Guide to Essays and Interviews • Guide to MBA Applications

Should I Use American English or British English When Applying to University?

POSTED ON 08/03/2017 BY The Red Pen

Should I Use American English or British English When Applying to University? | The Red Pen

The English language curriculum set by the Indian boards has evolved over time, differing from the curriculum in international schooling systems such as the US or the UK–upon which the Indian curriculum was originally modelled.

Differences in American English, British English and Indian English cover spelling, usage of active/passive voice and specific expressions and idioms. Such nuances generally do not matter in informal speech and writing. As long as when you communicate, you are able to get the point across.

However, if you are applying to colleges abroad, you will have application forms to fill and essays to write. While admissions officers from international universities are adept at contextualising Indian phrases and spellings, understanding these differences will help you put your best foot forward and demonstrate your desire to learn and adapt.

Color or Colour? What should I use?

Whether you use American English or British English spellings will depend on the country to which you are applying. Some universities offer guidance on what they prefer. In other countries, such as Canada and Singapore, both spellings are acceptable.

For those of you applying to colleges in the US, make a concerted effort to use American English spellings. You can change the language setting on your word processing software to English US (or English UK as the case may be) or use applications such as Grammarly, which are helpful when you need to check grammar and punctuation. American English tends to spell words in a more simplified and pronunciation-based manner. British English, on the other hand, spells words as they originally were seen in the languages from which they originate. Here are some examples:

Rule British American
Re vs Er centre, metre, kilometre, theatre, litre center, meter, kilometer, theater, liter
Nce vs Nse defence, offence defense, offense
Ise vs Ize apologise, accessorise, recognise, organise, capitalise apologize, accessorize, recognize, organize, capitalize
Our vs Or behaviour, colour, armour, humour, neighbour behavior, color, armor, humor, neighbor
Double “ll” before –ing , -ed levelled, travelling, modelling leveled, traveling, modeling

Be mindful of Indian phrases

Be mindful of the kinds of phrases and expressions you use when you are describing activities or events. Certain phrases and expressions are unique to Indian culture (sometimes specific to a region or even a city). For example, an Indian student will say “take up my paper” or use a “mark sheet.” Using these expressions in an essay, on the application form or during an interview may cause confusion or, worse still, a misunderstanding. For example, the word “topper” is subjective to Indian students and actually does not mean anything in American English. Below is a table of some typical Indian phrases and their American English counterparts.

Indian Expressions American Expressions
A few years back A few years ago
Give an exam Take an exam
Take up my sums Test me on math questions/problems
Mark sheet Report card
More better Better
Passing out/from Graduating from or completing
Out of station Out of town
[Number] Standard or Class [Number] [Number] Grade
He is in my batch He is in my grade
I can’t make out what you’re saying I can’t understand what you’re saying
Mug up Memorize
Topper Highest achiever in class
Canteen Cafeteria
Marks Grades
Take a class Teach a class
Invigilator Proctor
Biscuit Cookie/Cracker
Curd Yoghurt
Chocolate, lollipop, sweet, toffee Candy
Garam Masala Curry
Cold drink Soda
Hotel Restaurant (only for eating)
Hotel (for staying and/or eating)
Lady Fingers Okra
Wafers Chips
Purse Wallet
American Football (similar to rugby) Football
Bath Shower (Bath means fill up a tub and sit to wash)
Beggar Panhandler
Cinema Movie theatre
Colony Neighborhood
Guest House Motel
Goggles Sunglasses
Main city area Downtown
Provision Store/Vegetable Store Grocery store

Use active voice

Active voice is when the subject in the sentence performs the action of the verb. Passive voice, on the other hand, is when the action is acted upon the subject. Students should always use the ‘active voice’ when writing essays for college applications. By writing in an active voice, the story stays focused on the subject–you! The essay also comes off stronger and engages the reader more effectively. Lastly, with the word limit in mind, writing in an active voice makes the essay more concise.

For example:
Active Voice:
The students compared the results of the science test.
Jack wrote the article about Canadian universities.

Passive Voice:
The results of the science test were compared by the students.
The article about Canadian universities was written by Jack.

Learning the lingo (relevant spellings, expressions and meanings) can be helpful as it demonstrates you are taking the trouble to adapt and will also smoothen your transition to life on campus. With a little attention to detail, you can prevent your points from being misinterpreted and present a solid application to admissions officers.

Note: Whether you use American or British English, consistency is key. Stick with one style of spelling and word usage across the forms, essays and resume in an application.

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