Writing a great college admissions essay is the result of a long, multi-step process. You must organize your goals, keep track of your progress, research sample essays, and avoid writing mistakes. And you need to do it all by your deadline.
Most students can do the research and the writing on their own. Unfortunately, many students do not proofread and edit their application essays properly. This can be a huge mistake as college admissions counselors are currently refocusing their admissions priorities towards qualitative factors such as application essays as opposed to traditional standardized testing scores.
This has led college applicants to seek out any extra edge to craft a successful admissions essay. For editing and proofreading, the two main options are professional college essay editing companies such as Wordvice, and free online grammar checkers such as Grammarly or Hemingway.
This article defines these two options for college applicants and compares how they help students improve their admissions essays. The truth is that both options are effective, but only if applied to the right situation.
What are Free Online Grammar Checkers?
Free online grammar checkers such as Grammarly and Hemingway act as automatic scanners to correct errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and other issues like word count and comma usage. These apps come in the form of web apps (on-site), browser extensions, and standalone programs.
These apps scan your writing and then highlight and/or offer suggestions to correct mistakes. These tools offer immediate feedback that is “free” of charge, at least on the surface. However, as with any tool or service, you get what you pay for. Many of these grammar checking tools do one thing well but leave much to be desired.
What Can Free Online Grammar Checkers Do?
This software suggests corrections automatically after scanning the text. These suggestions are based on databases of set grammar rules and past user data.
Most grammar and spellcheckers will highlight mistakes and allow you to make the correction automatically with one click. This eliminates chances for error (software bugs notwithstanding).
Online, Microsoft Office, and Mobile Grammar Checking
Grammarly offers browser extensions for Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. It will check your grammar when filling in web forms, doing email, and more. The Chrome extension offers advanced support for Google Docs, but it’s currently in beta.
You can also use online checkers in your desktop word processor or as a standalone program. This means you need Microsoft Office suite for PC or Mac. If you use another word processor and don’t want to use the Grammarly app, you must copy-paste your text.
Grammarly is available as a keyboard on both iOS and Android. This allows you to check your grammar and spelling when writing emails or notes on your phone.
Tone of Voice
Free checkers such as Grammarly come with a surface-level tone measurement, which claims to make your writing appropriate for a certain audience (e.g. formal, informal, etc.). We are not quite sure what “joyful” or “optimistic” means.
This recommendation is mostly done based on two criteria: sentence length and vocabulary. As a result, there are often instances where Grammarly recommends you change your tone of voice when you don’t want to, e.g. you add quotes from other sources/authors or are writing casually about a formal topic, or vice versa.
Basic Grammar, Spelling & Punctuation Mistakes
If your essay or paper has obvious typos or spelling errors, then these online checker tools will catch them. This is where machine bots really excel. They don’t make mistakes but only given the correct inputs, and a simple English dictionary is a pretty straightforward input.
But is this function any different than a basic Microsoft Word spell checker? Not so much.
What Can Free Online Grammar Checkers NOT do?
Despite the benefits of free online grammar and spellchecker tools (fast, free, consistent), they have some downsides. This is mainly because they are limited in scope and rigid in their usability.
Online grammar checkers can’t do everything
Writing is Not Straightforward
Many factors can come into play. You might want a playful anecdote in your otherwise serious academic article. Maybe you need to quote a statistic in your 650-word college admissions essay. This can throw off Grammarly’s tone of voice suggestion feature.
Would you trust your college admissions essay, job application, academic journal article, or PhD dissertation to the free version of an online grammar checker? These types of documents are career-defining milestones, so it’s no wonder why many experts take issue with the accuracy and reliability of grammar checkers.
“Grammarly isn’t a complete replacement for manual proofreading. I was surprised at the number of errors it made—both false positives and not picking up on obvious mistakes in both spelling and grammar…Grammarly does, in my mind, have a part to play in spelling and grammar checks. But for someone looking for a single solution, Grammarly probably isn’t it.”
AI-based grammar checkers are a long way from providing tailored edits and comments
Online Grammar Checkers Cannot Recognize Context
In our testing of Grammarly Premium, we encountered several instances where it failed to recognize contextual clues.
Verb Tense Correction: “John felt that his research is correct” was changed to “was correct” since “felt” is past tense. According to Grammarly, only if you write “John feels” is it correct to write “is correct.”
- This illustrates Grammarly’s limitations with context and is indicative of a larger problem for AI-based checkers.
- John felt that his research is correct in this situation. His research does not change from yesterday until today. However, John’s feelings about it may change.
- In academic writing, scientific claims, statements, and conclusions are written in present tense while observations are written in past tense; scientific claims persist. This is something Grammarly is NOT advanced enough to contextualize.
Example: You can see that in writing this very article, Grammarly cannot contextualize the word “past” as an adjective in “past tense”; instead, it can only view “past” as a noun in the form of “the past.”
Who Uses Online Grammar Checkers?
Despite the above issues, many writers will find Grammarly useful. Teachers can use them as plagiarism checkers, blog writers and marketers find them useful to check readability, and companies can ensure their marketing copy doesn’t have errors.
Three other important groups worth talking about are college students, academic researchers, and PhD students. These writers may find themselves looking for a more reliable and thorough solution to proofreading, editing & improving their writing.
Documents like college admissions essays, academic journal articles, and dissertations/theses are beyond the scope of most online grammar checkers, especially free versions.
That is why so many academics and college applicants turn to professional editing and proofreading services.
FAQ About Free Online Grammar Checkers
How accurate are free online grammar checkers?
- For punctuation, spelling, and basic grammar mistakes, online checkers such as Grammarly are consistent but limited in their free version. For contextual consistency, readability, flow, and word length adjustment, they are very lacking.
Are free online grammar apps trustworthy and consistent?
- Grammar checkers are reasonably effective for finding all typos, especially when viewing you’re tired from looking at a computer screen. But there are some errors that these programs miss that could be caught by human editors and proofreaders.
Is it safe to use online free grammar checkers?
- Big grammar checker tools have a great reputation, but that doesn’t mean you should be typing your taxes or bank statements with them. It’s a good practice to disable/enable these browser extensions on certain pages.
What are Proofreading and Editing Services?
Any document intended for publication or submission (including academic papers, admissions essays, cover letters, CVs and resumes, literature reviews, and PhD dissertation) can be improved by professional proofreading.
Although they might differ in their content, objective, and readership, all documents will contain minor errors that must be corrected before being submitted or published.
It’s nice to know there’s a human on the other side of your screen.
Benefits of Proofreading Services
The peer review process for a research paper or academic manuscript consists of several steps, starting with content editing, following with line editing, and finally receiving copy editing and proofreading.
Human proofreaders and editors focus on the entire manuscript: abstract, body, figure legends and captions, and any additional sections that may contain errors. They catch the following writing issues:
- Typos and spelling errors
- Capitalization errors
- Formatting errors and inconsistencies (e.g. parentheses usage, different nomenclature)
- Punctuation and abbreviation errors
- Grammar and basic sentence structure
- Journal-specific formatting, citation & spelling standards (MLA, APA, Chicago style formatting in-line cannot be done by a bot)
Benefits of Editing Services
Language editors also provide advanced editing techniques, highlighting the benefit of having an experienced human editor. In academic research articles or PhD dissertations, there are many technical terms (e.g. Latin phrases, abbreviations, citations, and scientific jargon) that grammar tools cannot recognize.
Experienced academic editors are familiar with particular fields of study and therefore are adept at editing manuscripts and research papers. Editors are also effective for college application essays, as maintaining the college applicant’s unique tone is essential to creating a persuasive essay.
Only human editors and proofreaders can improve the following writing aspects:
- Readability: The type of language and style you use will be different depending on whether you are writing a college application essay, business proposal, or technical article.
- Flow & Sentence Combining: Human editors combine disparate or separate ideas into coherent, well-connected sentences. This requires a native command of the English language and an understanding of the author’s intentions.
- Word Count: Many types of writing have word count restrictions. A fresh, experienced perspective of the context and goal of the manuscript can help identify and remove irrelevant parts of text.
- Term Usage & Consistency: PhD dissertations/theses are full of references to various literature articles, all of which come from different sources. Additionally, technical terms may have different usages than normal writing. Human editors know not only what these technical terms mean, they know when and how to apply them.
Proofreading & Editing Services Versus Free Grammar Checkers
We will next compare the advantages and disadvantages of editing services and online grammar checkers.
As you can see, proofreading and editing services like Wordvice offer a full spectrum of writing improvement services, including premium academic and admissions proofreading.
Of course, the main downsides are clear: Proofreading services cost money and are not instantaneous. Your personal budget and overall value will determine the best choice between an editing service and a free grammar checker.
The premium version of Grammarly costs $29/month, whereas editing for a 650-word college application essay with Wordvice costs only $32.50 for 4-day turnaround, including all the advanced editing features listed above.
So, Should I Choose an Editing Service or Grammar Checker?
Let’s assess the advantages of proofreading services and online grammar checkers again, combining the best aspects of both.
The main advantage offered by grammar checkers is that they are free and fast. However, they cannot replicate what an experienced professional English editor can do. Ultimately, you are a human who wants to effectively communicate with other humans.
Our recommendation is to try the free versions of these grammar and spellchecker programs while writing to catch typos and spelling mistakes. But don’t pay too much attention to their stylistic recommendations.
Then ask yourself some questions and determine if you need some professional proofreading help from services such as Wordvice.
Am I a grammar expert?
Grammar checkers need a benchmark to compare themselves against in order to be effective. As shown above, they make a lot of false-positive errors, so you will need a good understanding of English to know when to use them and when not to.
Do I have lots of time to edit my work?
So, you waited until the last minute to submit your application essay or college paper. If so, you may have to choose the free or premium version of Grammarly and hope for a passing grade. However, if you have 12 to 24 before submitting your work, most editing services can help you out.
You’ve got a big choice to make!
Is my manuscript important?
Your judgment is critical to determine if paying for an academic or admissions editing service is necessary. If this is a career-defining project such as a term paper, dissertation, letter of recommendation, grant proposal, or journal submission to Nature, you should definitely get professional editing. Most editing services offer English editing certificates.
Who will read my paper or essay?
If you need stylistic revision to target a college admissions officer or a journal reviewer, then online grammar checkers won’t cut it. On the other hand, editors can add new ideas and terms to your document, tailoring your work to the target reader. A rule of thumb: if a stranger is going to read your manuscript and has direct decision-making power, get professional editing!
If instead a familiar face will be reading your work such as a class professor/teacher or many anonymous readers (e.g. blog post), then you can likely forego any paid proofreading and choose a grammar checker, especially a plagiarism checker.
Proofreading Services Vs Free Online Grammar Checkers: The Final Word
New online tools now offer students the chance to proofread and edit their application essays for free. It’s no wonder why. The new generation of students has grown up with technology and has intimate knowledge of its benefits. These tools give students more time to focus on writing their college application essays, and they’re free.
But with any piece of technology, there’s a downside.
Online grammar checkers, while convenient, are limited. First, they market themselves as AI-driven technologies, but there is no real “artificial intelligence” or continuous learning taking place. For that reason, grammar checker tools lack contextual nuance and insights and result in many false positives since they cannot understand user intent.
On the other side of the spectrum, college essay editing services have always been around. While not free, a good human editor or proofreading is irreplaceable in the right situation.
In the end, the only person who can decide which tool to use is you, the author. But we highly recommend using both tools to ensure the best overall revision.
Check out Wordvice’s full suite of revision services, including admissions editing, academic editing, business proofreading, and editing services for writers. If you’re ready to give your professional or personal a true professional polish, there’s no one better in the industry.