasonably prohibit what students can say, think, or even wear, universities have constantly tried to interfere with and take away their students’ First Amendment rights.

If injustices like these do not stop, what are the benefits of higher education? What is the point of going to an institution in the hopes of pursuing interests and enlightening oneself?

College students, of all people, demonstrate their drive for knowledge, which requires the ability to think freely and ask important, critical questions. Colleges and universities claim the pursuit of knowledge as their goal, yet the attempted censorship of free speech, which has been ongoing for many years, is not compatible with this idea. Higher education as a principle promotes people pursuing their own interests and enlightening themselves with the multitude of resources and the autonomy that colleges and universities provide. Free speech naturally develops when people are allowed to educate and develop their ideologies and discuss them with others. When this liberty is highly censored and taken away, education becomes fundamentally different. Public discourse slowly withers away as the opinions of most students and teachers become exactly the same. Creativity disappears without any individuality, which is completely counterproductive to the overall higher education experience. People are bullied into a corner where political and intellectual diversity ends and the homogenization of “socially acceptable” opinions begins.

It is impossible for higher education to exist as it was originally intended without the guarantee of First Amendment rights to all. Both freedom of speech and higher education are complements to each other—without one, the other fails to survive. The fight to preserve this sacred liberty will be an ongoing battle, but students must persevere to ensure that the freedom of speech is protected in the present and continues to be respected by higher education institutions throughout the United States in the future.

Thank you for your interest in the International College Counselors Scholarship. 


All students in 9th through 11th grade are eligible to participate. An essay is required that answers the question:

Brag about your high school or homeschool experience. What do you like best about it?

Two winners will be selected:  One (1) from Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach County; and one (1) at large winner from anywhere in the world, domestic or international. Both winners will receive a $250 scholarship provided by International College Counselors. The goal of the International College Counselors High School Essay Contest is to increase awareness of the value of higher education among high school students in the local area.


Write an essay that addresses the following topic:

Brag about your high school or homeschool experience. What do you like best about it?


  • 500 Word Essay
  • Current high school student (9th-11th Grade)
  • One submittal per contestant
  • Entries must be submitted via mail to:

International College Counselors: 3107 Stirling Road, Suite 208 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312


There will be two awards of $250 Student Scholarships for winning essays.

Essay Deadline: March 30, 2018


  • International College Counselors Scholarship is open to all 9th-11th grade high school students. Two winners will be selected:  One (1) from Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach County; and one (1) at large winner from anywhere in the world, domestic or international. Home schooled students and International students are eligible. Winners will be notified the week of May 1, 2018.


  • Two winning essays will be selected, and winners will each receive a $250 International College Counselors scholarship payable to the winner or the college/university, certified trade school in the United States.
  • Winners names will be posted on the International College Counselors website:


  • Contestants must compose and submit an original essay in English of no longer than five hundred (500) words that addresses the following topic: Brag about your high school or homeschool experience. What do you like best about it?


  • MAIL SUBMISSIONS INSTRUCTIONS: Students MUST submit their essays via mail.   Entries must be postmarked no later than March 30, 2018. Entries that arrive after the entry deadline will not be accepted under any circumstances.
  • Each student may enter only one essay.
  • Each contestant must prepare his or her own essay.
  • Essays submitted must include contestant’s name, home address, telephone number, school the  student attends, grade level, title of the essay and a word count.


  • All submissions must be accompanied by a completed Official Student Registration Form available here
  • Scholarship Application Form
  • The entry form must be signed by the student’s legal guardian in the space provided.
  • Privacy of contestant information will be strictly safeguarded, will not be published (except to announce name and schools of winners), and will not be used for any purpose not strictly related to this essay contest.
  • Home-schooled and International students may apply as long as your course of study is equivalent to that of a junior in high school.
  • It is not necessary for a student to have a sponsoring teacher in order to participate in this contest.
  • A copy of the two winning 1st place essays may be submitted to local newspapers for possible publication.


  • All submissions must be post marked by March 30, 2018


  • Entries will be judged for the accuracy and relevance of content, originality, clarity, insight, and the quality of the writing (including spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.). The winners will be selected by the International College Counselors Essay Contest Judging Committee.  Decisions of the Judging Committee are final.
  • Entries will be judged anonymously and will not be returned to students. Each essay submitted must be the work of one student and may not be the collective work of more than one student. By submitting an essay, applicants certify that their essays are original, authored solely by them and that in writing their essay they did not plagiarize or otherwise infringe upon the rights of any third parties.
  • Winners will be notified by mail, phone, and/or email.  We apologize in advance that we won’t be able to respond to everyone who is not selected as a finalist due to the number of entries we expect. We wholeheartedly appreciate your participation, and we wish we could let everyone know how much we liked his or her thoughts.


General Policy

  • International College Counselors does not share personal information provided explicitly through this web site, or gathered implicitly via web server log files, with any other entity for any purpose whatsoever, with limited exception including announcing the winners of the annual International College Counselors Scholarship essay competition.

International College Counselors Scholarship Entrants

  • Personal information collected on the entry form is used by International College Counselors to properly classify the entry and, in the event the entry is awarded a prize, to contact the winner. Students must acknowledge that the International College Counselors may publish winning essays. Publication may occur on this web site or in an e-mail. International College Counselors will announce winners and post winning essays on this web site on the contest page. Winners will be identified on this web site by name, grade and school affiliation only. International College Counselors may notify a winner’s school and/or local newspaper of the student’s accomplishment.


Emails from International College Counselors are free. Students and/or parents may discontinue receiving the newsletter at any time via the Contact Us form on this web site.


Information provided through the Contact Us form is used by International College Counselors solely to respond to the inquiry.


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