While your essay might be thoughtful and astute, it will not receive serious consideration if it is riddled with awkward sentences.
The new 5th edition of College Essays That Made a Difference, released today, highlights areas of grammar that often give college applicants trouble. To learn about each one, click the “Continue reading” link below.
If you are not currently applying to college but plan to do so in the coming years, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of College Essays That Made a Difference. It has over 100 real essays from successful applicants at dozens of the most selective colleges in the U.S. Additionally, it includes a Q&A with admissions officers at many of these colleges. (Topics addressed include the essay’s influence in admissions decisions and the relative importance of different application requirements.) Click here to check it out.
1. Modifiers. A modifier is word or phrase that describes something; it should go right next to the thing it modifies.
- Wrong: Eaten in Mediterranean countries for centuries, Northern Europeans viewed the tomato with suspicion.
- Right: Eaten in Mediterranean countries for centuries, the tomato was viewed with suspicion by Northern Europeans.
2. Pronoun Agreement. A pronoun must refer unambiguously to a noun, and it must agree in number with that noun.
- Wrong: Although brokers are not permitted to know executive access codes, they are widely known.
- Right: Although brokers are not permitted to know executive access codes, the codes are widely known.
3. Subject-Verb Agreement. The subject must always agree in number with the verb. Make sure you don’t forget what the subject of a sentence is and don’t use the object of a preposition as a subject.
- Wrong: Federally imposed restrictions on the ability to use certain information has made life difficult for Martha Stewart.
- Right: Federally imposed restrictions on the ability to use certain information have made life difficult for Martha Stewart.
4. Verb Tense. Always make sure your sentences’ tenses match the time frame being discussed.
- Wrong: After he finished working on his law school essays he would go to the party.
- Right: After he finished working on his law school essays he went to the party.
5. Parallel Construction. Parallel ideas within a single sentence must be similar in grammatical form.
- Wrong: The two main goals of the Eisenhower presidency were a reduction of taxes and to increase military strength.
- Right: The two main goals of the Eisenhower presidency were to reduce taxes and to increase military strength.
- Wrong: To provide a child with the skills necessary for survival in modern life is like guaranteeing their success.
- Right: Providing children with the skills necessary for survival in modern life is like guaranteeing their success.
6. Comparisons. You can only compare things that are alike in category.
- Wrong: The rules of written English are more stringent than spoken English.
- Right: The rules of written English are more stringent than those of spoken English.
7. Diction. There are many words that sound the same but mean different things (e.g., there/they’re/their, effect/affect, conscience/conscious, principle/principal).
- Wrong: Studying had a very positive affect on my score.
- Right: Studying had a very positive effect on my score.
For additional grammar tips, check out College Essays That Made a Difference!