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The inaugural edition of ‘First Word’

The Undergraduate Writing Programme’s Annual Essay Prize for first-year studentsis now open for entries!

The Undergraduate Writing Programme is delighted to announce the launch of a writing prize for Ashokans in their first year of undergraduate studies. ‘First Word: The UWP Essay Prize’ seeks to promote, recognize and reward dynamic and promising student voices. We are looking for young writers who are able to critically sift through received narratives and craft their own response in the form of an essay. Each winning entry will receive Rs 3,500. Click here to access the submission form. The portal will be open till 1st July 2022.

Essay Prompt and Form

For our inaugural edition, our committee has selected four one-word prompts that the students can use as a springboard to discover their own individual ideas, interpretations and styles. We are looking for original, non-fiction entries in English in any form – personal, argumentative, idea-based, or academic. Entries must be based on any one of the following prompts:

Conflict | Code | Kitchen | Summer

To provide further clarification, an idea-based essay on the prompt ‘conflict’ may take on a more expansive view of the transformative aspect of the internal conflicts in our lives. A narrative piece on the same topic may offer an autobiographical story of the writer, caught in a moment of tension or confusion; an argumentative piece may explore the ethics and efficacy of economic sanctions on Russia in the ongoing geopolitical conflict with Ukraine.

Do note: We are unable to accept forms such as book or film reviews, fiction, photo essays or graphic non-fiction this year. Your submission must be an original and unpublished piece of work. If the work submitted is found to be plagiarized, the author will be immediately disqualified. We will accept entries by solo authors only. (Do go through the FAQs at the end.)


‘First Word’ is open to first-year students—those from UG 24—at Ashoka. We will make exceptions for students from other years who have taken gap years, or semesters off. If you have any doubts about whether you are eligible, feel free to write to us at uwp@ashoka.edu.in

Word Count

The submitted entries should be between 1500–2000 words. For academic essays, subtitles, references and footnotes are encouraged, and will not be included in the specified word limit.

Selection Process

All the received entries will undergo two rounds of review. The UWP’s internal jury will provide feedback on every essay submitted, and shortlist particularly promising pieces. Our distinguished external jurors will select the prize-winning entries from the shortlist. Results will be announced in August 2022.

External Jury

We are delighted to have eminent social scientist and humorist Aneela Babar and renowned essayist and critic Jai Arjun Singh as our judges for First Word 2022.

Prize Money

The winning entries will be awarded 3500/- INR each and published on the UWP website. The awardees will also get an opportunity to interact with the external jurors on the day of the award distribution.

When and Where to submit

Our online submission portal is open from now until July 1st 2022. Click here to access the submission form. All the entries shall be submitted through this submission form. No entries submitted via any other route will be accepted.

Submission Rules

All submissions must be uploaded as a word document (12 font, Times New Roman, double-spaced, alignment-justified, with page numbers), along with a brief biographical note (not more than 100 words, in third person). Your word document should be saved as follows: NameSurname_FirstWord. For further queries or clarifications, please write to us at uwp@ashoka.edu.in.


What kind of submissions are you looking for in ‘First Word’? And why only the essay?

The essay is a highly adaptive genre well suited to our intention of fostering a community of young writers who are not only inquisitive about ideas and arguments, and responsive to particular moods and moments, but are also adept at shaping their words in a form that suits their individual styles. Through this endeavor we hope that students will submit literary non-fiction or critical essays which reflect a nuanced understanding of the world, originality in thought and elegance in expression—the founding ideals of our flagship course ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’. 

Why is First Word open only to first-year undergraduate students?

The Undergraduate Writing Programme works most closely with first-year students through the ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’ courses that we teach. The competition is intended to celebrate the creative and literary coming-of-age of these young thinkers and writers. However, we are open to broadening the base in the coming years. So check in with us again next year!

Currently, I am in my second year and took ICT in Monsoon 21’ semester. Am I eligible to send in my essay for this competition?

No, if you have not taken a year or semester off previously, you are not eligible to participate in this contest.

What if I have a pre-written essay, can I still submit it?

While we hope you will write something fresh for us, it is alright to refashion an older piece as long as the piece  has not  been published before and engages clearly with one of the prompts. (However, please do remove the details of prior submissions before you send it to us!)

Do I need to stick to the genres already mentioned in the concept note?

No, you can surprise us! However, it needs to be an essay, it needs to be largely non-fiction (we say ‘largely’ because some narrative essays, among others, may weave fiction with non-fiction), it needs to be in English, and it needs to be text! 

Do you accept other languages?

For our inaugural contest, we will be accepting submissions only in English. However, we intend to widen our language pool in future editions of ‘First Word’, and develop the infrastructure needed to fairly judge such contributions.

Can I submit an original translation of someone else’s essay?

Since we wish to celebrate student composition rather than translation through this initiative, we are unable to accept translated pieces.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka