Let's Eat, Grandma: Grammar Saves Lives and College Essays
Thom and I both have baccalaureate degrees in English. We love words and how thoughts and feelings are conveyed. Our marriage was a merger of many books. I also have an affinity for grammar; some may consider it an affliction. Much like manners, grammar helps the world (and words) make sense and provides some structure. Also, like manners, grammar shouldn’t be a way to exclude or shame people. Remember the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? “No soup for you!” That’s not how manners or grammar should be. So, before you get nervous that I am diagramming your sentences or silently correcting your grammar, take a deep breath. My mug, a perfect gift from my dear friend Jill Berry, is stored in the cabinet. You’re safe. I’ll just keep listening to my Schoolhouse Rock soundtrack.
It’s essay season and I also spend a lot of time reviewing client essays. I am careful to provide feedback and not re-write an essay. It’s your story and your voice. Thom has a specific essay process with clients; by the time the essay comes to me, I am usually reviewing and making some final suggestions.
You’re not writing War and Peace. Make sure the essay sounds like something YOU would write. If I’m suspicious that a 17-year old wrote the essay, an admissions professional will wonder too.
However, there are some things that can detract and take away from your message.
Frequent suggestions and edits I make
A lot - it’s two words. The English language provides a myriad of descriptive words that are better than “a lot.” Please note that allot is a word; it means to assign as a share or portion. You need to allot a lot of time to your writing. (Using “allot” and “a lot” in the latter sentence was a homonym and only an example. Be judicious with your allotment of homonyms; a lot of homonyms can be annoying for the reader.)
Use adjectives and descriptive language. Good, bad, fine, and fun are not the words that make the reader understand your experience.
Subjects and verbs need to agree. There’s enough conflict in the world; help your sentences get along.
Commas - I won’t even get into Oxford commas or AP style. I just get excited when I see a comma used. Commas matter.
It’s or its - The campus has its own special culture. It’s a place where I can see myself.
Using two spaces between sentences is outdated, and often a sign that a 17-year old didn’t write the essay - or at least that part of the essay. What do I mean? I learned to type when I was in 7th grade in the late 1980s; two spaces were still the norm. (My keyboarding class also included learning to use a 5.25” floppy disk so I am dating myself.) AP, Chicago, MLA, and AP Styles all emphasize one space between sentences. Much like they have never licked a postage stamp, students applying to college in 2021 were taught to type with one space between sentences. Two spaces is a telltale sign someone older may have helped a lot (see #1). If you struggle with two spaces (as I still do when typing), the find and replace feature is your friend.
So keep writing and tell YOUR story. As we have shared previously, some of our favorite essays have been about simple and even seemingly mundane life experiences. I still remember an essay about a grilled cheese sandwich. You don’t need to start a non-profit, save whales, or have a patented device to write a college essay. Just be yourself. You’re awesome (not your).
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