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The Pitfalls of the Brag Sheet (and How to Avoid Them)

It is that time of year when some high schools begin to encourage their juniors to ask teachers for recommendation letters. It feels early, right? It is. 

With this rite of passage, though, comes a little, unknown document sometimes called a "brag sheet." College counselors and teachers alike sometimes require students to fill it out to help them when it comes to writing the letter of recommendation. Seems reasonable, right? Wrong.
These brag sheets are a template often asking the student to provide the letter-writer with basic information that is typically already being represented in the application or information that is not well-suited for a recommendation letter. Here are five of the most troublesome aspects of brag sheets and how to avoid them: 

1. Check with your letter-writers to ensure that if a form is required, one is done individually for each person writing for the student!

If not and the same form is being shared among the college counselor and possibly the teachers writing for the student, then your letters will all sound very similar. The point of an application is for the college to learn something new about you with each section and letter provided.

2. If the form asks for a resume or a list of activities and honors, ask your letter-writer if you can skip it.

Yes, that's right. Extracurricular activities and honors already have a place on the application, and the student is responsible for reporting this information, not the letter-writers. When a letter-writer mentions these activities and honors, they are rehashing information. Letter-writers are also missing an opportunity to write something specific about the student that only they could relay.

3. Do not answer a question about your biggest weakness or struggle.

No matter how extraordinary the student is, admissions officers are trained to identify the student's weakest link. Despite what colleges say, they are not looking for reasons to admit a student; they are looking for easy reasons to deny, especially in this landscape where some colleges have single digit acceptance rates. Don't give colleges a reason to deny you before you even apply!

4. Break the rules when it comes to providing adjectives to describe yourself!

Adjectives are modifiers. They are empty words in admissions. Hardworking, ambitious, engaged, and a long list of adjectives have been used for decades to describe students. They are interchangeable and repeated over and over again in letters of recommendation. Instead of listing adjectives on the brag sheet, break the rules and list nouns and verbs, which are activators and a whole lot more interesting and gutsy to use.

5. Be careful about the majors and colleges that you list on this form.

Letter-writers latch onto this and use it in a letter. If you are filling this out in the spring of junior year and you change your mind by the fall of senior year, your letters of recommendation will contradict what is in your application. That can lead admissions officers to get confused or more likely suspicious of your true intentions. 

Read More: 5 Ethical Questions That Students Must Get Right

If you want to know what type of communication is crucial that these brag sheets often overlook, pre-order Soundbite which comes out April 6th or join Application Nation as I have upcoming Zoom calls on how to positively influence your letters of recommendation.