Spelling Mistakes: Deadly On College Applications

Spelling mistakes on your college application can be the kiss of death, even for the highest echelon of college applicants. Although you might think your spell check function will catch all your mistakes, you can never trust that it will be foolproof.

We feel it’s our duty to shine a light on some of the most common issues you’re sure to encounter if you rely solely on spell check. While you always need to guard your college application and essays from human spelling mistakes, you also need to be on alert for Spell Check mistakes!


Did you know that during the busiest admissions season, admissions officers may run their finger straight down the middle of your essay and, in 45 seconds, consider it  “read?” If they find a spelling mistake in that quick scan, you can be sure your file is going directly into the “one-reader reject” pile. Something else to keep in mind: they can also smell a rat and know when a student is being untruthful or if plagiarism is involved.

Be authentic, stay honest, and spell check. THEN go a step further and read our tips below so you can outsmart your spell checker.


Once you spell check your college essays, have someone else take a look!  Spelling technology is meant to aid you in your writing — not solve your problems or serve as your personal editor. Spell check is not perfect.  Here are some things it won’t catch:

  • Homonyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings depending on their spelling and use): Spell checkers won’t realize that you intended to write “pair” instead of “pare” or “pear,” or “there” instead of “their.” Here’s a list of common problem-causing homonyms:

you’re | your
they’re | their | there
its | it’s
Rhetoric Butler | Rhett Butler
except | accept
prejudice | prejudiced
alot | a lot
that | then
no | know
weak | week
to | too | two
brake | break
who’s | whose
lessen | lesson
hear | here
forth | fourth
seam | seem
buy | by
board | bored
affect | effect

  • Incorrectly divided compound words: Spell checkers won’t tell you that “can not” should be spelled “cannot,” or that “inter net” should be “internet.”
  • Incorrect pronouns: Spell checkers won’t realize that you typed in “his” or – worse – “its” when you should have typed “hers,” or “she.”
  • Usage errors: Most spell check programs do not let you know about typing errors that involve possession i.e. “its” vs. “it’s.”
  • Wrong dates and other figures: Of course spell checking technology won’t fix mistakes in dates such as “I interned in the office of Senator John Kerry in the summer of 3007.”
  • Misspelled names: Spell checkers won’t catch mistakes with people’s names or with most place names. It would be awful to write “Colombia College” rather than “Columbia University.”
  • Incorrect verb tenses: Spell checkers won’t warn you that you mixed up past and present verb tenses.

Here are some samples of real words matched with the original misspelling and the second-generation misspelling generated by spell check:

Right Wrong Spell checker
definitely definantly Defiantly
a lot alot allot
infinitely infinitly infinity
espresso expresso express
reinsurance reinsance renaissance
sponsor sponcer spencer, sponger, spanker (no sensible results)
surprised surpised surpassed

There’s also a difference between misspellings and typos. If your computer or web browser highlights possible misspellings in the text as you type (usually with a wavy line underneath the word) you should correct the typos manually rather than automatically let the spell checker do this.  That way you maintain complete control over your writing and you save spell check for only those words that are truly difficult to spell.

college application essay errors


  • Nuanced grammatical errors: Although many spell checkers will flag obvious grammatical issues, subtler problems like split infinitives and misplaced modifiers often escape their notice.
  • Excessive repetition: Using the same word many times in just a few lines is likely to bore your reader, but don’t count on your spell checker to point out your overuse of a particular term.
  • Passive voice: Although necessary in some contexts, passive voice takes the action and momentum out of your writing, often making it less exciting for your reader. It’s easy to slip into using the passive voice, but your spell checker usually won’t alert you when that happens.

As the early round deadlines approach, be sure your application is prepared with care. Don’t let careless mistakes on your application cost you your dream school!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.