Differences in the English Language

By Jack McDermott – Top Admit Consulting

When writing your admissions essay, you need to be concerned with a multitude of issues. You need to be dynamic, persuasive, and tell a story that makes you special. From the grammar standpoint, you need to use the English language accurately, correctly, and have transitions that make your writing fluid to show that you can succeed in a collegiate English-speaking academic environment. However, one of the few things that you really should not worry about, are minor differences in the use of the English language by people from different countries.

While the majority of students from Southeast Asia tend to apply to American colleges (partially because they are so numerous), an increasing number are applying to colleges in Britain, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. While these countries all speak “English,” there are some minor differences in word usage and spellings. Some students have written to Top Admit Consulting, worried about having their essays match “British English” or “Canadian English.”  This really is not worth the effort, and may in fact, work against you.  

A foreign student who focuses on trying to add “Canadian” words into their essay simply to apply to a Canadian school may make the essay seem inauthentic and contrived. Remember your uniqueness is partially due to the fact you come from a different part of the world and are familiar with different cultures and religions – not that you have mastered Canadian “slang and common phrases” used by native English-speaking people. 


Admissions officers in the United States, for example, are well aware that foreigners who study English tend to study “British English.” However, textbooks in other subjects -- geography, history, political science, or mathematics, are written by American scholars. Although you should not be concerned, let us take a brief look at some of the differences.

Word Spellings

British words often use more vowels than American words.  For example “color” (American) is “colour” (in Britain).  Another example is that “encyclopedia” (American) is “encylycopaedia” (in Britain). Yet another example is “catalog” (American) and “catalogue” (British). Finally, Americans drop “e” when using the “ing” form of the verb.  For example, “aging” (American) is “ageing” (British). Most spell-checkers used by American and British educators usually show both words as being spelled correctly (although not always).


When considering consonants, Americans typically use fewer.  For example, “enrollment” (American) is spelled “enrolment” (in Britain).  For some strange reason Americans prefer the letter “z” while the British prefer the letter “s.”  For example, “analyze” (American) is also “analyse” (in Britain).


However, if you look at these words together ---they seem very similar:


American Word

British Word





















As you can see, these words are nearly the same, and will not cause confusion to an American or British reader. An American admissions committee officers seeing a British spelled word will likely find it amusing, or unique – and will certainly not penalize the writer.  

Slang Differences

Slang may be considerably different among residents of Australia, Ireland, England, Canada and the United States, and may be different within different regions of the country. Slang is very informal speech that should not be used in formal writing anyway. 

For example, to describe someone who is “crazy” an American may say:  “He has a screw loose.”  An Australian may say: “He has a few Kangaroos loose in the paddock,” while an Englishman may say: “He is mad as a hatter.”  While all of these are funny – they should not be used in your formal admissions essay about yourself.

The Exception

The exception is if you are applying to a specific school or program.  In this instance, you should use the exact spelling (British or American) used by the university. For example, if you are applying to the “Programme for Sustainable Leadership at the University of Cambridge,” – you should use the British spelling of “programme.”

On the other hand, if you want to participate in the “Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at the University of California-Berkeley,” you need to use the American spelling “Program” even if the rest of your essay uses British English spellings. 

In conclusion, it is true that you should focus on the language and spellings throughout your admissions essays. However, trying to acknowledge all of the minor differences in spellings between American English, British English, and that of other English-speaking countries should not concern you. Even Americans, Canadians and British find minor differences interesting. It is best to focus your effort on other parts of your essay, specifically, if you are answering the admissions committee questions, and have an interesting and focused essay that describes you, your goals, and how you will contribute to the campus of a foreign university. 

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