Your chance to share what others don’t know about your teen, but should.
By Anne Vaccaro Brady
Every spring high school guidance departments send parents of juniors a questionnaire called the Parent Brag Sheet, explaining that the student’s counselor will use the responses to write a recommendation for college. If you received one and, after reviewing it, thought your teen’s counselor should already know all this information, you’d be wrong.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the national average of student-to-school-counselor ratio is 491:1. With numbers like that, it becomes apparent why your teen’s counselor cannot know them as well as you do.
This means your answers to these questions matter. As one parent of a high school junior recently told me, the counselors at her son’s school are known to use the words on this form verbatim.
How to answer Whether the Parent Brag Sheet says it or not, the school counselor is looking for anecdotes to sprinkle throughout the recommendation, so make sure to provide some.
Remember, this is not an activity sheet or high school resume, but information that can be inserted into a recommendation letter. Write in full sentences instead of bullet points; one or two short paragraphs per question. Your responses should also include details about your student that can’t be found elsewhere, and/or expand upon the details provided on your teen’s activity sheet/high school resume.
Be positive. Instead of writing “John may not be the smartest kid in his class,” say “John works harder than most students to maintain his B average.”
How to answer these commonly asked questions:
What do you consider to be your child’s outstanding accomplishments during the past three or four years? Why did you select these as important? This is often the first question on the brag sheet. You can use items from your student’s high school resume and enhance what you choose to highlight. For example, your daughter was named captain of the volleyball team in junior year. Great. But was it based on her athletic abilities or leadership skills, or both? Was she picked by the coach or voted in by her teammates? Maybe your teen is on the student council that worked to change a school policy. Also consider accomplishments outside of school, whether in the community or your own family.
In answering the second question, emphasize how these accomplishments represent who your child really is and why they’d be an asset to a college.
In what areas has your child shown the most development and growth during the past three or four years? This is a good place to include your teen’s increased commitment to their academics, especially if their grades have improved steadily since they were a freshman or sophomore, and/or they began adding honors/AP/IB classes in the last year or two. But there are other areas to highlight as well.
Use examples of your teen showing maturity whether at home, school or in the community. Did your student start helping their younger siblings with their homework when Mom or Dad works late? Have they developed stronger relationships with their teachers or taken the initiative to ask for help, which is reflected in their improved grades and self-confidence? Maybe they finally overcame their shyness and signed up for a club or sport they’ve been interested in and put all their effort into it because they enjoy it so much.
Are there any unusual or personal circumstances that have affected your child’s education or personal experiences? Use this question to address the impact of a parent’s job loss, family crisis (like a divorce, serious illness), move to a new town and school, etc. The counselor and colleges need to understand the challenges your child has dealt with during their high school years. If not asked anywhere else on the brag sheet, take advantage of this space to address learning or other disabilities your student faces. Do not feel you must answer this question if your family has been lucky enough to avoid serious challenges.
What five adjectives best describe your child? Take some time to really think about this. Your first reaction might be words like smart, respectful and athletic, but what about motivated, independent, kind, humble, mature, courageous, self-disciplined, independent thinker, humorous, resourceful, etc? Some brag sheets ask you to explain your answers, so choose words you can support with specific examples.
Is there any other information you would like to share that was not covered above? Here you can provide examples that illustrate the side of your teen you feel most people miss, like their sense of responsibility or the fact that they’re a good friend or their commitment to the pee-wee soccer team they help coach.
The bottom line on the brag sheet As parents, we know our children better than anyone and here’s the chance to let everyone else in on what makes our kids special.
Share your advice and experiences on the parent brag sheet in the comments section below.