Okay, sew you halve finished you're essay. All it kneads is a little edit ting be four ewe sub mitt it to a collage. Simple. Just posh the spiel Czech butt on and your all sit. Stan fjord, hard ford, dart moth, y'all, columbine, prince ton, corn hell, and em eye tea well all bee empress buy you're care full work.
Except for one small problem. Your spell-checker won't find mistakes that are spelled correctly. In the passage above, every word is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, they are not the right words. Erroneous homonyms and similar-sounding words often go undetected by word processing programs.
So should you use your spell-checker? Absolutely. Mine has saved me from thousands of embarrassing mistakes, and spell-checking programs are fabulous for fixing common gaffs like writing "their" as "thier." But they may not catch your use of "prophet" when you meant "profit," or "wait" when you meant "weight" (yes, I'm citing two of my more brilliant mistakes).
Before you send off your college applications, have someone else proofread your work carefully. Pick someone who is meticulous with strong language skills. Your best friend may not be your best proofreader unless he or she is a big reader and a language nerd. Pick a proofreader who cares enough to spend some time with your essay. It's easy to read right past that "to" that should be a "too" when you're reading quickly.
Do a little brainstorming to figure out who your best proofreader will be. Mom and Dad are fine if they have strong language skills, but not all parents do. How about one of your teachers who has done an impressive job marking up your papers? Or perhaps you have a neighbor or family acquaintance who works in the editing or publishing industry? And that friend of yours with a 110 average in your AP English Language and Composition class may also be a good choice.
Whoever you ask, do so politely and follow up with a big thank you. Proofreading is time-consuming and tedious. Professionals make a nice hourly wage doing it.
A final note: Just as you can't depend entirely on your spell-checker, you should also be careful to recognize the limitations of your computer's grammar-checker. Some of those green squiggles under words are not identifying real problems. Sometimes the passive voice is exactly what you want in a sentence. My favorite Microsoft Word error is "long sentence." Sorry, Microsoft, but last time I checked, long sentences aren't always grammatically unsound. The real issue is that long sentences often confuse computer programs.
In short, we don't yet live in an age when computers have better language skills than humans. Before sending a college your writing, make sure it passes a human evaluation as well as an electronic one.