personal descriptors: avoiding unsuspected negative connotations

<p>After it was too late to benefit S, I read on CC that there are certain seemingly harmless adjectives which are being used by GC's on college recommendations to subtly communicate a perception about a child, and/or these words might be interpreted in a negative way by an Adcom. One example given was the adjective "hardworking," which could be code for "grind" or "isn't that smart and had to work very, very hard for those grades and scores" </p>

<p>Lo and behold, our school's guidance dept. just asked parents to fill out a form describing our children's attributes, personal growth, and accomplishments. In a large hs like ours, many students never talk to their GC's; D's GC doesn't know her well at all. While this has been the case for a while, I think the guidance workload is worse than ever so they're resorting to this method. So in that way, this could be a good thing. But it also could be very dangerous if not done carefully.</p>

<p>So, my question is this: what adjectives are a no-no? My D actually is very hard-working, so that might have been one descriptor I would have chosen had I not been forewarned. So then I starting thinking, "How about diligent? No, that could sound like she's a goody-two-shoes who plods along and lacks spontaneity." And from then on every word I thought of developed the potential for evoking an unwanted image!</p>

<p>Secondly, when I discuss an area of growth for D, how do I avoid indirectly implying she lacked that quality before? Suppose I would like to say D has become much more focused on her interests since the start of high school. Could that make them think she was unfocused and scattered before?</p>

<p>And how about this question: What personal qualities/characteristics set your child apart from others? Wow, what if your kid is pretty typical? Or what if S/D really is spectacular? How do you avoid sounding braggy? I mean, my D has strengths, but I'm not convinced they are so exceptional that they set her apart. Other top students would necessarily have many of the same traits.</p>

<p>It seems to me like this 2-page questionnaire has so many possible pitfalls that I shudder to think of what harm a parent could unwittingly do!</p>

<p>Wait! Since when does a parent have any say in what a GC or teacher recommendation states?</p>

<p>Parent's don't have a say, per se. but it's very common for big public schools to have kids fill out a "brag packet" that also includes a hypothetical "parent letter to admissions officer" and peer recommendation. Counselors have a caseload of up to 500 kids each and in my D's case, her counselor has been different almost every year of hs. Didn't know about these adjectives that are off limits. In my book, if this is true, the college isn't worth it. There's too much angst already surrounding this process.</p>

<p>The rationale is that they want to be able to write a more detailed and better-informed letter, and so are asking for parental input. They've never done this before, so my guess is that it doesn't stem from a sudden greater conscientiousness to do a good job, but rather from them not having the time to do it AT ALL anymore.</p>

<p>This is very typical and is called a brag sheet. It is meant to give teachers a sense of who the student is outside of the classroom context. Since it's a brag sheet, it's okay to brag. The teacher does not have to include in the recommendation the over-the-top and inaccurate image the parents of the student the parents are trying to put over.</p>

<p>I believe words to be avoided are "diligent, conscientious, hard-working" and other descriptors that would suggest that the student is a good-two shoes grind.
It's okay to talk about growth; it's what the teen years are for, after all.</p>

<p>Our GC asks parents for information about our kids. They call it the Parent Brag Sheet. I assume some of that information makes it way into her recommendation. (For my older son I'm pretty sure what we shared was what got my son the "Technology Award" at one of the Award ceremonies. After taking AP Comp
Sci as a freshman in high school there was nothing else he did at school.</p>

<p>Here are the questions we were asked:</p>

<ol>
<li>What do you believe to be your child's outstanding accomplishments during the past three or four years? Why did you select these particular accomplishments?</li>
<li>In what areas has your child shown the most development during the past three or four
years?</li>
<li> What do you consider to be your child's outstanding personality and academic traits?</li>
<li>Are there any unusual or especially challenging circumstances that have affect your child's school experiences?</li>
<li>Please feel free to use the back of this paper to make additional comments or if your responses do not fit in the spaces provided.</li>
</ol>

<p>For S2, I talked about some of his activities outside school, about his interest in history and how he shares that interest at home, about his origami earring business, and about how the fact that he dropped a 504 plan has probably had an impact on his grades in some of his courses. I gave specific example - i.e. that he contintued to finish books he'd use for a paper, or that he read certain magazines on the subject or that his interest in history has found use in a project cataloging the archives of the neighborhood association.</p>

<p>The GCs around here have hundreds of students - there is no way they can know them well unless they are superstars, superinvolved in school activities or constantly in trouble.</p>

<p>mathmom, that sounds like the same sheet we got. Our school just installed Naviance, so maybe it came with the package?</p>

<p>My daughter's school has every student send a self-prepared resume with every college application. The advantage is that a resume can include things that applications don't ask and counselors might not know or think important. You never know what might catch the eyes of the admissions committee. My daughter just won second place in a bake-off at her school. I told her to put it on her resume. Why? It's a conversation starter in an interview. And it's humorous. A great student bakes?</p>

<p>My son found out that one teacher's recommendation letters were really form letters, because a male student's had the "she" and "her" pronouns. OOPS!</p>

<p>A little comic relief: My CT requested a list of personal qualities from my class as well, though she knew all of us personally so I assume it's more for reducing the workload and helping to spark the testimonial-writing process. Apparently, one of my classmates listed "having a sunshine smile" as one of her key positive traits. Now that is one to avoid... it screams "I've got nothing better to say" ;)</p>

<p>
[quote]
I believe words to be avoided are "diligent, conscientious, hard-working" and other descriptors that would suggest that the student is a good-two shoes grind.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>This is sad on two levels. First, it's a shame that "diligent, concientious, and hardworking" are interpreted as something other than "diligent, concientious, and hardworking." Second, it's a shame that kids are dinged for being "goody two shoes."</p>

<p>Good thing (:eek: !!??) my kid's not diligent, concientious, or hardworking. Certainly wouldn't want that to be held against him. I plan to submit "witty, musical, and thoughtful" into the app-o-matic machine. I'm dying to find out what translations come out the other end.</p>

<p>This college process gets weirder and weirder everyday. :rolleyes:</p>

<p>From a thread I started a waaaay long time ago:</p>

<p>
[quote]
Quote:
Originally Posted by momrath
Someone who has an opinion, asks good questions, listens, can contribute, laughs a lot, loves life, takes pride in what s/he does, wants to take on the world. This is the spark that the selective colleges are looking for.
</p>

<p>And it is precisely that required indefinable "it" or "spark" , that which makes interesting people interesting, that had escaped me until CC. It had escaped me that "it" has to shine through all parts of the app-essays, rec's, ec's you name it. Let your numbers stay dry -they just go in as variables in some arcane formula which spits out an index number. It's the "it" that separates you from the poor slobs who don't have "it". The deferred, the wait-listers, and the never-wuzzers.</p>

<p>I quite literally had no idea about the process. I naively and incorrectly assumed that those with the highest "objective" performance marks-whatever those may be-would be the most likely admits to the selective colleges.</p>

<p>You have to admit that phrases like hard-working, diligent, persistent, driven, goal oriented, career-oriented, and motivated to succeed are rarely considered in our culture as anything but positives. Only in this selective school admission process have I heard those traits considered as anything but very high praise. I am not arguing whether they should or should not be-I am a convert. I believe. I'm only interested in what "is" in this regard. Not what I think should be. I don't plan on running a one-person crusade for BWRK's, or high stat dullards because my student is neither. Someone else can fight that battle.</p>

<p>I am just incredibly thankful that I can give a vocabulary primer to those writing D's rec's, as I would assume that without it they may have inadvertently made D sound like a grade grubber or stat monger or ec hound when in fact they were attempting to praise her as one of the finest students in their career. Brilliant and edgy risk-taker. Artsy, yet passionate...they would all say that if they knew it was what the adcoms were looking for in a student. They'd say it because it is true. They just didn't know that was what was needed in a rec letter.</p>

<p>I think back to D's first sort of interview where in response to a basic intro question she rattled of a list of accomplishments with a few shrugs and aww shucks thrown in for good measure. Looking back I can see that the interviewer was asking followup questions that elicited D's competitive streak, career orientation, and how hard she worked . The interviewer would embellish each facet and then spit it back at her multiplied. D didn't flinch at the caricature of herself the interviewer presented as a "winning is important, wanna-be doctor, work 24/7 to get 2 extra credit points on a paper to stay ranked number one" kinda student. D just went for it hook, line and sinker. She had no idea she was being played. </p>

<p>She was a sophomore. I was 48. We didn't have a clue.</p>

<p>Now we know, thanks to CC.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>LOL! Only in the realm of college applications could "hard working" be considered a character defect!</p>

<p>FWIW, I had to the the same sort of thing, (DD's school has Naviance). I believe that I characterized her as "conscientious," "always tries to be well prepared," and "highly organized." </p>

<p>My DH writes a lot of grad school recommendations for his students (he's a professor) and reads a lot of applications. Generally speaking there are far too many of them for him to dwell on the nuances of this or that single word. If what's important is going to be pretty obvious. I've seen plenty of recommendations that begin ,"While not the smartest student in the class, X..." and have been absolutely glowing despite that.</p>

<p>I don't think kids are dinged for being hardworking-- I think adcom's at some schools want perspective on who the kids with the perfect GPA's are who are up until 2 am studying for every quiz... vs. the kid with the 3.6 who adds insightful comments to every class discussion, read voraciously outside of class, have lots of interests apart from the HS curriculum, etc. Otherwise, the really stunning students with less than perfect academic records don't get noticed.</p>

<p>GFG- be descriptive and honest. If your kid is a flake, even if Mom writes a book about what a serious and diligent student you've got, it isn't going to matter. Similarly, if teachers comment that your D has fantastic insights into the Victorian novel-- it won't matter that you've written that she plugs away at whatever trivial assignment she gets.</p>

<p>I just don't think you can game the system if you're at a big public school with an overworked guidance department. All my GC knew about me in HS was that I had never been arrested. (or that if I had, and if I'd been convicted, the record had been sealed). But with a ratio of 1/200 what can you expect??? Just outline what your kid does when she's not at school and you'll be fine.</p>

<p>Hmmm... In place of "hard-working," what about "enthusiastically throws herself into her work inside and outside the classroom" ... or "her work reflects unparalleled passion and commitment" ... or "consumes knowledge voraciously" ... or "genuinely loves working her buns off at whatever she does" ...?</p>

<p>We don't have anything like the forms you folks are describing -- all the faculty know all the students very well at geek_son's school -- but we put together a packet for his recommenders that included (aside from the forms, instructions, and pre-addressed stamped envelopes) some information about his first-choice college, what the college was looking for, how we thought he fit in, what we hoped would be conveyed in his application and recs overall, and how we thought each of their recs might help to flesh out the package. That sounds like a lot of stuff, but it was just one page with a table and a few paragraphs, plus a page from the college's Web site. The faculty seemed to find that very helpful.</p>

<p>When I think of ds, I think of the word earnest. Negative?</p>

<p>We do a brag sheet for our kids for the GC. Even though the GC knew both my kids fairly well it helps to give them an idea of what the kid does that the GC might not know about. For instance, DS helped tutor a bunch of fellow sportsmen so that they could keep their eligibility. He did it on his own time to help the team. GC wouldn't have known about it if it wasn't on the brag sheet.
On the other hand, there was a thread on this a while back and I strongly disagree that parents or the child so ever ask a teacher or GC to change or reword a rec letter.</p>

<p>On the Importance of Being Earnest:</p>

<p>I'd want to use a different word. Enthusiastic, inquisitive, full of life, likes to see things through, etc...
Geekmom has it right, Instead of "hard-working, conscientious, diligent" it's better to use </p>

<p>
[quote]
Hmmm... In place of "hard-working," what about "enthusiastically throws herself into her work inside and outside the classroom" ... or "her work reflects unparalleled passion and commitment" ... or "consumes knowledge voraciously" ... or "genuinely loves working her buns off at whatever she does" ...?

[/quote]
</p>

<p>Unfortunately, "conscientious, diligent, hard-working" have been overused by teachers who cannot think of different ways of describing the umpteenth student who asks for a recommendation. Adcoms forget that for many parents, having a conscientious and hard-working teenager would feel so wonderful. They want to see "creative, original, insightful, dynamic, full of life, a leader, and so on. "</p>

<p>I had a chance toglance at the counselor report and she basically copied and pasted my daughter's bragsheet. Next time I know. For D2, I will put brilliant, genius(Eistein level), talented(Steven Spielberg like), etc... :D</p>

<p>I wouldn't use "earnest." Maybe I'm wrong, but mightn't it sound too close to eager-to-please-in-a-brown-nosing/do-gooder/adoring puppy-manner, and thus would lack the element of strong independence and leadership elite schools are looking for?</p>

<p>Unfortunately, our form is asking for three, one-word adjectives. So what's a good adjective for "takes initiative to go above and beyond what's required"?</p>