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NPR's College Podcast Challenge is back: With a $5,000 prize!

LA Johnson

A year ago, when we asked students across the U.S., "What does college sound like?" the responses did not disappoint. A postcard to a dorm room and its previous residents, sound design that took us inside the head of a concussed student dealing with online learning. So many stories of identity and family histories, a few investigations, and even a subway symphony.

For three years, the NPR Student Podcast Challenge has been open to students in grades 5-12; last year we opened it up to collegiate podcasters for the first time. The response was so strong, and the stories were so moving, that we're back again to announce the NPR College Podcast Challenge.

The contest opens for entries today and closes on Feb. 28, 2022, and this year we've added something special: Our grand-prize winner will receive $5,000, and the other finalists will receive $500 each. Podcasting takes time and effort and we think it should be rewarded.

We've said it before, all it takes is a smartphone, a laptop computer, and a good idea. We want to hear the ideas, the issues, the discussions that are bubbling up on campus. Now that most schools are back in person — tell us what it's like!

Record the stories that will make us laugh or cry, and everything in between, and we'll put the winners and some of the best entries on NPR shows, like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on podcasts such as Code Switch.

The basics are pretty much the same: Students will create a podcast about a topic they want to explore — and that can be just about anything. In the past, we've had podcasts about Tater Tots, homework and life in the pandemic. We've listened to semester-long investigations about hometown mysteries and dramatic readings of fictional stories. The world is your oyster!

There are some rules to keep in mind: All students, regardless of age, who are pursuing an associate's or bachelor's degree can apply. And unlike our contest for younger students, college podcasters — as long as you're 18 years or older — can enter on your own.

The maximum length of your podcast is eight minutes, and the minimum is three minutes. We always get questions about this, but we're holding you to our own standards at NPR, where reporters often have to condense days or weeks of reporting into five or six minutes. We've found, after listening to a lot of podcasts, that shorter is better.

And, as always, we've got a host of training materials, guides for sound recording and audio production, guidance for what you can — and can't — do with music, lists of do's and don'ts, and we even made a podcast about making a good podcast!

The Students' Podcast is in its third season, with new uploads every Sunday. This year we're sharing advice from some students who are pretty good at podcasting: last year's finalists. Listen to our most recent episode co-hosted by last year's college winner,Anya Steinberg!

The NPR College Podcast Challenge opens today, Dec. 1, and will close on Feb. 28, 2022. You can submit here. And for younger podcasters out there, and their teachers, the middle and high school competition opens Jan. 1.

Make sure to sign up for our newsletter with more tips and advice, and follow us on twitter @NPR_Ed.

Ready, set, record!

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sequoia Carrillo is an assistant editor for NPR's Education Team. Along with writing, producing, and reporting for the team, she manages the Student Podcast Challenge.
Steve Drummond heads up two teams of journalists at NPR. NPR Ed is a nine-member team that launched in March 2014, providing deeper coverage of learning and education and extending it to audiences across digital platforms. Code Switch is an eight-person team that covers race and identity across the network, and in an award-winning weekly podcast.