What is a Brag Sheet for College Recommenders?

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Of all the parts of the college application, there is perhaps none as elusive as the letter of recommendation. After all, it’s the only part of your application you don’t have total control over. You probably won’t know what it says before it’s sent in (if ever)! So how are you supposed to feel confident about your college application without knowing this mystery piece going into the equation?

 

Simple. You put together a strong, detailed brag sheet that will serve as a reference for your recommenders as they write your letter. By giving them the information you’d like them to include, you can help guide the content of your recommendation letter to fit the rest of your application.

 

What is a Brag Sheet?

 

A brag sheet is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an opportunity for you to brag about your accomplishments thus far, like a casual resume or CV. Teachers and counselors writing recommendations often ask for brag sheets from the student so they have a better idea of what to include, like interests and accomplishments. These can help them corroborate qualities you’ve displayed in class that they’d like to write about. In the case of your school counselor, who you might not have spent much time with, and who could be writing 100+ recommendations, a brag sheet will also remind them of who you are and help them craft a strong letter.

 

Letters of recommendation are more important than many students expect. Every school weighs different parts of the application differently, but generally, you can expect a breakdown of 35% academics (test scores and GPA), 30% extracurriculars, 25% essays, and the last 10% to comprise recommendations, interviews, and miscellaneous factors. Making your brag sheet as helpful as possible to recommenders will help ensure your recommendations are as strong as possible. They also have the added bonus of helping you put together your applications when the time comes.

 

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What Should Go On a Brag Sheet?

 

Much of what goes on your brag sheet will end up on college applications. While it might take some time to put together a brag sheet now, being detailed and clear will help your recommenders now and you later.

 

Chances are, your school counselor has a template they’d like you to use. Ask them first, and then fill it out as completely as possible. At the very least, you’ll want to include:

 

  • Schools You’re Applying to + Deadlines
  • Expected Major/Career Goals
  • For teachers: what you learned in their class, your proudest moments in the class that back up qualities you hope they will highlight
  • For counselors: your strengths as a student and person, with examples to back them up
  • Honors and Awards
  • Extracurriculars (sports, clubs, work/volunteer experience)
  • Additional Information (if you had any special circumstances, such as a personal or family illness, that impacted your academic and extracurricular participation during high school)

 

For things like the schools you’re applying, you can list them and move on. The rest will require some more elaboration.

 

For your major and career goals, list them and provide some brief context on why you have those goals. For example: “I want to study environmental science and politics to advocate for stronger environmental policies for coastal towns, which are most greatly impacted by rising sea levels and ocean pollution. I hope to do so by working in a non-profit, or running for public office.” 

 

You may be undecided, but at least try to provide some potential interests and professional avenues: “I’m currently undecided, but I’m interested in interdisciplinary subjects like psychology and economics, that will allow me to explore human behavior in quantitative and qualitative ways. I may go into teaching or research.”

 

For teacher-specific info, jot down some notable experiences in their class, and what personal qualities you hope those experiences exhibit. For example: “My favorite experience was having the chance to write a memoir for AP Lang, as it allowed me to reflect on my struggles as a low-income student and helped me discover my love for personal writing. After sharing my memoir with the class, several students reached out to me privately to say my writing really resonated with them. I hope this assignment showed that I’m able to be introspective and vulnerable when it really counts.”

 

For extracurriculars and awards, you should list years participated, any leadership roles, and a brief description of what you did. If you’re sure the recommender is familiar with the item and what it involves (for instance, a prestigious school award), you can spend less time on it. Activities should be presented from most to least significant. This part is less important for teachers, as you don’t want them to rehash your resume, but it can help confirm the qualities they observed in you in their class.

 

Wherever you can, quantify and specify your achievements. This will help add context and make your accomplishments stand out. Consider the difference between “Helped with a canned food drive” and “with a team of 4, co-organized a canned food drive that collected over 10,000 cans for the local food pantry.” The latter sounds much more impressive and speaks more strongly to your organization, leadership, and teamwork skills. 

 

Though you want your brag sheet to be specific and detailed enough to help your recommenders write awesome letters, you should try to also be as brief as possible (2 pages max). Think of it as a rough draft of your activities list for the Common Application—keep each description to 150 characters or less. If you only went to three meetings of a club, it’s probably not worth including. Focus instead on making sure your descriptions for the clubs you spent a lot of time on are clear and concise.

 

The easier your brag sheet is to read, the easier it is for your recommenders to get the information they need (and write the great recommendation you want).

 

When Should I Have My Brag Sheet Ready?

 

The best time to ask for college recommendations is in the spring of your junior year. Most people ask in the fall of senior year, so asking in spring will help you beat the rush. Have your brag sheet ready when you ask. Your recommender might take it home and work on it (or at least think about it) over the summer, meaning they can focus more on your recommendation and spend more time on it. Not all teachers will do this (they deserve a vacation too!), but having your brag sheet ready this early means it will be a possibility. If you prepare your brag sheet in spring, make sure to include any summer plans or confirmed fall roles (for instance, if you win an election in the spring for the following year) so their recommendation isn’t already outdated when you return in the fall.

 

Otherwise, try to prepare your brag sheet before school starts in the fall. Once the semester starts, you’ll be plenty busy with the rest of your college applications on top of your usual commitments. Having it out of the way early on means you’ll have less to worry about.

 

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Anna Ravenelle
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Anna Ravenelle is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied English with a concentration in Creative Writing. After spending two application cycles in the CollegeVine applications division, she now uses her admissions experience to help a greater number of students. She resides in New York but her heart has never left New Hampshire, where she grew up.