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Announcing NPR's third annual College Podcast Challenge

LA Johnson/NPR

Updated November 1, 2023 at 3:35 PM ET

Note from the College Podcast Challenge team: In the first month of the contest, we've received several entries that are too long and will be disqualified. Students, please make sure that your podcast is between three and eight minutes, before submitting. Good luck!

When NPR announced our College Podcast Challenge three years ago, the contest gave us a window into unexpected times and places in young people's lives as they tried to make sense of the pandemic lockdown. We listened to podcasts recorded and produced in childhood bedrooms, stories about family, friends and loved ones, sound-rich research projects, and a lot of young adults trying to better understand who they are and where they come from.

Fast forward three years: We're back, with our $5,000 grand-prize scholarship, more training materials and support, and the opportunity to have your voice, your story, reach our NPR audience and beyond. So whether it's your first-ever podcast assignment, a longtime passion project, or just something you want to get off your chest – you've got plenty of time to figure it out!

This year's College Podcast Challenge is open for entries as of today, Oct. 6, 2023, and will close on Jan. 5, 2024. (You can submit your podcast here.) That'll give you the entire fall academic term, and a chance for the growing number of students in podcasting classes to submit their final projects.

And yes, as with last year, NPR will award the winner a $5,000 scholarship, with $500 prizes for our 10 finalists.

One big change this year: the college contest will be open to students of all ages pursuing an associate's or bachelor's degree, as well as those who have already graduated earlier in 2023. This means that if you're a recent grad who didn't have the opportunity to enter due to our new timeline, you can still submit your work!

As in past years, there's one key difference between the college competition and our Student Podcast Challenge for students in grades 5-12: Those younger entrants must have a grownup submit their work. College podcasters, you can enter your own work, without going through a professor, mentor or your school, as long as you're 18 years or older.

How it works

For this contest – and the middle, high school one returning in January 2024 – our basic guidelines remain pretty much the same: Students can create a podcast on any topic they wish to explore. To give you an idea, we've listened to entries on what it's like to live in an isolated dorm room, the history and legacy of a student mariachi band in Texas, and the joys of rediscovering one's love of learning at age 65. Some themes we've seen over and over include questions on race, identity, and belonging. Your podcast can also be in many different formats: an interview, narrative story, or even investigative reporting. You can do it by yourself, with a friend, or with your entire class.

One important rule to keep in mind is that the maximum length of your podcast is eight minutes. Longer entries will be disqualified. After years of listening to student podcasts, we've learned that shorter is better.

Where to begin

To get you started, we created this Sound Advice page that includes a slew of podcasting resources on how to choose a topic, how to write in your own voice, how to edit audio and use music in your podcast, among others. Even, and we're serious about this, how making a pillow fort can make you sound better! (It's a trick our reporters and producers still use when we're on the road!)

More resources

You can find more tips and tricks on The Students' Podcast, our podcast on how to make a good podcast – new episodes coming soon, so please keep an eye out! We also encourage you to get a feel for what we're looking for by listening to last year's winning podcast, which can be found here. And previous years' winners', here: Miriam Colvin and Anya Steinberg.

For more tips, advice and the latest updates on this year's contest, make sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Students, we can't wait to hear your stories, so on your mark, get set, record!

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Janet W. Lee
Steve Drummond
Steve Drummond is a senior editor and executive producer at NPR who has held a variety of roles in more than two decades at the network. Since its launch in 2014, he has headed the education reporting project, NPR Ed. The nine-member team provides deep, comprehensive coverage of learning and education and extends that reporting to audiences across many platforms. In 2018, the team launched the Student Podcast Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the national contest has received podcast entries from more than 50,000 students in grades 5-12, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2021 a college version was added that offers a $5,000 scholarship to the grand-prize winner.