Essay Contest Middle School Students 2009

After 4,000 essays and a long week of deliberations, we have finally selected our two winners of The Bank of America Student Voices Essay Contest!

The contest asked students to answer the question “What’s the best way a student can manage their money in current economic times?” in 250-350 words. Two awards were given — one to a student in the 3.0-4.0 GPA range and another in the 2.0-2.99 GPA range.

Congratulations to our economically savvy winners: MeganC173 in the 3.0-4.0 GPA range and Rashud T. in the 2.0-2.99 GPA range.

FastWeb’s own Financial Aid Guru, Mark Kantrowitz chose the final essay. He said he chose Megan’s “excellent” essay because, “It starts with a story, grabbing your attention, and is well-written.” He also gave Honorable Mentions to Richard Watt and Sana Asif.

Kantrowitz said the top essays largely focused on several themes which are all solid ways to be more economically savvy. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Psychological tricks to make it more difficult to spend money. These include such advice as paying with cash instead of credit (a credit card feels the same whether you’re spending $5 or $500), using checks or debit cards (or a prepaid credit card) instead of credit cards to prevent spending beyond one’s means, not carrying credit cards with you, having just one credit card, setting up an automatic transfer of income to savings through direct deposit (if the money isn’t in your wallet, you can’t spend it), changing small bills into big bills since you’ll be less likely to break a $50 bill for a two dollar slurpie, working weekends during the school year and full-time during the summer (not only to earn money, but to have less time available to spend money).

2. Focusing on freebies and substituting less expensive alternatives for popular items. This includes attending free events instead of paid entertainment, such as the beach, camping, hiking, jogging, biking, walking in the park, visiting art galleries, spending time with friends, watching TV, borrowing books and movies from the library. Less expensive alternatives include matinee movies, fruit instead of candy or fast food, cutting down the portion size, buying at the grocery store instead of vending machines (pack bag lunches). Buying sensible clothes instead of popular brand names. Eating in instead of eating out. Homemade coffee instead of expensive Starbucks lattes. Less expensive cell phone plan and cutting back on the number of calls and text messages. Reusing a bottle with tap water instead of buying bottled water. Sharing clothing with friends. Use public transportation. Also, buying used textbooks at half price (and selling them back to the bookstore at the end of the semester).

3. Seeking discounts to cut costs. This includes waiting until the item is on sale, buying bargains when prices are low in anticipation of future needs, clipping coupons, taking advantage of student discounts, and shopping at discount stores. Comparison shop and research products before you buy. Work at a popular store in order to get the employee discount.

4. Limit your spending and live as frugally as possible. Don’t spend money you don’t have — spend less than what you earn. Only use credit cards if you can afford to pay off the balance in full at the end of the month. Avoid impulse buys. Institute a mandatory 1-2 day waiting period before any major purchases.

5. Distinguish between needs and wants (mandatory vs. discretionary spending). Either set a hard limit on all discretionary spending, or cut it out entirely. Prioritize your needs and wants so that needs are addressed before any wants. Focus on what is really important. Ask yourself “Can I live without it? Is it really necessary? Will having bought it matter to me ten years from now?”. Discretionary spending includes trendy drinks like Starbucks and Jamba Juice or other beverages, eating out, smoking, clothing & shoes, jewelry, entertainment, junk food, fast food, movies, and other luxuries.

6. Budgeting. This includes both descriptive budgets (where you track how you spend your money in simple categories like clothing, gas, entertainment, savings) and prescriptive budgeting (where you set limits on spending in certain categories such as luxuries and discretionary spending). One possible technique is to set a reasonable but low limit on all entertainment and discretionary spending per week. If you cut it out entirely, you’ll be less likely to comply with the budget. Even just a descriptive budget can help rein in spending, since people rarely realize just how much a latte a day costs per year. Budgeting can also help you save in advance for a large expense, which establishes the good habit of delayed gratification.

7. Save. Pay yourself first by saving before you spend any money. Save at least 10% of each paycheck or other income in a FDIC insured interest-bearing bank account. (Some suggested using an online bank account for a higher interest rate on savings.) Save as much as you can; some even suggest saving at least half your paycheck. Another tip is to establish a rainy day fund of 3-6 months expenses (as opposed to 3-6 months earnings). Some suggest saving a set amount of money per day (e.g., $1 or $2) so that when you forgo a latte, you’re consciously doing it to save. Another good idea is to have a jar or can or piggy bank for all your spare change at the end of the day (also, Bank of America’s Keep the Change program) as an easy way to save.

A few of the essays talked about low interest rates on savings accounts and talked about investing as an opportunity to buy undervalued but high quality stocks.

8. Minimize college costs. This includes applying for scholarships (an obvious ploy because we’re a scholarship site, but still good advice), getting good grades to help win scholarships, minimizing debt, borrowing federal first, moving off-campus to save on living expenses, and using a creditworthy cosigner on private student loans. Also starting off at a community college and later transferring to a four-year college.

9. Get organized. This includes keeping track of student loan debt and setting up a long-term financial plan. Some argued for choosing short, middle and long-term goals. Some recommended the Mint and Wesabi sites.

10. Get educated. Several students recommended learning about finance by reading financial news and finance blogs.

11. Get a job. While many of the essays talked about focusing on schoolwork as the best insurance against unemployment, several students talked about getting a job or creating a job as a way of earning extra money. Several recommended creating a student business such as tutoring or babysitting. Others recommended getting a nearby job to save on fuel and travel time. One recommended holding a garage sale to sell of possessions that are no longer needed.

Next Page: Check out the Winning Essays Here >>

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For our annual Student Travel Writing Contest with cash scholarships, please think about the following questions and requirements:

  • What you were looking for when you were planning to study, intern, volunteer, travel, work, or live abroad as a student?

  • Follow the general guidelines below as a basis for your article or mini-guide, since the more questions you address, the more likely your essay will help to inform and inspire other prospective students in their ventures abroad.

  • Feel free to take your own angle, having reviewed some of the past winner's articles, but still keep the future student going abroad squarely in mind while providing links to useful resources.

  • Do not submit highly personal narratives in this contest, since the essays are meant to be practical guides for others, though selected illustrative anecdotes can be helpful while adding color to your essay.
  • Where did you go to school before your work/study/internship/travel/living/volunteering abroad?

  • What motivated you to go abroad?

  • What subjects or activities were your primary interests abroad?

  • How did you select your program or activity abroad? Did you use search engines, word of mouth, databases, unedited reviews, social media, forums, or other communication modes? Emphasize essential practical information such as how you researched and selected a program or arranged your independent study, volunteer service, travel, job, or internship.

  • If you selected and write about one program or independent activity in which you participated, please provide a list of similar programs or alternative opportunities you researched for the reader from which they might choose.

  • Where did you go abroad, why, and when?

  • In which program(s) did you end up participating? Was it an organized program, direct attendance at an academic institution abroad, or independent study?

  • Once you were abroad, what did you wish you had known before you left?

  • Were there any unexpected events, challenges, or realizations while you were abroad?

  • Did you encounter what you felt was racism, sexism, or any other form of aggression during your time abroad? How did you react and what did you learn or do you wish to share about the experience?

  • What was the best part of your experience abroad?

  • Describe with some specificity and even with anecdotes what you did in your studies, internship, work, volunteering, travel, living to provide a clear sense of your experience. What you did will most certainly be of interest to others.

  • Do you consider your venture abroad as achieving or exceeding your goals?

  • Would you go abroad again? Would you recommend that others do the same?

  • Did you consider yourself a good ambassador while you were abroad? Did you feel you gave as much as you received from the people and culture hosting you?

  • What role did social media and online communications play in your experience abroad? In these times, when we are spending more and more of our waking life online, how did you balance such activity with cultural immersion and direct connection with locals and your host family?

  • Since you have returned (if you have), how have you been able to fit what you did and learned abroad into your life—academic, career, and otherwise?

  • Do you think that your experience changed your life spiritually, academically, and will it alter your future life, including career choices?

  • Did you go abroad with the expectation that the intercultural skills you would develop might help you in your future career—skills employers now seek?

  • Did you intend to write about your experience during and after your experience abroad, and via which media?

  • Has your experience abroad, post graduation, led to the work abroad you desire as a result, or more likely to related international work from your home country? Many jobs or careers these days involve interaction with international entities, did your experience abroad help you with your current employment responsibilities?

  • Think of yourself as a study abroad advisor and your reader as a student like yourself before you decided to study/intern/live/work abroad. Offer your best practical advice.

  • Be specific: Vague and flowery evocations of the place(s) you visited and what a wonderful time you had there are not always helpful to someone preparing for his or her trip. Good writing avoids clichés.

  • Write like a journalist seeking to tell a story attempting as much objectivity as possible to reach a wide and educated audience seeking minimal bias.

  • If you write about your experience as a student in a specific program, remember that the appropriateness of the program depends on the individual.

  • While remaining practical, please do not hesitate to offer your most inspiring experiences and advice. Describe your personal passions relating to traveling, living, and learning in the country(ies) in which you visited.

  • If you feel that anecdotes or epiphanies offer a view into the core of your experience abroad, please provide them as well as any dialog with locals that may have changed your perspective.

  • Include a box-out(s) with useful relevant information or related programs that you considered or discovered to help others in their research.

  • Note: Please provide high quality and high-resolution photographs to make your submission stand out and help convey the context of your experience in conjunction with your words.

  • Note: Optionally provide Youtube video(s), links to blog posts or multimedia of any kind that will help further evoke what you experienced abroad and will inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

Word Count

1,200-2,500 words. 2-3 or more high-resolution photos strongly preferred.

Student Writing Contest Deadline for 2018

The Contest begins January 1, 2018, and all entries must be received by October 1, 2018. Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. will require first-time Worldwide Electronic rights for all submissions which are accepted as contest winners and for publication. In addition, Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. will reserve the right to reprint the story in a future publication. The writer may republish the unedited submission as desired six months after initial publication on

Winners will be notified by email before 12:00 a.m. EST, October 15, 2018 for publication at such time as all winners have signed Agreements, received, and cashed payment.

Student Writing Contest Terms

  • There is no entry fee required for submissions.

  • Submissions that have been published during the current academic year by home academic institutions are eligible.

  • Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. is not responsible for late, lost, misdirected, incomplete, or illegible email or for any computer-related, online, or technical malfunctions that may occur in the submission process.

  • Submissions are considered void if illegible, incomplete, damaged, irregular, altered, counterfeit, produced in error, or obtained through fraud or theft.

  • Submissions will be considered made by an authorized account holder of the email address submitted at time of entry.

  • The 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners—along with any other runners-up accepted for publication—will be paid by Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. either by check or PayPal as preferred by the author.

  • All federal, state, and local taxes are the sole responsibility of the Contest winners.

  • Decisions of the judges are final.


Typed in Microsoft Word and sent by email to Your name and your email address should be on the document and the "2018 Student Writing Contest" as the subject of the email. Please let us know at if your submission did not get through for any reason.

Cover Sheet

Please provide your name and contact information (address, email address, telephone number), your college or university, and your year in school or year that you graduated or expect to graduate. If you traveled on your own, list the countries and dates and what you did (worked, backpacked, etc.) If you traveled with a program, list the program name and institution, and the dates. Include your current and permanent address, your current and permanent phone number, and email address if applicable. Include a short biographical note (hometown, major, etc.). This information can be in the body of the email which includes your submission.


Send electronically as an attached MS Word file which includes the submission title, your name, your email address, and the story to If you cannot attach the submission as an MS Word file, then please try to create a Google Document and send us the shared link. The last and least desirable way to submit is to paste the article text into an email message. If you have any questions about the contest, please write to

For images, which often play an important part in conveying the abroad experience, ideally you have the images stored in the Cloud on sites such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Flickr, etc. Images in the Cloud can be easily accessed by suppling a link with read rights, but if not, please feel free to attach as many relevant high resolution images as possible or let us know that you have them available. Images tell a story in and of themselves, of course, and photojournalistic approaches will be considered.

Social Media

Notification of your participation in the contest via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or your favorite social networking sites would be much appreciated. All winners are welcome to "brag" or "humblebrag" via social media.


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