The Undergraduate Awards: advice for OU students



Having just finished my work as a Judge on the 2018 Classics and Archaeology Panel for The Undergraduate Awards, I thought I’d take some time to go through the ins and outs of submitting work if you’re an Open University student.


What are the Undergraduate Awards?

The Undergraduate Awards competition is a rapidly growing essay competition which began a few years ago as an Irish initiative, but which is now global in its coverage.

The competition is free to enter, and open to any final-year undergraduates or recent graduates (more on this later), from any university in the world.

You don’t need to write a new essay for the competition; you only have to make some small alterations to an essay you’ve already written for a module.

You can submit a single essay, or as many as three in one year.

You can enter online, and if you’re an Open University student you don’t need to inform anyone or ask permission to reuse your essays, because the OU is an Affiliate.




Why should you enter?

If you win, you get a shiny gold medal! But there are other reasons to enter…

  • Runners up (or “Highly Commended”) receive a certificate in the post, and will be listed on the website and in the Undergraduate Awards Journal. They will also be invited to attend (at cost price) the Undergraduate Global Summit, a three-day conference held in Dublin in November, and they become UA Alumni.
  • Global winners in each category get an expenses-paid trip to Dublin, the chance to (very briefly) present their work, publication in the Journal, admission to the Alumni Network – and of course the shiny gold medal, presented at the awards ceremony!
  • Winning is recognition that your work excels in a global context: you’re up there with the best and brightest! It’s a great thing for your CV, and for your confidence.




Which OU students can enter?

  • OU students are eligible to enter once they’ve completed 240 credits towards their current degree.
  • Recent OU graduates (who have graduated in the year before submission) can submit their undergraduate work.
  • Anyone who’s achieved a Pass 1 (85% and above at the OU) for an essay can submit that essay: even if that essay was completed during a previous module.
  • As long as you’re a current (or recent) undergraduate, you can enter – even if this isn’t your first degree.
  • OU students often do very well: last year the OU came in top of the European leader board!



What do you have to do?

  • Tweak your essay to fit the word limit, which is a minimum of 2,500 words (but there is 10% leeway, so it could be a bit shorter).
  • Write an abstract. This should be between 100 and 300 words, and it should advertise your essay. It needs to pack a punch, because it will be an important element of the judging. Check out the advice here: or here:
  • Make your essay completely anonymous. Take out your name and PI, and any mention of module codes or the OU. Where you’ve referenced the module materials, you’re going to have to replace those references with an X, or with “this citation has been redacted for the purpose of anonymity”. It will make your referencing look a bit messy, but the Judges make allowances for that.



When do you have to do it?

The deadline tends to be near the beginning of June, so it doesn’t fit too well with exams and EMAs.

Because of that, it’s a good idea to think about your entry early. It won’t take too long to make the necessary changes, but you may not be in the mood immediately after the exam or EMA!

Judging goes on through the summer, and winners are announced in September. The Summit and the ceremony are in November, in Dublin.





So how do you win?

Well, first you need a really good abstract; without that, you’re unlikely to progress beyond the first stage of the judging.

Secondly, you need a strong argument. This isn’t a TMA; you can be more opinionated here! Feel free to go back through your essay and add all the bits you didn’t think your tutor would like: the Judges will be looking for a forceful and passionate essay rather than a cautious one.

Finally, polish your essay till it shines! Fix the bits your tutor mentioned in your feedback; proofread carefully; check references. The Judges will be reading your work very closely; so you should too.





Find out more here:

Here are the FAQs for OU students:

and here you can read an OU student’s success story: