Common grammatical errors to avoid in your university application

These are the most common grammatical errors made by international students with advice from admissions tutors on what impact they could have on your application

January 13 2020
Oops sign

As application deadlines for universities around the world approach these are the grammatical rules that international applications should double check to ensure that their personal statements are up to standard.

Many students used the wrong prepositions (for example, “for”, “on”, “at”) and many do not consistently use the correct verb conjugation for the sentence subject. 

Correcting common grammatical mistakes before you even get to university can set you up for greater success when you explore original ideas in your coursework.

Perhaps more importantly at this stage, correct grammar could make the key difference in impressing admissions tutors.


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Speaking in his capacity as an admissions tutor, Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University London, said: “We’re only human. On the one hand, that’s bad because we get irritated when we think people don’t care enough to make sure they don’t make mistakes. 

“On the other, we’re often rather humbled by how brilliant non-native speakers manage to speak our language far better than we ourselves speak others, so we can be pretty forgiving. That said, ultimately, applicants are applying to do a degree at a UK university so we need to know that they will be able to cope. 

“Lots of mistakes in a personal statement might give us cause to worry that someone might struggle. Obviously, we look at everything else, too – language tests, for instance – so it’s not the be-all and end-all. But best advice to applicants is to check, check and check again!”

But a member of the international marketing team at King’s College London took a firmer stance on grammatical errors in applications.

“It is imperative that a personal statement be free of any mistakes, be they grammatical or factual ones,” they said.

“An essay littered with mistakes will give the reader an impression that the writer is incompetent and unprofessional, regardless of how proficient they are at their course. It would definitely be a disadvantage for the applicant if their essay was compared with other more well-written and put together ones.

“Hence, it is advisable for applicants to show their personal statements to several proofreaders to make sure there aren’t any discernible errors in the final product.”

So, to maximise your chances of winning a place at a university of your choice, and of producing your best work when you get there, these are the common errors to look out for:

1. Mistaking “effect” for “affect”

2. Homophone errors (words that sound the same but are spelled differently such as "course" and "coarse")

3. Use of US English spellings instead of UK English (such as "color" instead of "colour")

4. Misuse of the word “about”

5. Lack or misuse of apostrophes

6. Multiple use of “said” or  “because” in a single sentence

7. Missing, incomplete or incorrect academic referencing

8. Overly long sentences

9. Syntax issues (how sentences are structured)

10. Missing or misusing some words (“a”, “the”)

11. Failing to make sure singular and plural nouns agree with their verbs

12. Incorrect use of conjunctions (such as “although”, “therefore”, “whereas”)

13.  Wrong preposition usage (for example, “for”, “on”, “at” and so forth)  

This article was updated by Student Content Editor Seeta Bhardwa in January 2020. This article was originally published in December 2015.

Read more: Top tips for writing an original personal statement

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