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College Applications: Guidance Department Input Sheets

“You don’t have to be famous. You just have to make your mother and father proud of you.” – Meryl Streep.

COMPUTERINDIANMOMMany high school guidance departments in my local area of Northern New Jersey distribute input sheets to their students spring of junior year, requesting participation by students and sometimes their parents. They go by many names with slightly different kinds of input. “Brag Sheets” are records of activities or accomplishments, sort of like a resume. “Student and Parent Autobiographical Questionnaires,”  ask for separate prose answers from the perspective of the student and the parent. “Teacher Recommender Input Sheets” are memory-joggers for teachers who will be asked to write college recommendations. To make these forms work hardest for your student, I will offer my perspective on their purpose.

guidancemanwithgirlGenerally, these input tools are intended to: (1) the student prepare for the college process by gathering information and practicing writing about oneself and (2) provide “ammunition” for the guidance counselor or teacher to use in recommendations to make that laborious process a little easier for them. It is especially helpful in large regional high schools, where the student/counselor ratio is unfavorable and it is difficult for a counselor to get to know all of one’s assigned students. These input sheets need to be addressed in a timely, thorough, and serious way, with the help of parents.

resumeBrag sheets that record activities and accomplishments can make the eventual process of developing a resume or filling out the Common App activity section easier. Parents can be helpful in this process, because sometimes they remember awards or activities that may slip the student’s mind. If you have been keeping a file of your son or daughter’s accolades throughout high school, it will be make this process even easier.

motherhappydaughtercomputerQuestionnaires focus on topics that the student may encounter again in college essays, as well as topics guidance counselors will be writing about in their recommendations for the student. These staff members are busy and may not know your student that well. You are not trying to put words in a counselor’s mouth, but articulate, insightful, and well-worded input can make that counselor’s job easier and contribute to a more powerful recommendation.

Whether it is the student or parent questionnaire, remember to use vivid examples, which offer flesh-and-blood evidence for the answer to the question. Rather than a parent writing, “My wonderful child is so brilliantly creative,” it is more cogent to write, “My child has demonstrated creativity through…[model-building, inventing computer apps, winning fiction contests, composing original music].

momboylaptopStudent and parent questionnaires typically ask about outstanding achievements, strengths and weaknesses, school subjects liked/disliked, adjectives to describe the student, favorite activities, community service, family background, what the student is looking for in a college, field of study and career interests, as well as any extenuating circumstances, obstacles, or significant health or learning challenges encountered during the high school years.

dadhugsonWhen guiding clients through these questionnaires, I emphasize “honesty with a positive tonality.” For example, if discussing a student’s on-going health or learning challenge, especially if the teen has an IEP (Individualized Educational Program), talk about how that student is learning to be resourceful and self-advocating in coping with this challenge. Some parents do not choose to communicate about challenges, believing it will work against their son or daughter in the college application process. I believe it can actually help, particularly when it explains why there may have been a drop in grades during a certain time period tied to that circumstance. Young people can show tremendous character growth in face of adverse situations, and I believe they should be given recognition through these questionnaires.

Clever mindTeacher input sheets cover specific information about the class that the student took with that instructor. Of course, teachers write recommendations based on their own recollections of the student’s contributions to the class. Although recommeders are usually 11th grade teachers, their memories are not perfect. Hence, example-based, vivid responses to this questionnaire can “jog” the memory and help the teacher make the student “come alive” for admissions readers. Your student may be able to attach a graded assignment that he or she has kept, if it offers a memorable example.

Typical teacher input questions would be: What was your favorite topic in our class and why? What was your favorite assignment and why? Describe a creative project you did in our class. Describe a significant interaction in our class. How do you feel you contributed to our class?


Finally, I recommend that students and parents return these input sheets well before the deadlines. Guidance counselors often do not have many contacts with your student, unless there is a scheduling problem or issue with a teacher. This is an opportunity to shine with one’s guidance counselor who will, after all, be writing the student’s recommendation and be the first-line-of-contact with admissions counselors on the student’s behalf. You do not want your son or daughter to be the one that the guidance counselor has to “chase down” long after these input deadlines have passed.