How to Write a Brag Sheet for College Recommendations
Beginning in the spring of one’s junior year of high school, it is common for guidance counselors to send out a “brag sheet” form that will help guide their letter of recommendation. Sometimes this document is for the student to complete, other times it is for the parent/guardian—and, in some cases, there is a section for each to tackle.
In this article, we will explore the following:
- What is asked on a brag sheet?
- What is the purpose of the brag sheet?
- Brag sheet tips for students & parents
- What not to do on a brag sheet
- How important is the counselor recommendation?
- Will the same brag sheet be given to my teacher recommenders?
Let’s begin by examining what types of information are commonly requested through the brag sheet.
What questions are typically on a high school brag sheet?
Common items on a high school brag sheet include variations of the following:
- 3-5 adjectives that describe the applicant.
- The activities—in and out of school—that you participated in grades 9-12.
- Leadership positions held or honors earned from grades 9-12.
- Your academic strengths.
- A time the student showed growth or overcame adversity in the last four years.
- Any adverse circumstances or challenges that impacted a student through high school.
- Characteristics, talents, and unique qualities of the applicant.
- Aspirations for the future.
- Intended college area of study (if known) and possible careers.
- Hobbies and interests.
- Work or volunteer experience.
- What do you want the counselor to highlight in the letter?
- Which colleges are you applying to and what characteristics attracted your child to those schools?
What is the purpose of the brag sheet?
In essence, the counselor is looking for a neat and tidy recap of a student’s most notable achievement inside and outside of the classroom, an abbreviated summary of what makes them unique, and what they hope to get out of their postsecondary career. Many counselors have large caseloads and a wide variety of duties and responsibilities. The brag sheet is a way for them to streamline the recommendation writing process and make it as personalized and valuable as possible to the student.
Brag sheet tips for students & parents
- Short and sweet beats long-winded every time.
- Bullet points beat lengthy paragraphs.
- Don’t be overly humble and hide or diminish your true level of achievement.
- Alternatively, there is no need to exaggerate anything or hype yourself/your child up to the point where it becomes off-putting. Most often, the achievements being cited will speak for themselves.
- Repetition is not inherently bad. If the best answer to two different questions is the same, that’s okay. For example, if there is a question about something memorable from high school and a separate question about something you are proud of, feel free to answer the same for both if that item is something you want to make sure ends up in the recommendation.
What not to do on a brag sheet
We don’t mean to offend anyone, but here’s a good rule-of-thumb formula: however much you want to write on your teen’s brag sheet, reduce that amount by 50-70%. Okay, we’re just kidding (sort of), but we’ve read enough brag sheets from highly-intelligent and well-meaning parents who write WAY TOO MUCH. And we mean this in an objective sense. Excess words are likely to lead to diminishing returns because the counselor may be unsure which of the details are most important to highlight in what is ultimately a fairly brief letter.
Other “don’ts” include:
- Don’t provide more than is being asked for. For example, if they ask for three adjectives to describe your son or daughter, don’t provide eight.
- Try to avoid talking about anything that occurred prior to the start of high school. In general, this won’t be useful in a college recommendation.
- Along the same lines, you don’t need to rewind the clock on your child’s academic history to kindergarten. The more recent you can make your examples/anecdotes the more relevant they will be once incorporated into a recommendation for college.
- This is not an ideal time to air grievances about the school or how unfair a particular child was to your student. If a challenge you are writing about involves a negative experience with a teacher, place the primary focus on the actions your teen took to work through the rough situation.
How important is the counselor recommendation?
Obtaining a positive recommendation from your high school guidance counselor is a nice feather in your cap, but the importance of this letter pales in comparison to the letters written by those who have actually observed your performance in the classroom over a 180+ day stretch—your teachers. Some counselors may be servicing 500-1,000 students at any given time, and even if you stop by to chat fairly frequently, the depth and relevance of the interactions simply cannot match those from inside the classroom walls.
In short, obsessing over the brag sheet and writing multiple pages where one sentence is needed does not gain you proportional admissions-related value.
Will the same brag sheet be given to my teacher recommenders?
It depends on your school, but often the brag sheet is written for your counselor, and can be shared with any future teacher recommenders, should they ask for it. However, since your teacher has spent hundreds of instructional hours with you, they typically focus more of their letter on specific assignments, classroom achievements, discussions, and character traits that they have observed directly. Sometimes teachers will ask you to complete a similar brag sheet form that is usually briefer and places a greater emphasis on your accomplishments in their class. For more on how to request a teacher recommendation, click here.
CT’s Final Thoughts
In order to heed our own advice, we will keep this section extremely concise and to the point…brevity and clarity are your friends. Don’t offer more than the counselor is asking for. Think about a few core items that you want to make sure are communicated and hammer them home.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).