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Oh, man. Talk about an easy one to fix.

Bless the students who come to me and say, “my essay is done! I’m ready to turn it in!” I read it over, and while the ideas may be good, there are spelling errors and grammatical mistakes all over the place.

Colleges care about this a lot. If you turn in an application that has spelling or grammar errors in it, even if that’s a legitimate source of struggle for you, it hurts your application. Writing well, which includes using correct punctuation and subject-verb agreement, is one of the primary skills colleges look for when admitting students.

The easiest way to fix this is to take your essay to a trusted English teacher or someone who has an absolute mastery of diction and syntax. They’ll be able to show you what to fix, and may even have some feedback on how you can strengthen your story or analysis.

But if you’re not going to do that, do me a huge favor and go through this list before you turn it in:

  • Use spell-check on a word processor. That should catch most spelling errors.
  • Don’t let any “squiggly lines” remain there. If the computer has a suggestion, consider it carefully. It might be wrong, but at least think about it.
  • Make sure your subjects and verbs agree. For example, “I stand” is correct but “I stands” is not.
  • Use a variety of punctuation marks correctly: this will indicate your mastery.
  • Vary your syntax. You can have some long, delicious sentences that provide a lot of information in one go. Short ones work too.
  • Make sure that every sentence you write is complete sentence. It needs a subject and a verb, unless you’re making an intentional stylistic choice.
  • Capitalize the first word of every sentence as well as proper nouns.
  • Indent the beginning of each paragraph
  • Use commas correctly. This is a tough skill to learn and you may want to consult a teacher.

This is, of course, a partial list, but I hope it helps you in the editing and proofreading process. No student of mine is going to turn in an essay with mistakes in it!