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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Avoid spelling errors! by Matt McGann '00

The most commonly misspelled words I see on MIT applications.

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?

65 responses to “Avoid spelling errors!”

  1. 11 says:

    first just for the hell of it

  2. Oasis '11 says:

    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

  3. Shubhang says:

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

  4. Enas'12 says:

    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.

  5. Paul says:

    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!

  6. Mikey says:

    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…

  7. Charlie says:

    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?

  8. Keri says:

    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.

  9. Reena says:

    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

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

  11. Muz says:

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

  12. Muz says:

    Ah, how irony burns.

  13. wesh m says:

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

    MIT wins. The most popular college!

    And did you see the margin?

  14. Anonymous says:

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

    haha spelling, it could go on forever.

  15. wesh m says:

    MIT V Caltech

    MIT still wins.This time a greater margin.

  16. Anthony says:


    hate it! raspberry

  17. Ehsan says:

    @ 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.

  18. 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’.

  19. Jungmin Yoon says:

    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…

  20. Anonymous says:

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

  21. Piper says:

    “I hope MIT will except me!”

  22. Ben says:

    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

  23. Ashwath says:

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


  24. Yangrui says:

    I have none of them.

  25. Reena says:

    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

  26. Brian says:

    Massachusetts vs California?

  27. Sravya says:

    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.

  28. 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!

  29. Anonymous says:

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

    This post! wink

  30. philip says:

    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.

  31. philip says:

    oh, I forgot, mispell and misspell

  32. Lainers says:

    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.

  33. Tsornin says:

    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?

  34. José P. says:

    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.”

  35. Aditya says:

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

  36. noone says:

    how about mispelling “receive” “recieve”. That one annoys me.

  37. deng says:

    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.

  38. Anonymous says:

    “Anyways” is not a word. Never was. Never will be.

  39. Vivi '12 says:

    ^ 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

  40. Anonymous says:

    What kind of question do they ask at the interview?

  41. Lauren says:

    One of my favorites:
    “In my chemsitry course this term, …”

    chemsitry = chemistry

  42. robert says:

    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.

  43. Eric Chang says:

    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.

  44. Eric Chang says:

    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.

  45. alaska says:

    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?

  46. Anonymous says:

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

  47. Anonymous says:

    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.

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

  49. Tiantian says:

    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


  50. Jay says:


    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)

  51. Monorina says:

    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.

  52. David says:

    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?

  53. Michael says:


    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?


  54. Hi Matt. I was just wondering about something w/…I 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?


  55. Zhiren says:

    Hey Matt
    Thanks a lot for the tips!

  56. Monorina says:

    Whew! I was truly upset.Anyway.

  57. “Hi Matt. I was just wondering about something w/…I 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

  58. Monorina says:

    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.

  59. Monorina says:

    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.

  60. sky says:

    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?

  61. Michael M. says:

    I love discreet math! smile

  62. Alex says:

    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.

  63. Anonymous says:

    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