Scholarships for High School Students

Through its partnership with the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), the Dickens Project offers up to four scholarships each year for NAI high school students to study Dickens amid the redwoods. Students enter the scholarship competition by submitting an essay following the guidelines described below. Students must be fully matriculated in a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) high school, and in good standing in the USC NAI program.

The scholarship competition winners will attend the Dickens Universe with all expenses paid. (Paid expenses include conference registration as well as food and lodging for six nights.) A travel stipend of $150 is also included for each student.

Congratulations to our 2016 winners!

  • Georgia Delgado (Will attend USC)
  • Mauricio Garcia (Will attend Harvard University)
  • Amber Johnston (Will attend USC)
  • Kimberly Mejia (Will attend USC)

(PLEASE NOTE: The nationwide Dickens Project High School Essay Contest is no longer in effect. An archive of winning essays from the former contest is still available here.)


Charles Dickens is considered by many to be the preeminent author of the Victorian era, not simply because he was so prolific in his writing, but also because he lived through, experienced, and wrote about many of the issues that came to define that era. From early works like Oliver Twist (1839) to middle works like A Christmas Carol (1843), and on through later works like A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1861), and Our Mutual Friend (1865), Dickens chronicled the tragedies and triumphs of his day. In Dickens you can read about everything from poverty, illiteracy, crime, and prison conditions, to religious hypocrisy, the inequality between the classes, flaws in the legal system, the power of the industrial revolution, and the nature of domestic relationships (both good and bad).

In an essay of 3 - 5 pages in length, respond to a single Dickens novel by analyzing any topic or theme of the book.

While the essay topic can be anything of your own choosing, the essay must have a strong thesis, and you must argue that thesis from the beginning of the essay to its conclusion. Additionally, the essay must include accurate and detailed references to the novel you choose, in support of your thesis.

Following are some suggestions that might help you formulate a strong topic and thesis:

  • Take a single passage from the novel of choice and do a close reading of it, arguing for why the passage is significant, and demonstrating how it speaks to the themes of the novel as a whole.
  • Analyze Dickens’s use of imagery, language, important themes, or any other unique aspects of the novel that intrigue you.
  • Assess the impact of the ambiguities and complexities of Dickens’s writing—this might refer to the complexity of the relationships between characters, the complexity of the themes he writes about, or the complexity of the writing itself.

Remember, you must support your argument with ample references to a single Dickens novel. (No multiple-novel essays please.)


Juding of essays will take place by a joint committee of Dickens Project and USC NAI faculty. Submissions will be judged on style, content, grammar, and the originality with which the student approaches the topic. Judges will look for clear, concise writing that is intelligent, original, articulate, logically organized, and well-supported. Only the most polished essays should be submitted, and teachers are encouraged to work with their students on refining the essays as much as possible before submission. Winning essays must demonstrate excellent knowledge and understanding of themes and issues presented in the Dickens novel of the student’s choice.


  • Entrants must be full-time matriculated LAUSD high school students (ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade), and must be in good standing in the USC NAI program.
  • Essays must be at least three and no more than five double-spaced pages, computer or typewritten, Times 12-point font or equivalent.
  • Essays must include a page number and the entrant’s last name at the bottom of each page.
  • All essays must be the original sole work of the entrant.
  • All essays must be submitted by the last day in March.
  • Winners will be notified by April 15th.


Jacqueline Jean Barrios
University of Southern California
Neighborhood Academic Initiative
661 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007