Every college application season, parents of high school seniors are asked to fill out a questionnaire called a “parent brag sheet.” The purpose of the parent brag sheet is to help high school counselors write letters of recommendation for students.
In most cases, the ratio of student to school counselors is quite high, particularly in public schools where the ratio stands at 430-to-1. So, counselors often don’t have the opportunities to get to know every student well enough to write compelling letters of recommendation for each of them. And they rely on the parent brag sheet for some help.
Your responses to the questions in the parent brag sheet should not be overlooked, as they play a role in whether or not your child will be admitted to choice colleges and universities.
Below, we offer some advice to help you answer the most common questions asked on parent brag sheets.
Tone and style of responses
Because counselors often have to read through hundreds of brag sheets, you should respond to the questions succinctly and accurately.
Respond in full sentences, not bullet points, so that your responses can be inserted directly into letters of recommendation. You want to be positive and paint your child in a good light, but don’t exaggerate or go overboard in terms of the length. Typically, responses to each question shouldn’t be longer than two or three sentences.
Typical information solicited in parent brag sheet
While the questions schools ask on parent brag sheets may vary, each school attempts to elicit similar information from parents about their student. For the purposes of this article, we are using example questions offered by the Common App.
List three adjectives to describe your student.
This is the one question on the brag sheet that you don’t have to respond to in full sentences, unless you’re asked to provide examples to explain your adjectives.
You may be tempted to write “smart,” “kind,” and “funny” and move on to the next question. But, those adjectives are so cliche that they hardly even carry a meaning. Instead of rushing through, take some time to think of adjectives that will jump off the page and would catch the attention of admissions counselors reviewing the letters of recommendation.
What makes your student unique?
When answering this question, you want to be positive, original, and specific. Dig down deep and think about what separates your child from the rest.
If you can do so succinctly, it may be useful to start with an example. Say your daughter is particularly self-motivated. Don’t leave it at that. Explain, for example, that your daughter spent an entire summer working, without pay, for an environmental nonprofit to help provide your community with safer drinking water.
List some activities your student enjoys.
Here is where you want to explain how your child spends time outside of the classroom. Of course, you want to list the activities that your child has participated in and enjoyed for a long time.
For example, if your child has volunteered for an organization after school for six years, you want to be sure to include that. But, you can leave off the one season your child played on the junior varsity soccer team.
Remember, this is a brag sheet, so you want to include the leadership positions your child has had. If there’s space, you may even want to explain the amount of time and effort that your child put into achieving that leadership position.
It may be useful to check with your child before answering this question, as you want what you list here to match up with what your child enters into the “activities” section of the college application.
How do you view your student’s academic progress up to this point?
If your child has improved academically over the past few years, here’s the place to explain how hard your child has worked. College admissions counselors love to see growth and development.
Don’t rant about how proud you are of your child. Instead, be specific. If your child has voluntarily worked with a math tutor, explain that. If your child has dedicated an hour every night to freewriting to boost those writing skills, this is the place to relay that to your child’s counselor.
On the other hand, if your child’s grades have dropped or stayed stagnant, try to avoid explaining why. Instead, be brief and try to put a positive spin on things by writing something like, “My student has worked hard to maintain her GPA in her difficult classes.”
While writing your child’s letter of recommendation, counselors lean towards including the positive information that you provide. If grades aren’t your child’s strong suit, counselors likely won’t spend too much time writing about academics. Instead, they may focus on how your child is passionate about volunteering, for example.
What do you believe to be your student’s strengths (academic and personal)?
This is your chance to explain what your child is best at. Don’t write what you think college admissions counselors want to hear. Be honest. Ask yourself, “what are the things that continue to impress me about my child?”
Maybe your child has always excelled in history. If so, try to be specific. Explain what type of history is your child’s expertise. Is it European history? Is it African history? Maybe your child is well-versed in art history.
Remember, though, that this question isn’t limited to academic accolades. Perhaps you’re amazed by your child’s ability to talk with anyone and everyone. Maybe your child is extremely articulate. If so, explain that. Tell your child’s counselor that communication is your child’s strong suit. Although “communication skills,” for example doesn’t carry the same weight as GPA or test scores on a college application, admissions counselors will still be very excited to read that your child has great communication skills.
What do you believe to be your student’s weaknesses (academic and personal)?
If asked to explain your child’s weaknesses, be honest but try to put a positive spin on things. If your child is bad at math, for example, you could write something like, “Math is not Johnny’s strong suit, but his work ethic and willingness to work with tutors have enabled him to maintain a B average in precalculus this year.”
How does your student react to setbacks?
Can you provide an example of a time your student overcame an obstacle or adversity and demonstrated strength, courage, or resiliency?
College admissions counselors love to know how applicants react to setbacks and adversity. Setbacks are inevitable in college and throughout life, and admissions counselors want to make sure that setbacks won’t discourage applicants.
So, when answering this question, dig deep to find a compelling example. Maybe your child tore his ACL while playing football sophomore year and spent hours each week doing rehab so that he was able to play his senior season.
Maybe an illness forced your child to miss two months of school and she had to work endless nights to catch back up and maintain a good GPA.
List any events or experiences you feel have significantly influenced your student.
With this question, high school counselors are, again, seeking specific examples. Think about the events that have inspired your child towards positive change. A lot of the time, these won’t necessarily be positive events.
Maybe watching his cousin struggle with cancer inspired your son to choose pre-med as his undergraduate path. But, it doesn’t always have to be that extreme. It could be that your son failed his first AP Government exam and that inspired him to dedicate two hours each night towards reviewing the material covered in class each day.
No matter what example(s) you choose to provide, make sure that they demonstrate your child’s resilience.
List any special circumstances that may affect where your student may apply/attend college.
This question is relatively vague and can be answered in a multitude of ways. But, if your family has experienced a job loss or significant change in finances, this may be a good place to explain that your child is prioritizing schools that are cheaper and in-state.
Likewise, if your child has an illness and needs to visit a specific doctor, that may mean that your child needs to attend somewhere close to home. The list goes on.
Although this brag sheet is specifically meant to help counselors write letters of recommendation, it also serves to help counselors assist your child throughout the entire college application process. So, the more they know, the better.
Use this space to share any additional information about your student, including specific examples or stories that highlight your student’s character. What hopes do you have for your student’s college experience?
Think about what else your child’s counselor might want or need to know.
Specifically, you want to focus on things that better explain your child, not only as a student but as a person. Think about the information that would be beneficial in terms of helping your child be admitted to institutions. Use specific examples. Remember, your child’s counselor can’t work with vague responses.
While answering the last portion of the question, dig deep to think about what you truly hope that your child gains from college.
A proper response may look like, “I hope that my child is able to surround herself with a supportive community of peers who will encourage her, just as much as I do, to work to pursue her dreams but also prioritize her own personal happiness.”
A parent brag sheet may, at first, seem confusing. But, remember, that you know your child better than anyone else does. Dig deep to offer real, constructive answers so that your child’s counselor can write a compelling letter of recommendation. This is your opportunity to help your child in the admissions process.
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.