Asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation for your college applications can be nerve-wracking. However, having a "brag sheet" to hand your recommender can make them more likely to accept. It may also encourage them to write about awards and personal strengths you want colleges to know about.
Brag sheets are a great tool that not enough high school students make use of. But we're here to help! This guide includes everything you need to know about brag sheets, including what you need them for, what they should include, and an example of a great brag sheet.
What Is a Brag Sheet? What Do You Need One For?
Many colleges require letters of recommendation from one or more of your teachers. (These letters may also come from guidance counselors or other mentors, like a coach.) Letters of recommendation are a way for colleges to get to know you beyond your grades and test scores. A well-written letter of rec can give great insight into your intellectual and personal qualities and make it clear you're a student schools will want on their campus. Colleges want to know more than just your test scores: they want to understand how you interact with your teachers and peers, how you approach the learning process, what motivates and excites you, etc. Letters of rec are a great way to do this.
However, for a teacher to write a great letter of recommendation, they need to know a good amount about you and have specific examples to back up their assertions. Because teachers often teach well over 100 students a year, keeping all this information straight can be hard, even if they know and like you a lot. This is where a brag sheet comes in.
A brag sheet is a description of your accomplishments and plans for the future. We'll go more into the exact information it contains in the next section but, in general, it gives the people writing your recommendations a quick and easy way to get information they may need when writing your letter. Even a teacher who knows you really well may have forgotten about the time you raised your C+ to an A- in one semester or the time you tutored a student who'd missed two weeks of classes. And they might not know at all that the reason you study so hard in calculus class is because you have dreams of becoming an engineer.
We recommend that you have your brag sheet typed and ready when you ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation. That way, when they agree, you can hand over the brag sheet, and they'll immediately have the information they need to write you a glowing recommendation letter.
While teachers will put whatever they feel is best into their letter of rec, a brag sheet is a great way to remind or inform them of qualities you think would be especially impressive to include in your letter. You can't control what they put in your letter, but you can make it easier for them to include the information you want highlighted.
What Does a Brag Sheet Include?
Overall, you want your brag sheet to include your academic and personal strengths. There are lots of ways to do this, but many brag sheets will include the following five sections. Having all this information ensures your letter writing has everything they need to know.
Logistical InformationAt the top of the brag sheet, include your name, the classes the letter writer taught you in, the schools you want them to submit letters to, and deadlines. You can also include your GPA, class rank, etc. if you want your letter writer to include that information. This section is all about making things as clear and easy for your letter writer as possible.
Why You're Asking Them to Write a LetterTeachers dread being asked to write letters of rec from students they don't know particularly well or they don't feel they can write a strong letter for. Avoid this by explaining exactly why you think they'll write you a great letter. You'll make this section specific to each letter writer. Include the impact they had on you, as well as times you really shined with them. This can include great grades you got, times you helped out other classmates, etc. The more details you can include, the better. Specific examples are really what sets the great letters of recommendation apart from average ones. Any teacher can say a particular student is smart or kind or a hard worker, but if they have a great example to back it up, that makes the claim much more interesting and believable.
How You See Yourself
What are your favorite personality traits? What are your greatest strengths? How would you describe yourself? This is your chance to give your letter writer a closer look at who you are and what you value. You can go a lot of different ways with this, so just choose what's important to you.
For example, you might mention that you're really dedicated to your family, you have a big dinner with your relatives every Sunday, and growing up with those close ties made you realize the importance of connection, which led you to want to become a social worker. Or, you could prize yourself on your determination and work ethic, discuss times when you spent a long time on a particular project/class, and say you hope these traits will help you down the line when you start your own business. This section is a way for your letter writer to see who you are outside of the classroom.
Activities You're Involved In
Some students will attach a resume with their brag sheet, highlighting jobs or volunteer positions they've had, as well as extracurriculars they're involved in. It's up to you if you want to do this. Some students don't have a lot to put on a resume while they're still in high school, and others prefer to focus on academic achievements and/or personal characteristics, rather than how they spent their time outside of the classroom. Neither option is better; it's all about what you want colleges to see.
If you don't include a resume, you can include a short section in your brag letter about the activities you're part of. You don't need to include every activity, just the ones most important to you. Bullet points work well for this, where you list the activity, how long you've been involved, how many hours per week you spend on it, and any major awards/achievements you've earned doing it.
Your Plans for the Future
What do you plan on majoring in during college? What kind of career plans do you have for yourself? Give a brief description of them here. If you're not sure, that's fine, just give a general idea, like you want to work with people or put your foreign language skills to use. Knowing your long-term plans can help your letter writers tie in your positive traits to your future goals and show that you're well on your path to success.
Brag Sheet Example
Below is a brag sheet example so you can see what a completed brag sheet looks like. Yours doesn't need to follow this precise format or include all the information the one below does. In fact, it shouldn't, since each brag sheet is specific to the person writing it. Instead, use this example as a brag sheet template to base your own sheet off.
Why I'm Asking You for a Letter
It was while taking your Honors Biology class freshman year that I began to really get excited about science and seriously consider going into medicine as a career. You made the topics we studied so interesting, and I would even read textbook chapters we weren't assigned just to learn more. After I did poorly on my first midterm in Honors Biology, you really encouraged me and gave me tips on how to start studying earlier to be better prepared for tests. This really helped, and it was the main reason I was able to raise my grade to a B+ that semester, and get an A the next semester. I use your study tips in all my classes now, and it has helped me keep my GPA high and maintain an "A" average in AP Biology.
You also always emphasized how important it is to help others, and that's why I started an informal AP Bio study group before every test. Multiple students have told me that these study sessions have helped them be more prepared, and their grades have gone up. I feel like I've become a better scientist and a better person through your classes.
How I See Myself
I think my greatest strength is my strong desire to help people. Seeing people I've helped succeed makes me feel happier than when I succeed alone. For that reason, I always try to assist people who need it. This might mean making dinner for the family when my parents have to stay late at work, staying after school to help a classmate with homework, or printing out guides to help people at the senior home I volunteer at navigate their smartphones. This trait led me to want to become a doctor, especially after I saw how caring doctors who helped my little sister were after she had a long illness when she was in kindergarten.
To be a great doctor though, you need to have a very strong understanding of medical concepts, and my strong work ethic helps me with that. As long as I can see the goal I'm aiming towards, I don't mind putting a lot of time and effort working towards it. It's why I'm able to spend hours preparing for tests, why I've gotten 4s or 5s on every AP exam I've taken, and why I'm in the top 10% of my class based on weighted GPA.
Activities I've Participated In
- Science Olympiad (4 years, 2016-2020)
- Spent 10-20 hours a week studying and preparing for competitions
- Team Captain in 2019-2020
- Studied biology and chemistry topics using college-level textbooks so I could gain a deep knowledge of the subject area.
- Earn 8 medals in state competitions (4 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze)
- Swim Instructor (3 summers, 2017-2020)
- Worked 20-25 hours a week
- Taught children ages 3-15 swimming strokes and water safety
- Always showed up for work on time, was fully responsible for keeping up to 6 children at a time safe in the water, and helped students build their swimming confidence and move to the upper levels of the swimming program. Volunteered to cover regular 6AM classes after my boss mentioned it was hard to find employees willing to get up that early.
- Senior Home Volunteer (2 years, 2018-2020)
- Volunteer about 5 hours each weekend
- Provide company for senior citizens and help them with daily activities such as planning shopping trips, writing emails, learning new technology, etc.
My Future PlansMy dream is to become a rural health doctor and improve the health of people who don't have regular or easy access to healthcare. I've started working towards that goal by taking a lot of math and science classes in high school and working hard to get good grades in them, as well as volunteering at a nursing home so I get more experience helping people. In college, I plan on majoring in human biology and continuing to pursue more volunteer opportunities, hopefully at a hospital. I would also like to work in a lab while in college to continue to build my scientific knowledge.
Tips for a Great Brag Sheet for College
As you're creating your brag sheet, keep these four tips in mind in order to make your brag sheet as strong as possible. Remember, having a great brag sheet makes it more likely that you'll get stronger letters of recommendation!
#1: Make it Personal
If you're asking three people to write you letters of recommendation, expect to have three versions of your brag sheet. The majority of the information can stay the same, but you'll want to tweak each letter so it explains why you're asking that specific person to write you a letter and gives specific examples related to them (such as grades they gave you or projects you worked on in their class). Having these personalized examples in your brag letters makes it more likely your letter writers will use them, and the more personalized they can make their letter, the stronger it'll be.
#2: Include Examples
You'll notice that our brag sheet template included multiple, specific examples of times the student excelled. This is key. Colleges read many, many recommendation letters each year, and after the first thousand or so letters extolling "smart, hard-working, kind" students, they all start to run together. Your letters need to have specific examples to make them stand out, and by including examples in your brag sheet, you make it as easy as possible for your letter writer to include some of their examples in their letter. So mention specific grades you got, projects you worked hard on, times you came to them for advice, times you helped classmates, etc. Those examples are really the backbone of your brag sheet.
#3: Don't Be Afraid to Discuss a Hurdle You Overcame
Some students feel like they need to come off as perfect in their brag sheet, but no one expects that. In fact, discussing a struggle you had can be a great way to show your strengths since colleges love to read about students who persevere in the face of a challenge. So it's OK to mention that your C in freshman math led you to revamp your study routine and become more open to asking for help, or that getting cut from the school soccer team led you to take a volunteer coaching job that showed you how much you love teaching kids. As long as you can show that you made the best of things, showing your struggles can be a great inclusion in your brag sheet.
#4: Keep It Concise
Teachers and counselors often write dozens of letters of recommendation every year, so they won't have time to read through brag sheets that are the size of a novel. Aim to keep your brag sheet no longer than a page or two. Making your answers clear and concise is the best way to ensure your recommender reads all the information and gets your main points. Their own letter won't be longer than a page, so don't overwhelm them with a super-detailed brag sheet. Short and sweet is the way to go.
Summary: Brag Sheet for College
A brag sheet is a short description of your achievements, goals, and strengths that you can give to people you're asking to write your letters of recommendation for college. Brag sheets are very useful because they can help your letter writers know you better, and you can give them examples of information you'd like them to include in your letter. Going over our high school brag sheet example is a great way to understand what you should include in your own brag sheet, but remember that you can (and should!) always personalize your own brag sheet template so you reflect the best parts of yourself. As you create your own letter of recommendation questionnaire, remember to personalize it to the letter writer, include examples, don't be afraid to discuss challenges you overcame, and keep it to no more than two pages long.
Now you have your brag sheet, but how do you go about asking for letters of recommendation? This article breaks down how to request a letter of recommendation, step by step.
College admissions get more and more competitive every year, so you want to present yourself with the best application you can. Read about how to build a versatile college application here.
In order to add recommenders to the Common Application, first you have to respond to the FERPA waiver. Read all about what it means and how it affects your right to access your letters of recommendation.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.