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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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My Pet Peeves

Uploaded: Feb 17, 2020
Written by John Raftrey

Well juniors, it’s time to start getting serious about applying to college. To get started, here are my pet peeves that are designed to help you get through the process. These are in no particular order.
Let’s start with names of colleges.
- Do not use UPenn. The nickname for University of Pennsylvania is Penn. This is what is on their school pennants and other swag. This is what is on their website.
- Do not use UMich. I went to school there. The nickname for University of Michigan is Michigan. This is what is on their school pennants and other swag. This is what is on their website. Nobody confuses Michigan with Michigan State, especially in the state of Michigan.
- Do not use UIUC. The nickname of the University of Illinois is Illinois. This is what is on their school pennants and other swag. This is what is on their website. No one confuses Illinois with University of Illinois-Chicago.
- Most states have a University of (state name) or a (state name) State. If you are applying to Oregon or Oregon State, Arizona or Arizona State, know the difference.

The Optional Questions on The Common App
Sex, money and religion


Sex
The Common App asks you for your gender Male/Female which you have to answer one way or the other. Then it gives you the option to explain. You do not need to explain if you don't want to. Several colleges then ask you more about your sex life. These are optional. Some ask for sexual orientation, and/or whether you are transgender, and your gender at birth. Carnegie Mellon gives you the option to identify as Agender, Female/Woman, Gender Fluid, Gender Non-Conforming, Genderqueer, Intergender, Intersex, Male/Man, Non-Binary. Many students see this as being inclusive and welcoming, which is the point. It helps colleges plan for appropriate accommodations and programs. Some students are uncomfortable with giving the colleges this level of detail about them. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, you don't have to answer.
Money
Several colleges ask what your family income is. This question is designed to put your achievements in context. If your family is below the poverty line and you are a National Merit Semi-Finalist, then that says something about you. If you are applying for financial aid, then answer it. If not, there is no need to. Some colleges force you to answer this question. When you submit the application, you will confirm that all of your answers are true. I believe if your parents make a lot of money, you can just put in something like $200,000 and you will be meeting the spirit of the question. Besides, many parents are not inclined to share their income information with their children.
Religion
The Common App asks you for your religion and then gives you an abundance of religions to choose from, including Wiccan. You do not have to answer this question. The religious colleges do ask this question, and I strongly suggest answering it.

Writing
I've seen all of these in my practice

- Do not use semicolons. Very few people know how to use a semicolon correctly and you can have a successful college experience without ever using one. Spend a few minutes reading the New York Times and see if you see a semi-colon. My suggestion is to use a period and start a new sentence or use a dash--which is two hyphens. There is no space between the words and the dash.
- Do not use single quotes even when using them as "air quotes"- These are 'wrong'. These are "right". Single quotes are used only for a quote within a quote or newspaper headlines. For example: I was watching a political speech and the senator said, "I love everything about Abraham Lincoln except when he said, 'Four score and seven years ago.'"
- Use who, not that, when modifying a person. The boy who kicked the ball, not the boy that kicked the ball. He was on the team that won.
- Eschew 50 cent words (not the rapper) that are not in the vernacular unless you are incontrovertibly conversant with them, alternatively, you would not sound sagacious, it would sound like obfuscation.
- Do not write in British English whilst you are applying to American universities. Among not amongst, while not whilst.
- Do not start a sentence with the word "being". Being as how I am a college counselor, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog.

Finally, my pet peeve that signals the end of the civilized world.
Use the objective first person singular with transitive verbs and after prepositions. Me, me, me, me, me. Every "I" below should be a "me".
Do not say, write or think: "She invited Lori and I to the party." "She went to the store with Lori and I." "She gave the book to Lori and I."

When I hear a person use "I" instead of "me" (which happens frequently), I know they are grammatically insecure, no matter how many Ivy League degrees they have!

Please leave your comments for Lori or me.
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   13 people like this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 12:27 am

Everyone knows not to capitalize the t in Caltech, right?


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:28 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

"Do not use UIUC. The nickname of the University of Illinois is Illinois. This is what is on their school pennants and other swag."

That advice has limitations. "UIUC" is routinely written within the UI system itself -- abbreviating the modern official name, and of course distinguishing that campus from UI's others even if they're also younger. Much as traditional pennants, songs, etc. at Berkeley say "California," or informally "Cal," long after UC expanded beyond the original campus (when "University of California" meant only Berkeley). Even people who display "California" pennants understand the value of writing "UCB" today.

Secondly (and this might be less familiar to you) the issue is bigger online, with UIUC's outsized contributions to computing history, even influencing tools we use in this dialog. History from ILLIAC, PLATO, and web-browser development to the 1968 movie "2001" (where the now-iconic HAL computer recalls its own genesis at HAL Laboratories "in Urbana, Illinois," a nod to some real history). Related history shaped the internet itself as it evolved. In the 1980s, as "the net" became accessible from universities and increasingly the public, UIUC was among institutions with online presence disproportionate to its own user population. In those days certain long-established nodes or hosts were network landmarks, through which other networks connected; names of some of those high-profile nodes made certain acronyms particularly common online, such as BBN, MIT, UCB, UIUC.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:51 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

There was briefly in Palo Alto a band named Ten in The Swear Jar -- sometimes abbreviated to XITSJ -- the leader of which later changed its or his name to Xiu-Xiu (but not XIUXIU). Before that they were called The Indestructible Beat of Palo Alto or IBOPA.
The bandleader's name is or was Jamie Stewart. I do not know if he is related to the more famous James Stewart but his uncle John Stewart was a member of The Kingston Trio, had a hit for The Monkees and I believe worked for Bobby Kennedy. Jamie is a genius.
Jamie Stewart had an affiliation with KZSU the Stanford radio station but even after knowing him for 25 years I have no idea if he is or is not a Stanford alumnus*.
My point is: be yourself -- that probably helps on college essays and apps as much as in the general case.
-- my two cents worth
P.S. Do applicants check a box to signify they got coaching? And, how much do you charge?

*I do not believe Jamie Stewart of Xiu-Xiu has collaborated with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, but he did collaborate with Eugene S. Robinson of Oxbow who looks like a thug but did indeed go to Stanford.

P.P.S. I recommend going to college even if you plan a career in the arts. Try to graduate by age 25 but don't feel you have to graduate with your class. Don't worry about career until about age 30.

and1: aren't the posters correct in pointing out that UIUC is Urbana campus which is famous for computing, and not Champaign which no one calls it? I bought my best friend from Dartmouth Dr. Brian Moore a picture of Walt Frazier when Doc (who majored in drama for his a.b., then got a masters in education from Harvard, before his m.d. from UMass) took a job at Southern Illinois, only to find that he was in Springfield where they indeed rooted for The Illini and not Carbondale where they remember Clyde -- who himself IMHO uses big words gratuitously. Actually I just looked it up: in my day -- I'm a Gunn '82 -- the name changed officially to Illinois University of Urbana Champaigne even tho--according to Wiki -- the common use for the region per se was the reverse, Champaign Urbana.

I was also taught that language evolves and the best dictionaries are descriptive not prescriptive. My pet peeve is when people with big dogs believe that leash laws do not apply to them.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:51 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

There was briefly in Palo Alto a band named Ten in The Swear Jar -- sometimes abbreviated to XITSJ -- the leader of which later changed its or his name to Xiu-Xiu (but not XIUXIU). Before that they were called The Indestructible Beat of Palo Alto or IBOPA.
The bandleader's name is or was Jamie Stewart. I do not know if he is related to the more famous James Stewart but his uncle John Stewart was a member of The Kingston Trio, had a hit for The Monkees and I believe worked for Bobby Kennedy. Jamie is a genius.
Jamie Stewart had an affiliation with KZSU the Stanford radio station but even after knowing him for 25 years I have no idea if he is or is not a Stanford alumnus*.
My point is: be yourself -- that probably helps on college essays and apps as much as in the general case.
-- my two cents worth
P.S. Do applicants check a box to signify they got coaching? And, how much do you charge?

*I do not believe Jamie Stewart of Xiu-Xiu has collaborated with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, but he did collaborate with Eugene S. Robinson of Oxbow who looks like a thug but did indeed go to Stanford.

P.P.S. I recommend going to college even if you plan a career in the arts. Try to graduate by age 25 but don't feel you have to graduate with your class. Don't worry about career until about age 30.

and1: aren't the posters correct in pointing out that UIUC is Urbana campus which is famous for computing, and not Champaign which no one calls it? I bought my best friend from Dartmouth Dr. Brian Moore a picture of Walt Frazier when Doc (who majored in drama for his a.b., then got a masters in education from Harvard, before his m.d. from UMass) took a job at Southern Illinois, only to find that he was in Springfield where they indeed rooted for The Illini and not Carbondale where they remember Clyde -- who himself IMHO uses big words gratuitously. Actually I just looked it up: in my day -- I'm a Gunn '82 -- the name changed officially to Illinois University of Urbana Champaigne even tho--according to Wiki -- the common use for the region per se was the reverse, Champaign Urbana.

I was also taught that language evolves and the best dictionaries are descriptive not prescriptive. My pet peeve is when people with big dogs believe that leash laws do not apply to them.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I'm saying that the people who write "UIUC" might be shibboleth for computer-orientation; for hacker or geek.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 5:38 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

Mark: That's fair enough.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by U-M grad, a resident of another community,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 1:29 am

Actually, when I attended the University of Michigan in the 1970s, it was abbreviated "U-M" or "UM" in writing, pronounced "U of M". Of course, this was in Michigan, and not, say, Minnesota, Mississippi, or Montana. (I do agree that I never heard "UMich"!) Here in the Bay Area, if one says "U of M", it is generally taken to mean the University of Michigan, due to its size, the wide geographical distribution of its graduates, and its prominence in engineering and computer science disciplines.

I must respectfully disagree about the use/nonuse of the semicolon. It is very useful in linking two related independent clauses, although a dash can sometimes perform the same function. Of course, unless you're rock-solid in your writing skills, its misuse could give you away. (I don't really care what the New York Times does; I am a strong proponent of the Oxford comma, and not even the Economist seems to use it anymore, even though its nonuse does occasionally cause ambiguities in interpreting a list of items.)

My own pet writing (and speaking) peeve is the decline in the use of the word "fewer" when modifying countable items. One might say "there is less traffic on the road at night" ("traffic" being a collective noun), but one should say "there are fewer cars" and not "there are less cars".



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