The NGPF PAYBACK Challenge: An Essay Contest With Over $150,000 in Prize Money Available!

Feb 05, 2018
Contest Current, Paying for College, Question of the Day

Want to give your students the opportunity to earn thousands in cash prizes while learning to make better money decisions about college? Today, NGPF is excited to announce The PAYBACK Challenge! But, first, here's a question of the day that could lead to a great classroom discussion...


Reputation, Price or Location? Which factor is most important to high school students picking a college?

Click here for the answer and for ready-to-go slides for this Question of the Day that you can use in your classroom.

Like this question of the day? Check out our easy to search Question of the Day library [Orange button on page] for 170 more!


Featured in the New York Times, our paying-for-college game PAYBACK has been played by over 150,000 students in just 4 months since launch. Teachers are saying, “It was an amazing game. All of my students were so highly engaged that it was time to go to lunch and none of them wanted to leave." AND "They loved that the game made them confront the money challenges of college but also helped them build the skills to survive and thrive.”

Now, it’s your turn to help your students get their PAYBACK.

How to participate in The PAYBACK Challenge:

Step 1) Teacher Registers Intent

Step 2) Students Play PAYBACK

  • In Class Option: A single game-play takes 15-20 minutes, but you may also use a full 50-minute period by playing the game twice leaving some time for discussion too.
    • Teachers: You can also use this corresponding classroom activity to support your students as they play the game.
  • At Home Option: Your students can play the game at home too.

Step 3) Students Write Essays

  • Use this Essay Template to collect 250 word essays that respond to this writing prompt:

How could you use the online game, PAYBACK, to have a conversation with your parent/guardian about paying for college? 

Step 4) Teacher Nominates and Submits ONE Student Essay

  • Teacher receives an email with instructions on how to send in nominations AFTER they register their intent (see STEP 1).

Deadline: Midnight on March 23rd

Criteria:  Essays will be evaluated by NGPF Staff based on the following criteria:

  • Indicates an understanding of key concepts learned by playing the game PAYBACK.
  • Addresses concerns their parents/guardians may have about this sensitive topic.
  • Takes a creative approach to engaging parents/guardians in a conversation about college.


  1. Essays must be completed by a student CURRENTLY attending middle or high school (public, private, charter or alternative) in the United States or internationally. 
  2. Entries will ONLY be accepted from educators.
    1. Educators can ONLY nominate one student essay.
  3. Essays must be 250 words or less.
  4. Essays must be submitted online. Instructions will be provided to the first 2,500 teachers who register with an intent to participate.
  5. Essays must be original and unpublished. Plagiarized entries will be rejected.
  6. Essays must be written by one person. Co-authored essays are not accepted.
  7. Copyright of the essays entered will be assigned to the organizer.
  8. If you have questions, please send your inquiry to

Awards: Over $150,000 in cash prizes available! Winners will be announced in late April. The following awards will be provided:

Student Awards:

  • National Grand Prize Winners - 10 at $5,000 each
  • Honorable Mention Awards: 150 at $500 each
    • A minimum of 2 student essays from each of the 50 states + District of Columbia

Educator Awards:

  • Educator Awards - The educators who nominated the Honorable Mention and National Grand Prize Winners will each receive $200 for classroom projects.
  • Nominator Awards - ALL educators who nominate a student will be be entered into a drawing. 20 names will be drawn with each earning $100 for classroom projects.

Take the FIRST step and sign up today for the NGPF PAYBACK Challenge! 



About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.