Wednesday, August 2, 2023
How to Fix a Scholarship Essay
1. Make a writing appointment!
The CSSE offers assistance with the essays, personal statements, and statements of purpose that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself writing when applying to scholarships. Sign up through our website (at least one day in advance), and we’ll schedule you for a 30-minute writing appointment. Choose the specific time and day for your appointment and you will be provided with the email address of the Student Affairs Advisor (SAA) with whom you’ll be meeting. You’ll need to send the SAA your draft, outline, or brainstorming notes by 11am on the day of your appointment, which will give your editor time to look it over carefully, write comments, and provide verbal feedback.
Expert tip: Include the scholarship application, scholarship website, and prompt in your email. The more our staff knows about the writing task you’re working on, the better we can help you.
2. Keep an eye out for common writing problems!
While seeking outside guidance on your writing is invaluable, you should also, of course, spend time editing and revising on your own. Here are three examples of small but significant problems to watch out for. Keep in mind that these are just a few of the errors that show up most frequently in scholarship essays; you should be reading and revising your work over multiple drafts in order to attend to all sorts of writing issues, small and large both.
Issue 1: Subject-Verb Agreement
Example: These facts about ecological devastation has shaped my academic and professional goals.
Solution: These facts about ecological devastation have shaped my academic and professional goals.
Explanation: Grammatical basics like subject-verb alignment are easy to miss when you’re writing quickly and don’t have much time to revise. Give yourself that time. If you still end up with a sentence so tricky that you’re having difficulty locating the main subject and main verb, or determining whether they should be singular or plural, consider rewriting the sentence entirely.
Issue 2: Expletive Constructions or “Dummy Heads”
Example: There was only one week left in my study-abroad program in Mexico when I began to notice a change in my Spanish skills.
Solution A: I had only a week left in my study-abroad program in Mexico when…
Solution B: My study-abroad program in Mexico had only a week remaining when…
Explanation: Opening a sentence with a phrase like “There is,” “There are,” “It is,” or even “It” commonly leads to vague or awkward writing. While these phrases are somewhat different from one another and are often used in a manner that is technically correct (as in this example), you’re better off eliminating them when possible. And you should definitely avoid using them with too much frequency. When in doubt, locate the key actor in a sentence, and try to make her, him, or it your grammatical subject.
Issue 3: Generalizations and Overstatements
Example: From the beginning of time, student loans have made life hell.
Solution A: The majority of borrowers who take out student loans are still paying back those loans well into their 30s.
Solution B: Student loans have a serious impact on the lives of individuals, and increasing student debt has serious repercussions for the U.S. economy.
Explanation: While the example above has a certain outrageous charm, it’s also false on its face: Student loans didn’t exist at, or before, the beginning of time. In most situations, being specific rather than general, balanced rather than overstated, and insightful rather than bombastic will impress the decision-makers reading your scholarship essay(s). Opening an essay with a sweeping claim about “time,” “society,” “life,” “history,” or “the world” rarely has as much impact as a clear and focused observation.
3. Seek out other campus resources for writing help!
Your friends, roommates, classmates, and family members can be great resources when you need someone to read through a piece of writing and make suggestions. In addition, UCLA has a variety of places on campus (including the CSSE, of course!) where you can seek out assistance with your writing. Don’t be shy about asking for help. These organizations exist to lend you a hand.
Center for Scholarships & Scholar Enrichment (CSSE)
office: Covel Commons 233 (M-F 12pm-5pm, summer hours)
services: one-on-one mentoring and editing for scholarship and fellowship materials (essays, personal statements, statements of purpose)
Undergraduate Writing Center (UWC)
office: Humanities A61 (M-Th 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-3pm), Rieber Hall 115 (Sun-Th 7pm-9pm), Powell 228 (Sun-Th 6pm-9pm)
services: one-on-one peer assistance with all types of written work (course papers, research papers, capstone projects, senior thesis papers, resumes, CVs, personal statements, statements of purpose, cover letters)
Academic Advancement Program (AAP)
office: Campbell Hall 1230/1232 (M-F 9am-5pm)
services: wide-ranging assistance for students from multi-ethnic, low-income, first generation, and multiracial backgrounds
Graduate Writing Center (GWC)
office: Student Activities Center B11
services: assistance for graduate students with articles, prospectuses, dissertations, etc.
office: 501 Westwood Plaza, Strathmore Building, North Entrance, 2nd & 3rd Floors (M-F 9am-5pm)
email: visit career.ucla.edu/UCLA-Career-Center-Staff
services: assistance with resumes, CVs, internship applications, and job applications
Writing Success Program (WSP)
web: cpo.ucla.edu/src/writing-success-program, wspucla.wordpress.com, wspucla.setmore.com
office: Student Activities Center 105
phone: 310-825-5969, 310-794-9079
services: drop-in counseling and one-on-one assistance with all types of written work (course papers, research papers, capstone projects, senior thesis papers, resumes, CVs, personal statements, statements of purpose, cover letters)