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Dear Northeastern University………You’ve Been Nabbed by the Word Police!

Here we go again with more tortured English in a communication from a university!  A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Clark University and their mistaken use of the word “compliment” instead of “complement” in their Common App supplement.  Shortly thereafter, my colleague Mark Montgomery posted about egregious punctuation and spelling issues in the University of Tampa application.

Well, we found another one, and this time it’s from Northeastern University.  See if you can identify the rather awkward word usage problem below in this communication excerpt from Northeastern’s admission office to a legacy applicant (note that names have been changed to protect the innocent!):


Dear Ms Jones:
Amy recently submitted their application to Northeastern. As an applicant with institutional legacy I am pleased to be able to provide your student with additional programs and services designed to assist you both throughout the admission process.


Did you catch it?  Here’s a hint:  “Amy” is singular, so she couldn’t have submitted “their application to Northeastern”!  It should say, “Amy recently submitted her application…”

Giving Northeastern the benefit of the doubt, perhaps, the school does this on purpose even though the language is so obviously clumsy and wrong.  This is clearly a form letter, and rather than take the time to figure out which gender Amy is, Northeastern finds it easier to simply use the gender-neutral (and incorrect) term: “their”.

Even if the university is simply crafting it this way for the sake of ease and efficiency, that still doesn’t let Northeastern off the hook.  Knowingly using overtly incorrect grammar because it’s easier sends a signal to the student that the school is impersonal and doesn’t want to make the effort to customize its communications to put even the proper gender in there!

Colleges need to be careful how they communicate.  In this case, the student is left with the impression that the folks at Northeastern either don’t know how to write properly or don’t care enough to try.  I’m not sure which is worse, but certainly neither is good!

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Consultant, Westfield, NJ 


Reader Interactions


  1. First, that’s the mark of a lazy author and a bad form letter; you can insert a simple merge code into any word processing program to insert “his,” if gender = male and “her,” if gender = female.

    But that is neither the only nor the worst mistake in that first paragraph. Unless the author is “an applicant with institutional legacy,” there is no agreement between the adjective clause and the subject.

    In other words, the sentence implies that the “I” is the one with the legacy, when the writer probably means that the student is the one with the legacy status.

    Try, “I am pleased to offer your (son or daughter), an applicant with institutional legacy….


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