MIT Admissions

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Matt McGann '00

Sep 25, 2008

Avoid spelling errors!

Posted in: Process & Statistics

As you begin your MIT application and other college applications, I thought I'd give some tips on how to avoid simple spelling errors.

Most errors I see are not in the essay portion. People are pretty good about using spell check for that. More often, I see spelling errors in the activity list, list of honors and awards, self-reported coursework form, or short answer essays. So be careful in these sections, too!

What happens if you do have a spelling error? It's certainly not fatal, but it's something to avoid if you can. It's unlikely to be the difference between getting in and not getting in, but you'd rather look your best throughout the application.

My favorite spelling error on MIT applications is students who talk about taking "discreet math." Is this math that you do without showing off? (I think these students mean "discrete math")

I also like "duel enrollment" courses. Perhaps these students are preparing to join MIT's national champion Pistol Team? (Probably you mean "dual enrollment")

Both of these examples, of course, don't get caught by spell check, since both discreet and duel are actual words. So don't just rely on Microsoft Word to proofread your essay -- you'll want to take a keen look at it yourself.

Here is a non-scientific list of the most commonly misspelled words I see on applications. And, thanks to GoogleBattle, I'll tell you how often people on the Web make the same mistake.

  • independent [independant, 6% of the time]
  • calculus [calculous, 2%]
  • honor roll [honor role, 2%]
  • principal [principle, n/a]
  • extracurricular [extracuricular, <1%]
  • discrete math [discreet math, 1%]
  • dual enrollment [duel enrollment, 1%]
  • varsity [varisty, 1%]
  • sophomore [sophmore, 8%]

I hope this is helpful! What are those words and terms that you most often get wrong?

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

first just for the hell of it

Posted by: 11 on September 25, 2008

Principal vs. principle is probably as annoying as an spelling mistake that one could make. On the same order as it's vs. its.

Hey, no one is perfect and I don't claim to a champion speller, but I would say you should really take the ten extra seconds and remember for the rest of your life the difference between those two especially. I'm sure it would definitely help you down the road. smile

Posted by: Oasis '11 on September 25, 2008

I am reapplying to MIT for the freshman year 2009 however my MyMit account hass not yet been deleted pl. help.

Posted by: Shubhang on September 25, 2008

Actually, a few of these mistakes could be UK/US spelling. Sometimes if you put a UK keyboard setting on your laptop you get errors on some US-recognized words, and vice versa.

@Shubhang: Can't you reapply on the same myMiT? Also, if not, try contacting the Admissions Office by phone or e-mail.

Posted by: Enas'12 on September 25, 2008

It can be a huge help to have your parents, guidance counselor, or English teacher read through your essays as well. It's perfectly fine to ask other people for help as long as you're the one writing your essays!

Posted by: Paul on September 25, 2008

Other common ones that bug me:

"your" vs. "you're"
"their" vs. "they're"

(although both of those probably count as grammar mistakes?)

I often see "caculus" instead of "calculus"
I would've thought "varisty" would come up more often, but go figure. There are more, but I can't think of them right now...

Posted by: Mikey on September 25, 2008

I get sophomore wrong but don't feel like correcting it. Any other words I can use on my app to annoy the admissions officers?

Posted by: Charlie on September 25, 2008

I hate hate hate when people use freshman/freshmen improperly. Freshman = singular. Freshmen = plural.

Every time someone screws it up, God kills a kitten. It's true.

Posted by: Keri on September 25, 2008

Every day, I see people confuse "every day" and "everyday". It's really kind of an everyday mistake, really.

It shows up on billboards, sometimes in the newspaper. Almost as bad as its and it's.

Every day = prepositional phrase
Everyday = adjective

Posted by: Ben on September 25, 2008

'its' and 'it's' are very very irritating mistakes. So are 'they're' and 'their'.
@Keri: Stop being so morbid!


Posted by: Ashwath on September 25, 2008

Effect and affect.
I made a habit last year of using effect as a verb (the right way) in each and every one of my AP U.S. papers. And each and every time, I’d get the paper back and find a scribbled out circle around the sneaky word, or sometimes a crossed-out “grammar”.
Reading those papers gave probably gave my teacher a strange sense of déjà vu. wink

Posted by: Reena on September 25, 2008

Eye dont no watt ewe our talcing aboyt Mitt. Eye nevre half problums wit spellink!

Posted by: Danyul Barkowewits on September 25, 2008

hey, anyone tried MIT V Harvard on the Google-battle?

MIT wins. The most popular college!

And did you see the margin?

Posted by: wesh m on September 25, 2008

MIT V Caltech

MIT still wins.This time a greater margin.

Posted by: wesh m on September 25, 2008


hate it! raspberry

Posted by: Anthony on September 25, 2008

@ Wesh

You know it! Caltech hackers are such wannabes of MIT hackers. I wanna see them put a fire truck on their school. Funny thing is that the state that is represented the most at MIT is California.

Posted by: Ehsan on September 25, 2008

Ah, spelling! One more thing to worry about as I write my freshman applications!
Just kidding. I just wanted to say that I was at the MIT information session at my school (St. Michaels University School in beautiful Victoria, Canada smile!!) this week and I found the session extremely helpful. I had only walked through MIT about three years ago when I was visiting the Boston area, and I wasn't even thinking seriously about post-secondary education then... (those were the good days...)
When I started university research, I made sure to look closely at MIT as well but I learned much more about the school this week at the info session--THANK YOU! I was especially relieved when you confirmed that the humanities department at MIT was valued too! smile
Sorry about the loooong and somewhat irrelevant post but I failed to find your Email address...

Posted by: Jungmin Yoon on September 26, 2008

Nice work!

Posted by: Saad Asif on September 26, 2008

Spelling arrors are not a good thing to have when you're trying to look smart raspberry

Posted by: Muz on September 26, 2008

Ah, how irony burns.

Posted by: Muz on September 26, 2008

separate and seperate
embarrassed and embbarassed
unnecessary and unneccesary (probably from overuse of the 'necc.' shorthand)

haha spelling, it could go on forever.

Posted by: 0 on September 26, 2008

Yes, but 'practice' and 'practise' often cause confusion among applicants used to British English. In Br.E, 'practice' is the noun, and 'practise' is the verb; but in Am.E, both are 'practice'.

Posted by: Gaurav Ragtah on September 26, 2008

Allusive, elusive and illusive (though genrally referred to as illusory.) are exchanged quite frequently. Accepted and excepted are also obnoxious when confused.

Posted by: 0 on September 26, 2008

"I hope MIT will except me!"

Posted by: Piper on September 26, 2008

Massachusetts vs California?

Posted by: Brian on September 27, 2008

One of the most common mistakes I've noticed (and one that completely puts me off) is when people say "at one point in time" instead of "at one point of time."

C'mon! "Time" is not a place!

Posted by: Ashwathi Iyer on September 27, 2008

I have none of them.

Posted by: Yangrui on September 27, 2008

Ashwathi, I beg to disagree. Time and space are exactly the same thing, just different manifestations of it. You’ll notice that all the equations of physics still hold up if you treat them that way. raspberry

Posted by: Reena on September 27, 2008

Hi Matt,
I have a question about the teacher recommendations. It said on the website that I need a recommendation from a math/science teacher and a recommendation from a humanities teacher. Does a club advisor count as a humanties teacher?
Please answer ASAP.

Posted by: Sravya on September 27, 2008

And the winner for the most anal retentive comments on the MIT Blogs goes to...

This post! wink

Posted by: 0 on September 27, 2008

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

I'd accredit it, but there are so many different versions around the interwebs that there's no point.

Beat me to it.

But honestly, probably half the people reading this blog thought of it too, and thought it was too obvious to even go through the trouble of mentioning it.

Posted by: philip on September 27, 2008

oh, I forgot, mispell and misspell

Posted by: philip on September 27, 2008

So there was this one essay for this one school that I blathered on about some stuff I had done with marble "shoots". Over and over. I realized right after I submitted that application that I'd meant marble "chutes". Not a happy moment.

Despite that, I did get accepted by that school.

Posted by: Lainers on September 27, 2008

I've got a question.

I read the "Where's my Stuff" post, and was wondering—

Suppose I sent several prints (normal sized paper) of sketches and a full project (14" by 26" print) under questions 13 and 14, "something that you have created / supplementary material". Where would those things go in the filing process?

Posted by: Tsornin on September 28, 2008

You might also want to avoid Freudian spelling errors — your chances may be somewhat affected if you write about how much you want to study at "Caltech."

Posted by: José P. on September 28, 2008

Hey Matt, you're the Director of Institutional Research? What does that mean?

Posted by: Aditya on September 28, 2008

how about mispelling "receive" "recieve". That one annoys me.

Posted by: noone on September 28, 2008

heh heh... someone was actually proofreading my MIT app essay this afternoon and circled "stuck" where it was supposed to be "struck" raspberry how embarrassing... I forgot to proofread it before giving it to her because I was so worried about content, haha.

Posted by: deng on September 28, 2008

"Anyways" is not a word. Never was. Never will be.

Posted by: 0 on September 29, 2008

^ Define "word"; in the heart of Texas "anyways" is one of the most overused colloquial words you'll ever encounter. It is often scorned upon in print, however, so I can see from where your claim stems wink

@Piper: win =D

I am also of the belief that spelling errors wouldn't happen so often if people would think (and thus, correct) as they type wink

Posted by: Vivi '12 on September 29, 2008

I see...

Posted by: Spartan117 on September 29, 2008

What kind of question do they ask at the interview?

Posted by: 0 on September 29, 2008

One of my favorites:
"In my chemsitry course this term, ..."

chemsitry = chemistry

Posted by: Lauren on September 30, 2008

Regarding Reena's comment about effect vs. affect, my brother was looking at the Tufts University website. Their admissions department apparently offers examples of essays that established "affective" human connections. Here's the link:

In all fairness, the word "affective" could be applied there, meaning "emotional," but it seems like "effective" would be more effective, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: robert on September 30, 2008

Thank you, Mr. McGann, for the information session held in Jianguo High School, Taiwan. I found it most useful for getting a clearer idea of what MIT expects from its students and of the many advantages it has offer them.

Posted by: Eric Chang on October 1, 2008

Thank you, Mr. McGann, for the information session held in Jianguo High School, Taiwan. I found it most useful for getting a clearer idea of what MIT expects from its students and of the many advantages it has offer them.

Posted by: Eric Chang on October 1, 2008

Hypothetically speaking would someone with SATs around 1890 and subject tests around 650ish still be considered for admission if said person has strong grades and extracurricular activities?

Posted by: alaska on October 2, 2008

I once loved discrete math but now multivariable calculus become my first choice!

Posted by: 0 on October 5, 2008

I have a qn.Again.My dad works in the merchant navy(as a Captain on oil tankers).He has a professional degree.What do I put in for father's highest qualifications?

It would be tough,but nothing's impossible.Getting into MIT requires a miracle anyway smile A miracle I'm hoping will happen to me.

Posted by: 0 on October 7, 2008

Got my answer from the Admissions Dept.
You people are amazing!

Posted by: Monorina:Anon earlier on October 8, 2008

Hi Matt,

My counselor told me that MIT will be visiting my high school (Intl School of Beijing). Will you be the one coming?

I read your previous blog about art in dorms, which sounds totally amazing. Beijing is a hotbed for contemporary art right now, and as someone who loves doing and viewing art, I'm so happy to know that fantastic art is just as accessible at MIT smile


Posted by: Tiantian on October 9, 2008


If my MyMit account was created last year, does that mean I have to make a new account? I haven't applied last year, and I'm not exactly sure when I created my account last year. Also, I think the application I'm filling out is consistent with what everybody has been discussing about. I thank anyone in advance for answering my question and gl to everybody filling out many lame applications (excluding MIT's of course)

Posted by: Jay on October 9, 2008

Matt,do I need to submit the courses I took on page 6 of Part 2 of the application?
I am an international student.It says that only US students have to fill that in,but I could easily fill it in.I mean,I don't have a problem with that.
So,I'm confused.

Posted by: Monorina on October 9, 2008

I have a teacher who knows me both in class and for a school club. I already have a Science and Humanities teacher writing recs, but I asked this teacher to write one too because she knows me well- 3 years. She wants to fill out an evaluation form like the A and B forms available, with its check boxes and official waiver. Could I give her a copy of one of the forms to submit as an extra rec and have a note inside, saying that this is an additional recommendation, not the A or B rec?

Posted by: David on October 9, 2008


Can a GED candidate (who withdrew from high school) apply to MIT
with SAT1&Three; SAT subject tests scores?

If it’s possible then is there any other condition that he has to satisfy?


Posted by: Michael on October 10, 2008

Hey Matt
Thanks a lot for the tips!

Posted by: Zhiren on October 11, 2008

Hi Matt. I was just wondering about something w/ seem to have a problem sending Part 1, because every time I send it, says my account has timed out even if i've just signed in 2 minutes ago. Also, I've paid 2x to try and send it but I don't think i've gotten through because I can still edit it. If this is a bug, is there anything I can do to get around it?


Posted by: worried applicant on October 11, 2008

Matt, do you make decisions "in context" for internationals too? I mean, I live near a major city but come from a place where volunteering for a school for students with disabilities leads to much criticism(I do it anyway; I have a friend who has Down's Syndrome and studies there and I have been helping with the new kids ever since I was ten.It's something I'm committed to.) and where I cannot get myself registered for the National Cyber Olympiad even if I want to because my teachers were under the misconception that it's only for classes 2-10,(it's for 2-12) and they could not be bothered to check up on it? I dont want any additional concession, I just want to say that it's not possible for everyone to be involved in research or a lot of science stuff as we don't have those facilities. We didn't even have science and computer clubs( I founded one).I mean, do I need to mention any of these so that I'm seen in context? Otherwise, in comparison to my countrymen, who are all doing amazing things(specially in the cities), I have done nothing. But, I've tried, tried hard.

Posted by: Monorina on October 16, 2008

Sorry if that sounds like a rant. It's just that I found out there is a research project in High School we can have in India and that I would have qualified for it, but I just didn't know about it. And neither did my teachers. That kind of hurt. I mean, I am not from a poor family, it's just that my parents love living in a "small town". A town where the only library is ten km away. Oh Lord! I'm ranting again. Just upset with things, I guess.

Posted by: Monorina on October 16, 2008

Whew! I was truly upset.Anyway.

Posted by: Monorina on October 16, 2008

"Hi Matt. I was just wondering about something w/ seem to have a problem sending Part 1, because every time I send it, says my account has timed out even if i've just signed in 2 minutes ago. Also, I've paid 2x to try and send it but I don't think i've gotten through because I can still edit it. If this is a bug, is there anything I can do to get around it?


I have had the exact same problem. I submitted part one on Sunday and I got a timed-out error twice. I have paid twice, and I still can't send part two.
Thank You

Posted by: Samuel Joshua Dotson on October 16, 2008

I love discreet math! smile

Posted by: Michael M. on October 18, 2008

Can I ask a question how many Chinese students in the campus and is it a true that the colleage are interested in the students from PRC because of their hard work and the high score?

Posted by: sky on October 18, 2008

The day after I sent the application my sophomore English teacher and proofreader told me I put "rod iron" instead of "wrought iron" in my essay. It was too late. I thought I sent an immaculate essay. I hope it wont matter too much.

Posted by: Alex on October 19, 2008

I lost my 11th grade report and my college isn't willing to refurbish me with a new one as 11th grades arent important in india so they dont have them I ONLY HAVE MY 8TH,9TH AND 10TH GRADE REPORTS please help

Posted by: 0 on October 23, 2008

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