Kelly-Douglas Fund
The Kelly Essay Prize for Excellence in Humanistic Scholarship


Note: The Fund is not accepting submissions for the essay prize this year (2024).

Honoring outstanding achievement in non-fiction writing

To acknowledge outstanding achievement by undergraduate students intellectually committed to fields of study that fall under the purview of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at MIT, the Kelly-Douglas Fund awards two prizes of up to $800 each to the best essays in any field of study within SHASS.

While the Kelly Essay Prize is primarily aimed at recognizing the best research essays submitted in SHASS subjects, some other forms of non-fiction prose are also eligible for consideration. Thus, students may submit works of 12-20 pages in these genres as well: cultural commentary, travel writing, and science journalism.

Faculty Role

The Kelly Essay Prize is distinctive in being the only SHASS writing award open to all students engaged in HASS-related studies, with no further restriction on topic and content. Faculty are encouraged to identify high-quality undergraduate essays written for courses they offer, and help students develop them for submission to the essay competition.

Application Process



Any full time MIT undergraduate — with the exception of previous winners of a Kelly Essay Prize — may submit an essay written during their years at MIT.  The work may have been conceived for an MIT subject. Contestants are encouraged to consult with appropriate members of the faculty while preparing their submission (naturally, any assistance received should be acknowledged in the essay).


Essays may range from 12-20 double-spaced pages, with standard one inch margins. A group of shorter papers, a translation, a work of creative fiction, or a study exceeding 20 pages (exclusive of notes and bibliography) will not be considered.

The Kelly-Douglas Fund now accepts wider range of student essay submissions than in years past. For this year’s competition, all forms of non-fiction prose in the 12-20 page range are eligible for consideration. In addition to submitting research essays written for HASS subjects, students may submit personal essays, memoir, cultural commentary, creative non-fiction, travel writing, field reports, science journalism, etc.  

Submitting an Essay for Consideration

Applicants must submit a PDF of their essay and an Entry Form Cover Sheet to:



Entries are judged by a panel drawn from the different faculties within SHASS, who read each essay without knowing the author's name, On occasion, the total prize money — usually split between two winners — may be divided among three deserving essays, in a proportion to be decided by the Committee for that year. Prize winners are notified in late May.


For additional information visit the main prize page. 

Top Image: Detail, The Eight-legged Essay (Ba Gu Wen)
The eight-legged essay was a style of essay writing that had to be mastered to pass the imperial examinations during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is named so because it was divided into eight sections.