How to Answer the Diversity (and Other Related) Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024
After the 2023 SCOTUS decision to ban race-conscious admission was released, many colleges and universities changed their supplemental essay prompts to point pretty directly at diversity in some way. Variations include mentions of identity, race, cultural background, or the importance of inclusivity.
Here’s a running list of colleges that changed their prompts.
FAQ: Do I have to write this essay?
It depends: most of the new supplemental essay prompts are optional, and students are often given the choice between a prompt related to diversity/inclusion or writing about something else altogether. (Side note that in general we recommend writing most optional prompts—they offer another chance to help a college see who you are and how you might fit at their school.)
This guide will walk you through how to answer some of the most common new supplemental essay prompts of this type, including a practical exercise to help you brainstorm essay topics.
Let’s dive in.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What do colleges mean when referring to diversity—is it only about race, a comprehensive brainstorming exercise to help you generate essay ideas.
- The “How will you contribute based on your background/experiences/identities?” prompt
The “social or community issue” prompt
The “experience/conversation with someone who is different from you” prompt, the “how are you different” prompt, how to answer most of the other new supplemental essay prompts.
In short, no. Diversity isn’t just about race.
Think about diversity in a broad sense, as an invitation to talk about all the ways that a) you’re different from other students applying, and b) you’ll be able to contribute to a college community.
For great examples of essays that define “difference” in ways that aren’t related to race, check out examples 2 and 3 on the “How are you different?” prompt.
How do you brainstorm different ways that you add to a campus’ diversity?
For the past several years, we’ve been using the following exercise to help students learn about (and express) how they’re different and how they’ll contribute.
The “ If You Really, Really Knew Me ” Exercise Time: 25 min. (or more, if you’re inspired)
How it works: Make a copy of this exercise template and answer all the questions. Once you’re done, you’ll have a whole bunch of potential essay ideas.
How do all those ideas turn into an essay? It depends on the prompt. Let’s look at some of the new supplemental essay questions, starting with…
The “How will you contribute [based on your background/experiences/identities]?” prompt
This was, by far, the most popular new prompt released or added in 2023. Here are a couple examples of what it looks like in the wild:
A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community.
Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
How do you write this essay? Three steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm (all about you).
Do the “ If You Really, Really Knew Me ” Exercise. Yup, the same one mentioned above.
Step 2: Research the college (learn all about them).
Make a copy of the “Why us” Essay Chart 2.0 , research the school you’re writing your essay for, and fill in the first two columns.
Once you’ve done these exercises, you’ll have a better sense of:
YOU: A bunch of different talents/skills/identities/qualities that you’ll bring to a college campus, and
THEM: A variety of programs/courses/clubs/affinity groups that your college offers.
Step 3: Connect you… to them (i.e., the college you’re applying to).
Make connections between what the school offers and what you’re interested in.
ME: I’m interested in creating original works of theater…
THEM: …Northwestern has a student theater group called Vertigo Productions that according to this article “is dedicated to providing solely original work, with the goal of supporting student writers. Every year they host a 10 Minute Play Festival in which students write and produce their own short plays.”
Then write a sentence describing how you would specifically contribute to the specific opportunity the school offers.
And not like this (bad version, too general): “I’d love to bring my creativity to Northwestern.”
But more like this (better version, more specific): “I’d love to produce one of my original plays during Vertigo’s 10 Minute Play Festival—or help others produce their work—and I’d be excited to bring both my positive “yes and” vibe (that I learned from improv), as well as my characteristic directness (that I learned from my grandmother) when it comes to giving others feedback.”
Use this list of positive qualities to brainstorm 1-2 specific ways you’d contribute.
Make sure what you’re saying isn’t super obvious from elsewhere in your application.
Make sure you’re connecting a specific offering at the school to specific contributions you’d like to make.
Let’s take a look at a few example essays and see what we might be able to learn from them.
Note to Reader: I’ve elected to keep the essay analysis for each essay relatively brief, as this is a pretty long guide and I feared in-depth analyses would make it suuuuuuper long.
Example Essay #1 for the “How would you contribute?” prompt
A note on Bowdoin’s prompt: You have the option to not write this as a “how will you contribute” prompt, considering the “or an experience you have had that required you to navigate across or through difference” language. But the “you may share anything about the unique experiences and perspectives that you would bring with you to the Bowdoin campus and community” can be treated as asking a version of “how will you contribute,” and the example essay below illustrates the approach you’ll want to take with “contribute” essays in general.
Prompt: Bowdoin believes that only through building a more diverse and inclusive campus community will the College best prepare graduates to be contributing and useful citizens of the world. Every graduate of this institution should be confident in their preparation to be able to navigate through differences and in all sorts of situations. A Bowdoin education does not guarantee these skills, but it does impart a set of tools necessary to bravely enter unfamiliar conditions with the confidence to deal effectively with ambiguity. If you wish, you may share anything about the unique experiences and perspectives that you would bring with you to the Bowdoin campus and community or an experience you have had that required you to navigate across or through difference.
I believe in the power of small acts of service. After witnessing the plight of Middle Eastern migrant workers left at sunrise in desert mountains with nothing but a broom, a bottle of water, and a single meal to last the day, I felt helpless. Globalization often comes at the cost of thousands of immigrant lives, but the realization that there was little I could do to ease their anguish affected me deeply. In that moment, I found my calling as an advocate.
Analysis: This opening illustrates what screenwriters sometimes call the Inciting Incident (i.e., the moment that started it all)—in this case, it was the moment that inspired the author to take action.
Notice how the author shares a) what they witnessed, b) how it impacted them, c) why it impacted them, and d) a statement of resolve (decision to do something about it).
Q to consider as you’re exploring your own essays: Was there a moment for you that started it all? What was your Inciting Incident, if there was one?
When I returned home, I was determined to give back to my own community. Working at the NJ Help Center has enabled me to spend a lot of time with immigrant families like mine, translating applications for housing aid and health insurance while immersing myself in stories of their escapes from war-torn countries and crippling economies. Soon, I realized how great an impact small exchanges could have.
Analysis: Here the author highlights specific actions they took as a result of what they witnessed, and again shares the impact it had on their thinking.
Note that even though this particular activity may have been mentioned in their Activities List , one of the important values of your supplemental essays is to bring to life and give context to these experiences.
Q to consider: How did your extracurricular activities impact you? Could you use your supplemental essay(s) to include details and information about your “why” that isn’t and can’t really be shown in your Activities List?
At Bowdoin, I’ll continue to work towards building a community for myself and others. By joining fEMPOWER , I can work alongside peers to directly engage with social justice issues and increase female representation on campus and beyond. Through the Muslim Student Alliance , I hope to facilitate interfaith dialogue. And as a dad jokes connoisseur who thrives on improv, I can’t wait to spread laughter and joy across campus. And some day, in addition to becoming a universal helping hand, I hope to become the first hijabi U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a journey I embarked on at Bowdoin.
Analysis: Note how this author includes specific opportunities available at Bowdoin: fEMPOWER and the Muslim Student Alliance. (I’ve bolded them above, but you don’t need to highlight these in your final submission.)
The author doesn’t just mention these on their own, however, or simply say “...and these seem great!” Instead, the author includes specific language about how they’ll engage with these opportunities and how they’ll contribute:
- “By joining fEMPOWER, I can work alongside peers to directly engage with social justice issues and increase female representation on campus and beyond” and
- “Through the Muslim Student Alliance, I hope to facilitate interfaith dialogue.
Example Essay #2 for the “How would you contribute?” prompt
Prompt: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? (200 words)
I'm a non-binary neuromarketing nerd, a Renaissance Being at heart. At Columbia, I’d found a neuromarketing club to introduce this emerging field to peers, join the Queer Alliance, cook traditional Estonian sauerkraut for my roommates at Christmas, and join the Chinese Calligraphy club to expand my repertoire and teach others the rare scripts I’ve learned.
Analysis: Many “how will you contribute” prompts ask for essentially two major components:
- Who are you/how did you become you?
- How will you contribute to the diversity of our campus (based on/link to the things in part 1.)?
Notice that Columbia’s prompt doesn’t directly ask for much of part 1, though, and so this student spends most of their word count focusing on great specific examples for part 2 (how they’ll contribute). Both paragraphs point to a few different aspects of identity/background, while the second paragraph below dives into really nice detail and “so what” reflection.
Most significantly, I’d draw from my experience with the Human Library Organization where I’m a book curious people read to learn about embracing stigmatized gender identities. By conducting conversations with international readers, I help ensure non-binary people are not only recognized but celebrated. At Columbia, I’d love to arrange a Human Library event on campus, empowering any minoritized students (international, of color, first generation, neurodivergent, etc.) with a platform to share and process their experiences, simultaneously giving me and others a chance to learn from them. Estonia is 99% white, so I’m particularly eager to learn from non-white students in a safe space promoting open dialogue. A mini version would also make a fun addition to the Queer Alliance’s LGBTQ+ fall mixer and contribute a new way of embracing each others’ cultural differences, ultimately fostering a more cohesive and dynamic community on campus.
Analysis: This paragraph is a great example to emulate regarding really specific details about the school and how you will engage with/through them.
Key element: Notice that every single detail about Columia has a “so what”—a specific discussion of why this is important to the student and how they want to engage. For example: “empowering any minoritized students (international, of color, first generation, neurodivergent, etc.) with a platform to share and process their experiences, simultaneously giving me and others a chance to learn from them.”
Example Essay #3 for the “How would you contribute?” prompt
Prompt: Describe how your experiences, perspectives, talents, and/or your involvement in leadership activities (at your school, job, community, or within your family) will help you to make an impact both in and out of the classroom while enrolled at UT. (maximum 40 lines, or approximately 250-300 words)
As Co-Head of Roman2Roman, a program intended to help integrate incoming ninth-graders into my school community, I have become a creative, open-minded, and empathetic leader by understanding the dynamics of communication and responsibility. From leading bi-weekly committee meetings to pairing 135 freshmen with older mentors, coordinating with administrators, planning and orchestrating events for 350 people, and finding unique ways to involve the greater community, my role in the R2R program has equipped me with managerial skills that will be helpful in college and beyond. As a result of my leadership experience, I was selected to be Co-Head of The Student Service Learning Board. In this role, I organized successful food, clothing, and book drives, in addition to planning meal-packing projects for the homeless, card-design activities for veterans, and beach clean-ups to support local parks, all of which involved participants ages K-12. Within my family’s Farm Foundation, I also assumed leadership responsibilities as I coordinated our annual Thanksgiving meal donation at the local fire station which entailed fundraising, communications, purchasing, packaging, and operations.
Here at the 172-word point the author transitions from “what I’ve already done” to how my experience at UT-Austin might “prepare [me] to "Change the World" after [I] graduate.”
As a Longhorn, I hope to expand my leadership opportunities and make a lasting impact on the UT community. Through establishing meaningful connections among R2R members, and understanding the importance of an inclusive community, I am interested in getting involved with The Transfer Student Agency of Student Government as a way to help incoming transfer students integrate into the UT community. I’d love to participate in The McCombs Leadership Program to hone my leadership skills through retreats and workshops focusing on cooperation, communication, and contributions to society. Hunger and Homelessness Outreach would also be an ideal opportunity for me to continue my leadership and service and utilize my experiences on the SSLB and my family’s farm foundation to organize volunteer opportunities to aid members of the Austin community.
Brief analysis: Note again all the UT-Austin specifics the author includes. For fun, you can usually spot these by scanning for capital letters—these usually signify a particular program, course, professor, club, or extracurricular opportunity.
Again, note that each time the author mentions something specific about the school they connect it back to either a) how they’d benefit from, or b) how they’d contribute to each opportunity.
And here are a couple more example essays without analysis, just to illustrate slight variations in approach, but still include the “how will you contribute” elements.
Prompt: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)*
Growing up in a family of journalists and economists, I’ve developed an inquisitive, attentive eye for my surroundings. I was raised in Rio de Janeiro and reflected daily on inequality, passing favelas and luxury condominiums on my walk to school. Reading Grandpa’s urbanism articles, I became politically aware and keen on solutions for inclusive, sustainable cities. Family dinners discussing topics from Amazonian ecospirituality to Andean civilizations fed my thirst for the unknown and taught me the value of learning through collaboration. World encyclopedia in my backpack: I set out to explore. My passion for socio-environmental impact and volunteering led me to witness diverse realities. Families’ diets reliant on dumpsites; inflated hospital gloves as refugee kids’ only toy; 13-year-old moms in riverine communities; Amazonian indigenous shamans’ eco-rituals. Immersions exposed me to different perspectives and made me rethink my life and beliefs. At Columbia, I’ll collaborate for fairer realities and further broaden my worldview, learning from my peers’ unique backgrounds. I’ll challenge my beliefs with intercultural dialogues at Symposium, volunteer across NYC with COO, and promote campus diversity by organizing the Brazilian Society’s cultural events and sharing my experiences in class. Columbia will be my micro-scale world to contribute to and explore. (200 words) — — —
Prompt: At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)
I have big feet (size 9.5 to be exact). Unfortunately, the global carbon footprint is much bigger than that. By teaming up with Green Futures Youth and PennEnvironment, I became committed to sustainable living. I realized there is no better feeling than waking up at 6am with a group of strangers and planting a patch of potatoes at your local park or holding a food drive for the community fridge. Out on the field, with everyone’s hands smeared in dirt, friendships are rooted. At Penn, there are numerous opportunities available to students to promote sustainable living. Joining the Student Eco-Reps group, I can promote the Penn Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0 that encompasses the very goals—minimizing waste, eating local, learning sustainability—I try to push for in my own community. I hope that I, alongside my fellow Quakers, can help utilize more space on campus for nature and potentially implement a geo-thermally heated campus. At a university where nature is prescribed (Nature Rx program), it is inevitable that UPenn will encourage me to mark my footprint in the soil, changing the environment for the better, one step at a time. — — —
Getting clearer? Cool. Now let’s look at some of the other prompts you might run into…
First, here are some examples of this prompt (underlining is mine):
Boston University: Reflect on a social or community issue that deeply resonates with you. Why is it important to you, and how have you been involved in addressing or raising awareness about it ?
Boston College: Boston College’s founding in 1863 was in response to society’s call. That call came from an immigrant community in Boston seeking a Jesuit education to foster social mobility. Still today, the University empowers its students to use their education to address society’s greatest needs. Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you and how might you use your Boston College education to address it ?
Note the slight differences in these prompts, underlined above. One focuses on how you have already been involved (in high school), while the other asks you to imagine how you will be, or hope to be, involved, and how your education at the college or university you’re applying to can help you do so (but keep in mind that with prompts like the second one, it’s still useful to show how you have already been involved—you’ll just spend a lot more time showing how that school will help you to level up your involvement).
Example Essay #1 for the “social or community issue?” prompt
Prompt for Boston University: Reflect on a social or community issue that deeply resonates with you. Why is it important to you, and how have you been involved in addressing or raising awareness about it? (300 words) (Note: This essay wasn’t originally written for Boston University, but it could have worked well for it.)
The last sliver of the sun disappears over a perfect wave as I ride toward shore. My beautiful home should have made me an idealist, but no… I’m a pessimist. I was raised on science, not faith, and pessimism is a possible side effect. I brush my teeth, climb into bed, and think about our future rising sea levels and supervolcano eruptions. I can’t ignore the fish migrations caused by climate change that will ultimately doom my home and, eventually, our world. But, though I know the world is doomed, I love this world, and I’d do anything to prevent it from utter destruction.
Here at the 104-word mark the author transitions from “Why is it important to you” into answering “how have you been involved in addressing or raising awareness about it?”
I joined forces with my sworn enemies, the optimists, with Heal the Bay’s Pier Aquarium and MPA watch, spreading messages of environmental protection while teaching the community about ocean creatures and monitoring wrongdoing at local beaches. I intensified my battle by interning with UCLA’s LCC Civil and Environmental engineering lab, which designs sustainable building materials. My project focused on the dissolution kinetics of calcite with organic ligands at high pH to simulate cementitious environments, and my results have applications for sequestering CO2. Knowing the future doesn’t make me want to give up, instead it makes me want to test the limits of what I can accomplish. Unlike my optimistic counterparts, I have accepted what’s coming, so I’ll be ready, at least more ready than anyone else, to stop the unstoppable. And if I fail, what does it matter? That asteroid was totally coming anyway!
Brief Analysis + What You Can Learn from This Essay:
- Here, the author uses their supplemental essay to give context to activities mentioned in their Activities List, sharing with us not simply the details of what they did, but why those experiences mattered to them.
- The author also includes some “geeky language” (like “the dissolution kinetics of calcite with organic ligands at high pH to simulate cementitious environments”) which helps us see just how deep they went into it. Pro tip: If you decide to include a bit of jargon, keep it to a sentence or two—as this student does—no need to write long jargon-filled paragraphs.
- The author also uses the ending to show another value and quality of character that’s important to him—a sense of (dark) humor.
Example Essay #2 for the “social or community issue?” prompt
The essay below was originally written for an old prompt from Barnard (FYI: Here’s the guide to the current Barnard essays), but it could easily be adapted to work for the Boston College prompt above, which reads “Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you and how might you use your… education to address it?”
I am interested in questions surrounding gender justice and sexual violence, specifically their intersection with economics and politics. At Barnard, I hope to ask difficult questions surrounding women, labor, and safety. Specifically, I hope to research sexual violence, enrolling in Professor Tolonen’s class ECON 3063, “Women in Development Economics.” By joining this class, I will ask: In what ways are the impacts of sexual violence gender-specific? Do such experiences have an impact on the way women’s economic roles are viewed in society? I would also like to lean into the legal implications of sexual violence cases. By taking the colloquium on “Law and Violence,” I could learn about instances where the law warrants different forms of violence. What makes violence permissible in these cases? What are the methods that inform these legal determinations? I believe I can start to answer these important questions as a student at Barnard College. At Barnard, I also hope to learn about poverty and labor. In high school I started “BISC Comes Forward,” a social media campaign that revealed inequalities faced by janitorial staff. This campaign underlined the poverty experienced by working women. I questioned why the government fails to intervene in helping widowers with children who are living under the poverty line. As I major in Economics and Politics at Barnard, I will explore these intersections between class and gender. Through BC3019: “Labor Economics,” I hope to study various labor theories to understand the government's lack of intervention in cases of earnings gaps. From a young age, my mother taught me to be an independent thinker. When I was young my questions were small. As I grew up my questions only got bigger. At Barnard, I can ask these big questions, hopefully finding significant answers along the way.
- Note that the first two sentences of the essay address the first part of the prompt: “Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you…?” and the tone here is clear and direct, which works very well.
- Next, the author dives right into the specifics of how they would use their education to address these issues, citing specific courses they would take.
- And notice how each time the author mentions a specific course or opportunity, they connect back to something specific they hope to learn, or a way they hope to grow. You can do this too—in fact, I’d encourage it.
Examples of this prompt type include (again, underlining is mine):
Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you ?
Claremont McKenna College: A critical part of fulfilling our mission is living out the commitments of CMC’s Open Academy: Freedom of Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, and Constructive Dialogue. We want to learn more about your commitment to listening and learning from others with different viewpoints, perspectives, and life experiences from your own. Describe a time when engaging with someone about a specific topic resulted in you changing your attitude, belief, or behavior, or you changed the belief or behavior of someone else. What was the change that occurred for you, and what facilitated that change? What did you learn from that experience, and how has it informed how you engage with others ?
Note that while there’s a lot of overlap between prompts of this type, there can be subtle differences. For example, both focus on engaging with people with different viewpoints, but for the first prompt above, you don’t need to address at all whether you or the other person changed your/their mind in some way. But for the second prompt, you’re being directly asked about how you or they changed , and also specifically about how the engagement informed how you engage with others (note that you could talk about that in regard to the first prompt as well, but “how did these conversations/experiences influence you?” is more open-ended).
Keep in mind that, in general for prompts like these, it’s not really about being right or wrong—your goal is to show that you can engage in productive dialogue around complex topics. Because you’re going to need to do that a lot in college.
But good news—you can probably write one essay that answers both prompts, assuming you’re applying to two schools with similar prompts.
Here are a couple sample essay for this type of prompt—see analysis below for more:
Example Essay #1 for the “experience/conversation with someone who is different from you” prompt
A racist culture pervades my small town of Maryville, Tennessee. To outsiders, we seem complicit in this racism through our mascot: the Rebels. In August, my school voted me as Mrs. MHS: awarded to the student who contributes the most to the school and community through extracurriculars, academics, and community service and embodies the “Rebel spirit.” I was grateful for the award, but appalled when the latter label was bestowed upon me. So, the girl who embodied the Rebel spirit rebelled. “Whether you like it or not, our mascot has foundations in racism. Changing the mascot is the bare minimum that we owe to the students that have been affected by the racism this mascot fuels,” began my (now infamous) social media post. My post was reposted, sent in groups, and met with intense hatred. “The snowflakes won’t let us have anything these days. It’s literally a mascot,” read the most popular comment, insinuating that I was being overly sensitive. The student who wrote this, leader of a group called “Save the Rebels,” ensured that I was alienated as one of the few local supporters. I messaged him and transformed an argumentative discourse into a healthy, multiple-day discussion about the roots and depiction of the mascot. We researched each other’s sources and began to understand the opposing side’s perspective. Yet, as we made progress, his friends pulled him away from breaking the barriers of polarization with me. Incorporating the lessons I learned from this experience into future dialogues, I believe it would be increasingly impactful for the defenders of the mascot to hear the testimonials of students of color to substantiate my claim that the mascot brought about pain. I would also want to create a safe space where individuals can exchange differing perspectives and attempt to understand each other’s position without fear of social pressure. At [name of school], I hope to contribute to an environment free of judgment, where I can use the tools that I’ve gained to pave the way for a more effective, respectful dialogue.
The structure used here is one you can learn from, and follows this simple format:
- Set up the Inciting Incident (i.e., moment that started it all) in the first paragraph, or as succinctly as you can.
- Share what you did about it, perhaps including (as this author does) what the response was.
- Finally, share what you learned from the engagement.
- In the end, the author didn’t find a perfect or happy ending—and that can be totally fine. That happens all the time in life. But you still get a sense of what they’ll bring to a college campus and how they’ll engage with difference, which is the point of this essay.
Note that the essay above wouldn’t quite work for the second prompt, since the story doesn’t fit the “Describe a time when engaging with someone about a specific topic resulted in you changing your attitude, belief, or behavior, or you changed the belief or behavior of someone else” aspect. Why? They started to engage, but neither actually changed.
But the final paragraphs can work to some degree for the part of the prompt that reads: “What did you learn from that experience, and how has it informed how you engage with others?”—though ideally they’d address ways they’ve already changed and not just how they hope to engage with others.
If this essay were responding to a prompt that asks about “how has it informed how you engage…”, I’d encourage the author to include a few details about work they’ve already done and how they’ve already changed… before including the part about how they hope to be different going forward.
Example Essay #2 for the “experience/conversation with someone who is different from you” prompt
I probably argue with my grandfather more than I do with most other people combined. It’s not because we’re at odds. We just have different perspectives, influenced by our experiences—his as a life-long resident of India, mine as a first-generation American. One pretty common argument we have is over Eastern vs. Western medicine. My solution to a headache, for example, is to take Advil. His is to rub Tiger Balm on his forehead and coconut oil on the soles of his feet. I try to convince him of the benefits of taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, describing how it can reduce inflammation by blocking the production of certain chemicals. He tries to convince me that the balm creates a cooling effect, distracting the brain from pain and relaxing the muscles. Rather than becoming sore at or resentful of each other, we’ve grown closer through these debates, and I’ve learned how to disagree without letting the situation get acrimonious. Through these interactions, I’ve learned that a discussion shouldn’t be confrontational. The purpose isn’t to win, but to share my knowledge with the other party and learn from them as well. So rather than saying, “Rubbing balm on your forehead is stupid; you should just take Advil,” I say, “While rubbing balm on your forehead seems to work, I’ve noticed that taking an Advil has a stronger and more immediate effect.” Respecting the opposing party makes them more willing to hear you out. I’ve also learned there’s a fine line between logic and emotion. I try not to take personally the things my grandfather says in an argument. Just because he doesn’t think taking Advil is the better solution doesn’t mean he thinks I’m stupid. If I take it that way, we begin to move away from what the argument really was about—the facts. I’ll continue to apply these learnings in discussions and debates I have with others, realizing that having a “successful argument” isn’t about winning. It’s about sharing my opinion and learning from theirs, expanding our perspectives without alienating each other.
As with the example essay above, the structure is straightforward, one you could potentially use, and slightly different from the other example:
- In the first paragraph, the author succinctly describes the person with whom they disagree, and is careful to demonstrate understanding and perspective by saying, “We just have different perspectives, influenced by our experiences.”
- Next, the author gets into some specifics. Notice that, here, the author isn’t describing a single example but a variety of examples—either approach can work, depending on the specific phrasing of the prompt you’re working on.
- “I’ve learned how to disagree without letting the situation get acrimonious.”
- “I’ve learned that a discussion shouldn’t be confrontational.”
- “I’ve also learned there’s a fine line between logic and emotion.”
- And the author expands briefly, in each case, on what each lesson means or why the lesson is important to them (e.g., “Respecting the opposing party makes them more willing to hear you out.”)
This essay—in particular the ending—does a nice job describing how these experiences informed how the author will engage with others, and as an admission officer I’d have a pretty clear sense of the kind of person they’d be in a college classroom.
Here’s another prompt you might encounter:
Examples of this prompt include:
Duke University: “We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community.”
Dartmouth College: “ ‘It’s not easy being green…’ was the frequent refrain of Kermit the Frog. How has difference been a part of your life, and how have you embraced it as part of your identity and outlook?”
Note that, as we mentioned above regarding diversity, “difference” can mean a lot of different things.
Check out the examples and analyses below to see a few different approaches to this type of prompt.
Example Essay #1 for the “How are you different?” prompt
As a light-skinned, soft-spoken, empathetic, and analytical Black woman, a lot of times I have felt that I am not a part of my own community. Many of my family members ask me why I relate so much to the East Asian community and culture. This, of course, has led me to question whether or not community is only skin deep. I became engrossed in the East Asian community at a young age. My dad, an international pilot, often brought movies home from China. One day he brought home Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. He described it as something similar to Alice in Wonderland. I could truly see myself in the Miyazaki’s heroines: from how they transcended their roles in life to how they met obstacles with resilience and bravery, these heroines helped me feel less alone. I evolved from watching Miyazaki movies to joining anime clubs, to reading East Asian philosophy, and eventually studying the works of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. This culminated in a trip to Japan last summer as a People to People: Student Ambassador. Immersed in the culture, I visited a Japanese high school, hiked Mt. Fuji, soaked in an onsen, and experienced a deep connection with my homestay family, the Mishimas. Through being a part of the East Asian community, I have explored answers to metaphysical questions, prayed at a Shinto shrine, and realized that community is a state of mind, much more than skin deep.
This essay could work well for either of the sample prompts listed above, as well as others.
Note the clear, straightforward structure—one that you could potentially use if answering this prompt:
- Values she’s gained from the characters she’s connected with (“resilience and bravery”)
- How these values have shaped her (“these heroines helped me feel less alone”)
If you’re writing for this type of prompt, consider answering these two questions:
- What values has your difference (however you define it) helped you develop?
- How have these values shaped you? In short, answer “so what?”
If possible, and with the word limit remaining, continue answering “so what,” as this author does.
Important note: Even though the essay above describes a racial and cultural difference, your “how I’m different” essay does not need to be about race.
Example Essay #2 for the “How are you different?” prompt
Main hobby is ride shirtless on horseback through heart of prosperous land of great mother Russia while contemplating strategy to hack next presidential election of puny United States. This is not in fact a hobby of mine, but it is most certainly a treasured experience of one of my many alternate personalities: Vladimir Putin. Impressions are my art form. But impressions are not just a hobby, they let me understand the roles I play in my life. Sometimes I’m a nerd. Or an environmentalist. Or a Star Wars fanboy. Or even a surfer dude. One of my favorite roles is two-sport varsity athlete. During my sophomore year, I received baseball Honorable Mention All-League and Rookie of the Year awards, and our team missed a CIF championship by two runs. Junior year was my chance to help my team break school history. But a bad hop-induced broken finger in the game before playoffs ruined that chance. So I changed my game plan. I talked to our coach about my helping to manage the team. I traded my glove and bat for a clipboard and pencil, keeping score and tracking pitch counts; I used the data to alter defensive formations based on opponents’ batting tendencies and advise on pitching strategy, allowing us to conserve our ace for the championship. I applied my problem solving skills and led my team from the dugout; our team broke school history for the second year in a row, making it to the CIF championship, falling two runs short of victory. My impressions have let me not just enjoy my inner semi-dictator with a thick Russian accent, but explore and embrace new parts of my identity. Many people are confined by one-dimensional versions of themselves: I’m a lawyer, I’m an athlete, I’m Batman. In reality, people are so much more complex. Understanding that fact when I broke my finger and could no longer be the “two-sport varsity athlete” allowed me to adapt, to become the honorary coach and contribute to my team. My life is truly one big series of impressions.
- Again, note that “differences” need not be only about race—we get a lot of interesting detail that shows us who this student will be / what they bring to a community without any mention of race here.
- Just as the previous author did, this author points to specific values that their difference(s) have helped them develop, including the ability to adapt (to a new role), lead (as honorary coach), and contribute.
- One thing that helps this essay stand out is the clever opening—you might consider writing a creative hook to grab the reader’s attention.
And, just to show you that this can go a number of different ways, here’s…
Example Essay #3 for the “How are you different?” prompt
Note: The next essay on “impressions” and the one below it on “construction” were both written for the UC prompt #8, which asks about what else makes you stand out as an applicant, but could have worked for the prompts above and many others.
Five years ago I took up a job in construction from a couple of neighbors who needed help doing a demolition job on an old house. I saw this as an opportunity to help pay bills around the house as well as cover my own personal expenses. I did a good enough job that my neighbors told me that, if I wanted, I could continue working with them. It has been a demanding job and I made numerous mistakes at first, like using the wrong tools for different tasks or the wrong size screw. On occasion, I was scolded for my mistakes and I felt incompetent, as I wasn’t able to complete tasks as fast as my co-workers. There were even days that I considered quitting, but I stuck with it. Since then, I've built, repaired, and remodeled numerous homes for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. I’ve removed and replaced carpets; broken down walls as well as driveways; installed cabinets, lights, both wood and tile flooring; and painted room after room. Working in construction has made me feel like a bigger part of society, because I’m shaping the buildings and offices my community uses. Although I don’t make the choices in design, my workmanship is reflected in every job I’ve done. Because of this, my most memorable projects are those that I’ve taken on by myself. It has been a personally fulfilling experience—there’s just something about peeling away the last strip of tape off a new floor that’s indescribable—and getting to see hours of planning, preparation, and work come together is such a rewarding experience. The best part? Knowing that some family will get to enjoy my work. But this is not what I will do the rest of my life. There are other ways I can help cover my family’s expenses, and getting a degree is the next step. In fact, I have a feeling that would be an even more fulfilling journey.
Sometimes students ask us, “Is it okay to write about a work experience?” The answer is: Absolutely. In fact, it could be the thing that sets you apart.
Again—and I know I sound like a broken record here—it’s essential to let the reader know what values this experience has helped you develop, as this author did:
- Par 1: Commitment to supporting the family (colleges love to hear about this!) and create autonomy (cover their own personal expenses)
- Par 2: Ability to persevere (even after being criticized)
- Par 3: Ability to adapt to and learn to tackle many different kinds of jobs (see list of responsibilities they’ve taken on)
- Par 4 and 5: The author answers “so what” (being a bigger part of society, feeling a pride in and ownership of their work)
- Ending: The biggest “so what” is the knowledge that there is more for them to do and learn—in college and beyond. (Side note: This author attended Stanford for both undergrad and for their Masters in Engineering—just in case you were wondering whether essays like this work for selective colleges.)
Note: This student doesn’t describe in an in-depth way what they’ll contribute to a college campus (see Duke prompt above), but remember that this was written for a “how are you different?” prompt. If the prompt were asking about how a student might contribute to the campus community, however, the author could have easily added some specifics related to how they’d contribute, as needed.
For more analysis on this particular essay, check out:
(Blog) Why You Don’t Have to Write about Trauma in Your College Essay to Stand Out
(Coming Soon) This CEG podcast episode where I interview TEDx speaker Tina Yong
Get this: We've created supplemental essay guides for 70+ of the most frequently Googled schools. Each offers specific guidance on how to approach a school’s supplemental essay prompts, with example essays and analysis to guide your writing process.
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May 11, 2023
Writing an Excellent Diversity Essay
What is the diversity question in a school application, and why does it matter when applying to leading programs and universities? Most importantly, how should you respond?
Diversity is of supreme value in higher education, and schools want to know how every student will contribute to it in their community. A diversity essay is an essay that encourages applicants with disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds, an unusual education, a distinctive experience, or a unique family history to write about how these elements of their background have prepared them to play a useful role in increasing and encouraging diversity among their target program’s student body and broader community.
In this post, we’ll cover the following topics:
How to show you can add to diversity
Why diversity matters at school, seven examples that reveal diversity, how to write about your diversity, diversity essay example, want to ensure your application demonstrates the diversity that your dream school is seeking.
If you are an immigrant to the United States, the child of immigrants, or someone whose ethnicity is underrepresented in the States, your response to “How will you add to the diversity of our class/community?” and similar questions might help your application efforts. Why? Because you can use it to show how your background will add a distinctive perspective to the program you are applying to.
Download this sample personal background essay, and see how one candidate won over the adcom and got accepted into their top-choice MBA program.
Of course, if you’re not from a group that is underrepresented in your field or a disadvantaged group, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to write about in a diversity essay.
For example, you might have an unusual or special experience to share, such as serving in the military, being a member of a dance troupe, or caring for a disabled relative. These and other distinctive experiences can convey how you will contribute to the diversity of the school’s campus.
You could be the first member of your family to apply to college or the first to learn English in your household. Perhaps you have worked your way through college or helped raise your siblings. You might also have been an ally to those who are underrepresented, disadvantaged, or marginalized in your community, at your previous school, or in an earlier work experience.
As you can see, diversity is not limited to one’s religion, ethnicity, culture, language, or sexual orientation. It refers to whatever element of your identity distinguishes you from others and shows that you, too, value diversity.
Admissions officers believe diversity in the classroom improves the educational experience of all the students involved. They also believe that having a diverse workforce better serves society as a whole.
The more diverse perspectives found in the classroom, throughout the dorms, in the dining halls, and mixed into study groups, the richer the discussions will be.
Plus, learning and growing in this kind of multicultural environment will prepare students for working in our increasingly multicultural and global world.
In medicine, for example, a heterogeneous workforce benefits people from previously underrepresented cultures. Businesses realize they will market more effectively if they can speak to different audiences and markets, which is possible when members of their workforce come from different backgrounds and cultures. Schools simply want to prepare graduates for the 21st century job market.
Adcoms want to know about your personal diversity elements and the way they have helped you develop particular character and personality traits , as well as the unusual experiences that have shaped you.
Here are seven examples an applicant could write about:
- They grew up with a strong insistence on respecting elders, attending family events, or learning their parents’ native language and culture.
- They are close to grandparents and extended family members who have taught them how teamwork can help everyone thrive.
- They have had to face difficulties that stem from their parents’ values being in conflict with theirs or those of their peers.
- Teachers have not always understood the elements of their culture or lifestyle and how those elements influence their performance.
- They suffered from discrimination and succeeded despite it because of their grit, values, and character.
- They learned skills from a lifestyle that is outside the norm (e.g., living in foreign countries as the child of a diplomat or contractor; performing professionally in theater, dance, music, or sports; having a deaf sibling).
- They’ve encountered racism or other prejudice (either toward themselves or others) and responded by actively promoting diverse, tolerant values.
And remember, it’s not just about who your parents are. It’s about who you are – at the core.
Your background, influences, religious observances, language, ideas, work environment, community experiences – all these factors come together to create a unique individual, one who will contribute to a varied class of distinct individuals taking their place in a diverse world.
Your answer to the diversity question should focus on how your experiences have built your empathy for others, your embrace of differences, your resilience, your character, and your perspective.
The school might well ask how you think of diversity or how you can bring or add to the diversity of your school, chosen profession, or community. Make sure you answer the specific question posed by highlighting distinctive elements of your profile that will add to the class mosaic every adcom is trying to create. You don’t want to blend in; you want to stand out in a positive way while also complementing the school’s canvas.
Here’s a simple, three-part framework that will help you think of diversity more, well, diversely:
- Identity : Who are you? What has contributed to your identity? How do you distinguish yourself? Your identity can include any of the following: gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, religion, nontraditional work experience, nontraditional educational background, multicultural background, and family’s educational level.
- Deeds : What have you done? What have you accomplished? This could include any of the following: achievements inside and/or outside your field of study, leadership opportunities, community service, , internship or professional experience, research opportunities, hobbies, and travel. Any or all of these could be unique. Also, what life-derailing, throw-you-for-a-loop challenges have you faced and overcome?
- Ideas : How do you think? How do you approach things? What drives you? What influences you? Are you the person who can break up a tense meeting with some well-timed humor? Are you the one who intuitively sees how to bring people together?
Learn more about this three-part framework in this podcast episode.
Think about each question within this framework and how you could apply your diversity elements to the classroom, your school, or your community. Any of these elements will serve as the framework for your essay.
Don’t worry if you can’t think of something totally “out there.” You don’t need to be a tightrope walker living in the Andes or a Buddhist monk from Japan to pass the diversity test!
And please remember, the examples I have listed are not exhaustive. There are many other ways to show diversity!
All you need to write successfully about how you will contribute to the rich diversity of your target school’s community is to examine your identity, deeds, and ideas, with an eye toward your personal distinctiveness and individuality. There is only one you .
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Take a look at this sample diversity essay, and pay attention to how the writer underscores their appreciation for and experience with diversity.
When I was starting 11 th grade, my dad, an agricultural scientist, was assigned to a 3-month research project in a farm village in Niigata (northwest Honshu in Japan). Rather than stay behind with my mom and siblings, I begged to go with him. As a straight-A student, I convinced my parents and the principal that I could handle my schoolwork remotely (pre-COVID) for that stretch. It was time to leap beyond my comfortable suburban Wisconsin life—and my Western orientation, reinforced by travel to Europe the year before.
We roomed in a sprawling farmhouse with a family participating in my dad’s study. I thought I’d experience an “English-free zone,” but the high school students all studied and wanted to practice English, so I did meet peers even though I didn’t attend their school. Of the many eye-opening, influential, cultural experiences, the one that resonates most powerfully to me is experiencing their community. It was a living, organic whole. Elementary school kids spent time helping with the rice harvest. People who foraged for seasonal wild edibles gave them to acquaintances throughout the town. In fact, there was a constant sharing of food among residents—garden veggies carried in straw baskets, fish or meat in coolers. The pharmacist would drive prescriptions to people who couldn’t easily get out—new mothers, the elderly—not as a business service but as a good neighbor. If rain suddenly threatened, neighbors would bring in each other’s drying laundry. When an empty-nest 50-year-old woman had to be hospitalized suddenly for a near-fatal snakebite, neighbors maintained her veggie patch until she returned. The community embodied constant awareness of others’ needs and circumstances. The community flowed!
Yet, people there lamented that this lifestyle was vanishing; more young people left than stayed or came. And it wasn’t idyllic: I heard about ubiquitous gossip, long-standing personal enmities, busybody-ness. But these very human foibles didn’t dam the flow. This dynamic community organism couldn’t have been more different from my suburban life back home, with its insular nuclear families. We nod hello to neighbors in passing.
This wonderful experience contained a personal challenge. Blond and blue-eyed, I became “the other” for the first time. Except for my dad, I saw no Westerner there. Curious eyes followed me. Stepping into a market or walking down the street, I drew gazes. People swiftly looked away if they accidentally caught my eye. It was not at all hostile, I knew, but I felt like an object. I began making extra sure to appear “presentable” before going outside. The sense of being watched sometimes generated mild stress or resentment. Returning to my lovely tatami room, I would decompress, grateful to be alone. I realized this challenge was a minute fraction of what others experience in my own country. The toll that feeling—and being— “other” takes on non-white and visibly different people in the US can be extremely painful. Experiencing it firsthand, albeit briefly, benignly, and in relative comfort, I got it.
Unlike the organic Niigata community, work teams, and the workplace itself, have externally driven purposes. Within this different environment, I will strive to exemplify the ongoing mutual awareness that fueled the community life in Niigata. Does it benefit the bottom line, improve the results? I don’t know. But it helps me be the mature, engaged person I want to be, and to appreciate the individuals who are my colleagues and who comprise my professional community. I am now far more conscious of people feeling their “otherness”—even when it’s not in response to negative treatment, it can arise simply from awareness of being in some way different.
What did you think of this essay? Does this middle class Midwesterner have the unique experience of being different from the surrounding majority, something she had not experienced in the United States? Did she encounter diversity from the perspective of “the other”?
Here a few things to note about why this diversity essay works so well:
- The writer comes from “a comfortable, suburban, Wisconsin life,” suggesting that her own background might not be ethnically, racially, or in other ways diverse.
- The diversity “points” scored all come from her fascinating experience of having lived in a Japanese farm village, where she immersed herself in a totally different culture.
- The lessons learned about the meaning of community are what broaden and deepen the writer’s perspective about life, about a purpose-driven life, and about the concept of “otherness.”
By writing about a time when you experienced diversity in one of its many forms, you can write a memorable and meaningful diversity essay.
Working on your diversity essay?
Want to ensure that your application demonstrates the diversity that your dream school is seeking? Work with one of our admissions experts and . This checklist includes more than 30 different ways to think about diversity to jump-start your creative engines.
• Different Dimensions of Diversity , a podcast episode • What to Do if You Belong to an Overrepresented Applicant Group • Med School Admissions Advice for Nontraditional Applicants: The Experts Speak
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How to Write a College Diversity Essay – Examples & Tips
What is a diversity essay for college?
If you are preparing for your college application, you have probably heard that you sometimes need to submit a “diversity essay,” and you might be wondering how this is different from the usual admission essay. A diversity essay is a college admissions essay that focuses on the applicant’s background, identity, culture, beliefs, or relationship with a specific community, on what makes an applicant unique, and on how they might bring a fresh perspective or new insights to a school’s student body. Colleges let applicants write such essays to ensure diversity in their campus communities, to improve everyone’s learning experience, or to determine who might be eligible for scholarships that are offered to students from generally underrepresented backgrounds.
Some colleges list the essay as one of their main requirements to apply, while others give you the option to add it to your application if you wish to do so. At other schools, it is simply your “personal statement”—but the prompts you are given can make it an essay on the topic of diversity in your life and how that has shaped who you are.
To write a diversity essay, you need to think about what makes you uniquely you: What significant experiences have you made, because of your background, that might separate you from other applicants? Sometimes that is obvious, but sometimes it is easy to assume our experiences are normal just because we are part of a community that shares the same circumstances, beliefs, or experiences. But if you look at your life from the perspective of someone who is not part of that community, such as an admissions officer, they can suddenly be not-so-common and help you stand out from the crowd.
Diversity Essay Examples and Topics
Diversity essays come in all shapes and formats, but what they need to do is highlight an important aspect of your identity, background, culture, viewpoints, beliefs, goals, etc. You could, for example, write about one of the following topics:
- Your home country/hometown
- Your cultural/immigration background
- Your race/ethnicity
- Your unique family circumstances
- Your religion/belief system
- Your socioeconomic background
- Your disability
- Your sex/gender
- Your sexual orientation
- Your gender identity
- Your values/opinions
- Your experiences
- Your extracurricular activities related to diversity
In the following, we ask some general questions to make you start reflecting on what diversity might mean for you and your life, and we present you with excerpts from several successful diversity-related application essays that will give you an idea about the range of topics you can write about.
How does diversity make you who you are as a person or student?
We usually want to fit in, especially when we are young, and you might not even realize that you and your life experiences could add to the diversity of a student campus. You might think that you are just like everyone around you. Or you might think that your background is nothing to brag about and are not really comfortable showcasing it. But looking at you and your life from the point of view of someone who is not part of your community, your background, culture, or family situation might actually be unique and interesting.
What makes admission committees see the unique and interesting in your life is an authentic story, maybe even a bit vulnerable, about your lived experiences and the lessons you learned from them that other people who lived other lifes did not have the chance to learn. Don’t try to explain how you are different from others or how you have been more privileged or less fortunate than others—let your story do that. Keep the focus on yourself, your actions, thoughts, and feelings, and allow the reader a glimpse into your culture, upbringing, or community that gives them some intriguing insights.
Have a look at the excerpt below from a diversity essay that got an applicant into Cornell University . This is just the introduction, but there is probably no admissions officer who would not want to keep reading after such a fascinating entry.
He’s in my arms, the newest addition to the family. I’m too overwhelmed. “That’s why I wanted you to go to Bishop Loughlin,” she says, preparing baby bottles. “But ma, I chose Tech because I wanted to be challenged.” “Well, you’re going to have to deal with it,” she replies, adding, “Your aunt watched you when she was in high school.” “But ma, there are three of them. It’s hard!” Returning home from a summer program that cemented intellectual and social independence to find a new baby was not exactly thrilling. Add him to the toddler and seven-year-old sister I have and there’s no wonder why I sing songs from Blue’s Clues and The Backyardigans instead of sane seventeen-year-old activities. It’s never been simple; as a female and the oldest, I’m to significantly rear the children and clean up the shabby apartment before an ounce of pseudo freedom reaches my hands. If I can manage to get my toddler brother onto the city bus and take him home from daycare without snot on my shoulder, and if I can manage to take off his coat and sneakers without demonic screaming for no apparent reason, then it’s a good day. Only, waking up at three in the morning to work, the only free time I have, is not my cup of Starbucks. Excerpt from “All Worth It”, Anonymous, published in 50 Successful IVY LEAGUE Application Essays Fourth Edition, Gen & Kelly Tanabe, SuperCollege, 2017 .
How has your identity or background affected your life?
On top of sharing a relevant personal story, you also need to make sure that your essay illustrates how your lived experience has influenced your perspective, your life choices, or your goals. If you can explain how your background or experience led you to apply to the school you want to submit the essay to, and why you would be a great fit for that school, even better.
You don’t need to fit all of that into one short essay, though. Just make sure to end your essay with some conclusions about the things your life has taught you that will give the admissions committee a better idea of who you now are—like the author of the following (winning) admissions essay submitted to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) .
[…] I always thought that I had it the worst out of all my family members because I was never allowed to get anything lower than what my brother or a cousin had gotten in a class. My parents figured if they could do it, so could I, and if not on my own then with a little of their help. It was not until recently that I realized the truth in this. In my short life I have seen my father go from speaking no English to excelling in it. I have heard countless stories about migrant farmers such as Cesar Chavez and my grandfather who had nearly nothing, yet persisted and succeeded. […] When I had trouble speaking Spanish and felt like abandoning my native tongue, I remembered my mother and how when she came to the United States she was forced to wash her mouth out with soap and endure beatings with a ruler by the nuns at her school for speaking it. When I couldn’t figure out tangents, sines, and cosines I thought about my father and how it took him nearly a year to learn long division because he was forced to teach it to himself after dropping out and starting to work in the 4th grade. […] All these people, just from my family, have been strong role models for me. I feel that being labeled “underprivileged” does not mean that I am limited in what I can do. There is no reason for me to fail or give up, and like my parents and grandparents have done, I’ve been able to pull through a great deal. My environment has made me determined, hard working, and high aiming. I would not like it any other way. From “Lessons From the Immigration Spectrum”, Anonymous, MIT, published in 50 Successful IVY LEAGUE Application Essays Fourth Edition, Gen & Kelly Tanabe, SuperCollege, 2017 .
How will your diversity contribute to the college campus and community?
The admissions committee would like to know how your identity or background will enrich the university’s existing student body. If you haven’t done so, researching the university’s organizations and groups and what specific courses the university offers might be a good idea. If you are applying to a large public school, you could mention that you are looking forward to broadening not just your horizon but also your community. Or maybe your college of choice has a specialized program or student organization that you feel you will fit right into and that you could contribute to with your unique background.
Tailoring your answer to the university you are applying to shows that you are serious and have done your research, and a university is obviously looking for such students. If you can’t find a way to make your essay “match” the university, then don’t despair—showing the admissions committee that you are someone who already made some important experiences, has reflected on them, and is eager to learn more and contribute to their community is often all that is needed. But you also don’t need to search for the most sophisticated outro or conclusion, as the following excerpt shows, from an admission essay written by an applicant named Angelica, who was accepted into the University of Chicago . Sometimes a simple conviction is convincing enough.
[…] The knowledge that I have gained from these three schools is something I will take with me far beyond college. My roommate, across-the-hall mates, and classmates have influenced my life as much as I hope to have impacted theirs. It is evident to me that they have helped me develop into the very much visible person I am today. I have learned to step outside of my comfort zone, and I have learned that diversity is so much more than the tint of our skin. My small mustard-colored school taught me that opportunity and success only requires desire. I would be an asset to your college because as I continue on my journey to success, I will take advantage of every opportunity that is available to me and make sure to contribute as much as I can, too. Now I am visible. Now I am visible. Now I am visible, and I want to be seen. From “No Longer Invisible” by Angelica, University of Chicago, published in 50 Successful IVY LEAGUE Application Essays Fourth Edition, Gen & Kelly Tanabe, SuperCollege, 2017 .
Tell stories about your lived experience
You might wonder how exactly to go about writing stories about your “lived experience.” The first step, after getting drawing inspiration from other people’s stories, is to sit down and reflect on your own life and what might be interesting about it, from the point of view of someone outside of your direct environment or community.
Two straightforward approaches for a diversity-related essay are to either focus on your community or on your identity . The first one is more related to what you were born into (and what it taught you), and the second one focuses on how you see yourself, as an individual but also as part of society.
Take some time to sit down and reflect on which of these two approaches you relate to more and which one you think you have more to say about. And then we’d recommend you do what always helps when we sit in front of a blank page that needs to be filled: Make a list or draw a chart or create a map of keywords that can become the cornerstones of your story.
For example, if you choose the “community” approach, then start with a list of all the communities that you are a part of. These communities can be defined by different factors:
- A shared place: people live or work together
- Shared actions: People create something together or solve problems together
- Shared interests: People come together based on interests, hobbies, or goals
- Shared circumstances: people are brought together by chance or by events
Once you have that list, pick one of your communities and start asking yourself more specific questions. For example:
- What did you do as a member of that community?
- What kinds of problems did you solve , for your community or together?
- Did you feel like you had an impact ? What was it?
- What did you learn or realize ?
- How are you going to apply what you learned outside of that community?
If, instead, you choose the “identity” approach, then think about different ways in which you think about yourself and make a list of those. For example:
My identity is as a…
- boy scout leader
- hobby writer
- babysitter for my younger siblings
- speaker of different languages
- collector of insightful proverbs
- other roles in your family, community, or social sub-group
Feel free to list as many identities as you can. Then, think about what different sides of you these identities reveal and which ones you have not yet shown or addressed in your other application documents and essays. Think about whether one of these is more important to you than others if there is one that you’d rather like to hide (and why) and if there is any struggle, for example with reconciling all of these sides of yourself or with one of them not being accepted by your culture or environment.
Overall, the most important characteristic admissions committees are looking for in your diversity essay is authenticity . They want to know who you are, behind your SATs and grades, and how you got where you are now, and they want to see what makes you memorable (remember, they have to read thousands of essays to decide who to enroll).
The admissions committee members likely also have a “sixth sense” about whose essay is authentic and whose is not. But if you go through a creative process like the one outlined here, you will automatically reflect on your background and experiences in a way that will bring out your authenticity and honesty and prevent you from just making up a “cool story.”
Diversity Essay Sample Prompts From Colleges
If you are still not sure how to write a diversity essay, let’s have a look at some of the actual diversity essay prompts that colleges include in their applications.
Diversity Essay Sample #1: University of California
The University of California asks applicants to choose between eight prompts (they call them “ personal insight questions “) and submit four short essays of up to 350 words each that tell the admission committee what you would want them to know about you . These prompts ask about your creative side (#2), your greatest talent (#3), and other aspects of your personality, but two of them (#5 and #7) are what could be called “diversity essay prompts” that ask you to talk about the most significant challenge you have faced and what you have done to make your community a better place .
The University of California website also offers advice on how to use these prompts and how to write a compelling essay, so make sure you use all the guidance they give you if that is the school you are trying to get into!
UC Essay prompt #5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?
UC Essay prompt #7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team, or place—like your high school, hometown, or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community? Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort?
Diversity Essay Sample #2: Duke University
Duke University asks for a one-page essay in response to either one of the Common Application prompts or one of the Coalition Application prompts, as well as a short essay that answers a question specific to Duke.
In addition, you can (but do not have to) submit up to two short answers to four prompts that specifically ask about your unique experiences, your beliefs and values, and your background and identity. The maximum word count for each of these short essays on diversity topics is 250 words.
Essay prompt #1. We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself. Essay prompt #2. We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about? Essay prompt #3. What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good? Essay prompt #4. Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you’d like to share with us more about your identity in this context, feel free to do so here.
Duke University is looking for students with a variety of different experiences, backgrounds, interests, and opinions to make its campus community diverse and a place where ambition and curiosity, talent and persistence can grow, and the admissions committee will “consider what you have accomplished within the context of your opportunities and challenges so far”—make sure you tell them!
Diversity Essay Sample #3: University of Washington
The University of Washington asks students for a long essay (650 words) on a general experience that shaped your character, a short essay (300 words) that describes the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of your future university and allows you to submit additional information on potential hardships or limitations you have experienced in attaining your education so far. The University of Washington freshman writing website also offers some tips on how to (and how not to) write and format your essays.
Essay prompt [required] Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
Short response prompt [required] Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. “Community” might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the UW.
Additional information about yourself or your circumstances [optional] You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:
– You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
– Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations
– You have experienced limitations/opportunities unique to the schools you attended
The University of Washington’s mission is to enroll undergraduates with outstanding intellectual abilities who bring different perspectives, backgrounds, and talents to the campus to create a “stimulating educational environment”. The diversity essay is your chance to let them know how you will contribute to that.
Diversity Essay Sample #4: University of Michigan
At the University of Michigan, a diversity college essay that describes one of the communities (defined by geography, religion, ethnicity, income, or other factors) you belong to is one of two required essays that need to be submitted by all applicants, on top of the Common Application essay.
Diversity essay prompt. Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
The University of Michigan prides itself in “looking at each student as a whole package” and recruiting the most dynamic students, with different backgrounds, interests, and passions, into their college, not just the ones with the highest test scores. They also give consideration to applicants from currently underrepresented groups to create diversity on campus and enrich the learning environment for all students—if that sounds like you, then here is your opportunity to tell your story!
Frequently Asked Questions about Diversity Essays
What topics should i avoid in my college diversity essay.
Since the point of a diversity essay is to show the admissions committee who you are (behind your grades and resume and general educational background), there are not many topics you need to avoid. In fact, you can address the issues, from your own perspective, that you are usually told not to mention in order not to offend anyone or create controversy.
The only exception is any kind of criminal activity, especially child abuse and neglect. The University of Washington, for example, has a statement on its essay prompt website that “ any written materials that give admissions staff reasonable cause to believe abuse or neglect of someone under the age of 18 may have occurred must be reported to Child Protective Services or the police. ”
What is most important to focus on in my diversity essay?
In brief, to stand out while not giving the admissions committee any reason to believe that you are exaggerating or even making things up. Your story needs to be authentic, and admissions officers—who read thousands of applications—will probably see right through you if you are trying to make yourself sound cooler, more mature, or more interesting than you are.
In addition, make sure you let someone, preferably a professional editor, read over your essays and make sure they are well-written and error-free. Even though you are telling your personal story, it needs to be presented in standard, formal, correct English.
How long should a diversity essay be?
Every school has different requirements for their version of a diversity essay, and you will find all the necessary details on their admissions or essay prompts website. Make sure you check the word limit and other guidelines before you start typing away!
Prepare your college diversity essay for admission
Now that you know what a diversity essay is and how you find the specific requirements for the essays you need to submit to your school of choice, make sure you plan in advance and give yourself enough time to put all your effort into it! Our article How to Write the Common App Essay can give you an idea about timelines and creative preparation methods. And as always, we can help you with our professional editing services , including Application Essay Editing Services and Admission Editing Services , to ensure that your entire application is error-free and showcases your potential to the admissions committee of your school of choice.
For more academic resources on writing the statement of purpose for grad school or on the college admission process in general, head over to our Admissions Resources website where we have many more articles and videos to help you improve your essay writing skills.
- College Application
College Diversity Essay Examples
Institutions of higher learning want to recognize diversity and support students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, making college diversity essay examples more relevant than ever. Your diversity secondary essay will make a big difference in your application, and looking at expertly written essays will help you immensely.
We at BeMo believe that everybody deserves a fair and equal shot at higher education, which is why it is important to us to make sure that persons from underrepresented backgrounds aren’t being left behind.
To that end, we are going to show several examples of diversity essays, with prompts selected from different educational institutions, in addition to giving you general expert college essay tips and a section on how to approach diversity essays specifically.
>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<
Article Contents 11 min read
These essay prompts are taken from various schools as well as the Common App*, and each one will deal with a different kind of diversity. Some of these prompts remark directly on diversity, while others are simply open, or hint at a connection.
*The Common Application is a centralized system used by many schools to streamline the application process.
NYU Supplemental Essay Example (Common App)
Prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
Word limit: 250-650 words. Aim for about 500 words.
The labels that I bear are hung from me like branches on a tree: disruptive, energetic, creative, loud, fun, easily distracted, clever, a space cadet, a problem … and that tree has roots called ADHD. The diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder made a lot of sense when it was handed down. I was diagnosed later than other children, probably owing to my sex, which is female; people with ADHD who are female often present in different ways from our male counterparts and are just as often missed by psychiatrists.
Over the years, these labels served as either a badge or a bludgeon, keeping me from certain activities, ruining friendships, or becoming elements of my character that I love about myself and have brought me closer to people I care about. Every trait is a double-edged sword.
The years that brought me to where I am now have been strange and uneven. I had a happy childhood, even if I was a “handful” for my parents. As I grew and grew in awareness of how I could be a problem, I developed anxiety over behavior I simply couldn’t control. With the diagnosis, I received relief, and yet, soon I was thinking of myself as broken, and I quickly attributed every setback to my neurological condition.
I owe much to my ADHD. I have found my paintbrushes to be superb catalysts for the cornucopia of ideas in my mind. I have always known how to have a great time, and my boundless energy has contributed to winning several medals while playing basketball.
My ADHD owes much to me, too. I have received several cards in basketball because I got “agitated.” My grades throughout elementary school – before I had good coping mechanisms and medications – look like yo-yos. Of course, I also have social troubles that I lay at the feet of my brain being wrong.
I have a wrong brain. I am wrong-brained. Imagine carrying that around as a child or as a teenager. I had to.
Only recently did I change my wrong-mind to a right-mind. The way I did it was simple: I stopped thinking of myself as having a brain that was wrong. I have a brain that is different. It supplies me with hurdles and the ability to leap over those hurdles. Sometimes I need extra help, but who doesn’t in one way or another?
These days, I don’t even like to think of my ADHD as a “neurological condition,” because I just want to feel like it’s a part of me, and of course, it is.
I have recently been volunteering at a mental health resource center, trying to spread that worldview. I believe that it is important to help people with different minds. Part of how we need to do that is by normalizing being abnormal. We are all strange and different. My version of difference happens to be in my mind, and it has a label. So, let’s all be kind and generous to each other and our wonderful, divergent differences.
Prompt: “Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.”
Word limit: This particular prompt from Harvard is not given a word limit, but we recommend you aim for about 600 words.
Every morning I ride through the park on my bicycle, past a group of yoga practitioners who are connecting with nature in their trendy yoga pants. They're being taught by a tranquil-faced twenty-something with an asymmetrical haircut and a smart phone playing nature sounds. Saying “Namaste,” before rushing home to take the kids to school, they’ll probably buy flavored macchiatos on the way.
I’m not offended, although as a Hindu I have every right to be; I just think that they are probably missing the point of something very profound and important to me. I was taught yoga by my grandfather, who I always thought looked one hundred years old, no matter what he really was.
He would get me up at dawn, and I would complain, but doing the poses did awaken me, stretch my limbs, and move me into a more centered place. Most importantly, he taught me to hold on to that centered place for the rest of the day, to make sure that I carried my yoga with me.
I did carry it with me, too, past shops selling incense and yoga mats, past music stores with baby boomer rock stars who played sitar as a fad, and past a thousand other places that reminded me that my culture was a commodity, my religion a self-help rubber stamp. Lately, it has been my bicycle ride through the park taking me past this yoga group, who I don’t want to disparage too much, because maybe some of them are taking it seriously, but it doesn’t look that way, and it really doesn’t feel that way.
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Prompt: “In 20XX, we faced a national reckoning on racial injustice in America - a reckoning that continues today. Discuss how this has affected you, what you have learned, or how you have been inspired to be a change agent around this important issue.”
Word limit: 400 words, max.
I’m angry and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. There have been too many riots, too many marches, too many people shouting into uncaring ears when Black people get treated the way we do. How many dead fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters have to move from the front page of the news to the bottom of the social media feed before we get recognized and listened to. I just want to be heard. I have given up on the idea of waking up in a world where I am not afraid, angry, and weary. Maybe that world is for my grandkids, or my great-grandkids, but not me.
My mother and my father, my aunts and uncles, they were all very active in the protests – often at the front of the line – and they did not come through unscathed. They had bruises and blood spilt, they had broken bones. I know they will return to that battlefield, to protest peacefully until they cannot maintain that rank any longer. From these noble people I received my sense of righteous anger. But I also got good advice on how to use it well.
They know that protests are one thing, but action is another, and my mind has been geared toward law school for some time now, because I wanted to bring about the major changes that are needed for our society to move on. So, in addition to protests, I have been taking pre-law courses, and I have acquired a part-time job in the law firm where my uncle works, and while it is a small, office job, I get to spend a lot of time with my uncle learning about how to bring positive change by fighting big and little battles. Of course, he is also showing me how to fight those battles.
Anger alone isn’t going to settle anything, which is why I believe in making a better world with my actions and rhetoric. But I am still frustrated and furious, and while I am trying to find a hopeful place to get to, I’ll repeat that I don’t think we’ll see the better world I want. Maybe our grandkids, but not us. Hold on to that, get angry, and join me in pushing forward for them.
Princeton Supplemental Essay Example
Prompt: “At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future?”
Word limit: 250 words
Coming out was harder than I thought it would be. In the months previous, when I knew that I was gay, and when I knew that I wanted to tell my family, I was worried about their reactions. I hoped that they would be supportive, and I suspected that they would be, but it wasn’t just the event that was difficult, it was the next day and the day after that.
One conversation would have been painful but quick, like the proverbial bandage being ripped off. But this was interminable and killing me with kindness. My parents asked little questions or made showy gestures about caring in the days that followed, and the experience wound up lasting several months.
The insight I gained is that we think of life in terms of gateposts and events, but all things take time, and most have a build-up and cool-down surrounding them. Expecting to have something momentous take place in one afternoon was naïve.
Moving forward, I understand that the real problem was thinking of this as an event at all, and it’s not, it’s just who I am, which means I carry it around with me and I have no other recourse. I believe this will serve me well, because it will help me have ongoing conversations instead of quick talks that I wrap up and put away.
That’s better; my life is not a series of tough moments, it is ongoing.
The main thing to do with a diversity essay is to remain focused. First, focus on your subject, and keep in mind that the subject isn’t actually “diversity.” That sounds weird, but remember that this is always about you and the institution you’re applying to. They want to hear about your life, your experiences, and how you connect with their program.
To that end, make sure that you talk about your experiences beyond a general push for diversity. Of course, it’s easy to get behind ideas that are inclusive, but you have a central purpose here.
The second focus is to keep yourself on target with what kind of diversity you’re talking about. You can bring in multiple ways you fit the description of “diverse,” but your essay may be a fairly short one, so focus on one central theme or idea.
There are many different ways that you can be diverse or have a worldview that fits these prompts. Diversity is often thought of in terms of race, sexuality, and gender, but it could also mean neurodivergence, living with a disability, sex, religion, or nationality. With most prompts, diversity could be anything that sets you apart, such as growing up in unusual circumstances. Perhaps you moved a lot as a child, grew up on a military base, or were raised in the foster care system. Before assuming that diversity essays don’t apply to you, check the exact wording of the prompt and really contemplate your background.
Many essays ask about your experiences with diversity, so you might have a friend or relative who fits one or more of these categories; if you have a personal connection and experience with that person, you can speak to that in an essay.
Exploring your diversity, or your experiences with diversity, is the key to success in writing your own diversity essay. Dig deep and share your genuine experiences. The operative word here is “genuine”: do not, under any circumstances, fake this essay. Any falsehood in an application is unacceptable, and co-opting another underrepresented group’s diversity is disrespectful. There is enough room in most prompts to account for your particular branch of diversity without pretending to be someone else.
Want to review more advice for college essays? Take a look at this video:
Essay Writing Tips
When we speak more generally, not just of diversity essays in particular, but with respect to how to write a college essay , most of the rules are going to be more or less the same as with other prompts.
Of course, your approach to how to start a college essay , whether specific to the diversity prompts or not, remains the same: open with your “hook,” the line that snares any reader, ideally even ones who aren’t on the admissions committee. If you open well, you grab your reader’s attention and bring them along for the ride.
After that, follow basic essay structure, including a body to explore your ideas and a conclusion to wrap up.
One way to polish your essay is to make sure that your paragraphs transition nicely into one another – pay extra attention to the flow of your material. Another elite polish tip is to mirror your opening line with your closing, at least in terms of fulfilling the promise of whatever your opening line spoke of.
Inclusion is of maximal importance. Get yourself recognized at your top-choice school with our tips and sample college essays . By working with these prompts, and within the application streams for underrepresented students, you are giving yourself the agency to move forward into a more diverse future.
Everything depends on the individual school’s prompt. If the prompt is mandatory, you write the essay, even if you only have an outsider’s connection. Many schools have optional diversity essays, or reserve them for students from certain backgrounds. In those cases, only write the essay if you feel it is appropriate for you to do so. This might change based on the wording of the prompt. Some prompts invite students with “connections” to diverse communities to respond, which means that you might not be a member of an underrepresented community, but you could be a supporter, activist, or close friend or family member of those communities. Still other prompts cast a wide net for potential types of diversity, which means you might fit into one based on your experiences, even if you don’t immediately think of yourself as fitting in.
If the essay prompt applies to you, or if it is mandatory, write the essay.
Not necessarily. Obviously, if the essay is optional and does not apply to you, your chances remain the same. However, many institutions have programs for underrepresented students, and benefitting from them may depend on writing a diversity statement. In other words, it’s required. In general, we recommend that you take every opportunity offered to make your application stand out, and producing a thoughtful diversity statement or optional essay is an effective way to do that.
As listed above, there are many possibilities. Race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, and sex are some of the categories you might fit into which apply to these essays. If you don’t fit into those categories, you might still be considered diverse based on any experience which sets you apart and gives you a unique background, life, or circumstance, which means that most diversity prompts have a very wide net.
Essays are typically only seen by admissions committees. If the institution wants to use your essay as an example essay, they would need to ask you first. Sharing your essay would require permission.
If you are particularly worried, contact your school and ask about their confidentiality policies, or specifically ask that they do not disclose your essay’s contents.
Try not to worry; these programs are set up for people like you, and the administrations are understanding and sympathetic to your situation. They certainly do not want to hurt you.
You just have to share your authentic connection with diversity. If you have negative emotions or experiences tied to that aspect of yourself, of course you are allowed to share them. Speaking to the frustration, anger, anxiety, and other debilitating emotions around racial violence, for example, is not off the table. You highlight yourself, your diversity, and your connection to the school – that’s it. Don’t feel like you need to hide your personal experiences to play nice or seem “positive.”
No, some do not. Most have essays geared toward your background generally, which can often provide an opportunity to talk about your diversity, but it would not be required. Keep in mind that more general background essays, like personal statements or the near-ubiquitous, “Why this school?” essays, will need more focus on academics or career goals. Diversity essays can be more focused on your own personal experiences.
All admissions essays are personal to some degree. Diversity essays will touch on the essence of yourself, so they will be more personal than a lot of others. Getting personal will also help to show the admissions committee who you really are and why you really need to attend their institution.
Most of the time, yes. Many prompts are open-ended and would allow you to bring that aspect of yourself forward - in your personal statement, for instance. Some application processes, such as the Common or Coalition Applications, have a prompt that allows you to select your own topic.
Definitely write a diversity essay if you believe that is the best way to show your unique individuality and how you will add to the fabric of the school to which you are applying.
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If you're applying to college, you've probably heard the phrase "diversity essay" once or twice. This type of essay is a little different from your typical "Why this college?" essay . Instead of focusing on why you've chosen a certain school, you'll write about your background, values, community, and experiences—basically, what makes you special.
In this guide, I explain what a diversity college essay is, what schools are looking for in this essay, and what you can do to ensure your diversity essay stands out.
What Is a Diversity Essay for College?
A diversity essay is a college admissions essay that focuses on you as an individual and your relationship with a specific community. The purpose of this essay is to reveal what makes you different from other applicants, including what unique challenges or barriers you've faced and how you've contributed to or learned from a specific community of people.
Generally speaking, the diversity college essay is used to promote diversity in the student body . As a result, the parameters of this essay are typically quite broad. Applicants may write about any relevant community or experience. Here are some examples of communities you could discuss:
- Your cultural group
- Your race or ethnicity
- Your extended family
- Your religion
- Your socioeconomic background (such as your family's income)
- Your sex or gender
- Your sexual orientation
- Your gender identity
- Your values or opinions
- Your experiences
- Your home country or hometown
- Your school
- The area you live in or your neighborhood
- A club or organization of which you're an active member
Although the diversity essay is a common admissions requirement at many colleges, most schools do not specifically refer to this essay as a diversity essay . At some schools, the diversity essay is simply your personal statement , whereas at others, it's a supplemental essay or short answer.
It's also important to note that the diversity essay is not limited to undergraduate programs . Many graduate programs also require diversity essays from applicants. So if you're planning to eventually apply to graduate school, be aware that you might have to write another diversity statement!
Diversity Essay Sample Prompts From Colleges
Now that you understand what diversity essays for college are, let's take a look at some diversity essay sample prompts from actual college applications.
University of Michigan
At the University of Michigan , the diversity college essay is a required supplemental essay for all freshman applicants.
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
University of Washington
Like UM, the University of Washington asks students for a short-answer (300 words) diversity essay. UW also offers advice on how to answer the prompt.
Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington.
Keep in mind that the UW strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values, and viewpoints.
University of California System
The UC system requires freshman applicants to choose four out of eight prompts (or personal insight questions ) and submit short essays of up to 350 words each . Two of these are diversity essay prompts that heavily emphasize community, personal challenges, and background.
For each prompt, the UC system offers tips on what to write about and how to craft a compelling essay.
5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?
If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, "How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends, or with my family?"
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team, or place—like your high school, hometown, or home. You can define community as you see fit; just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?
Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community, or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?
Think about your community: How has it helped you? What have you done for it?
University of Oklahoma
First-year applicants to the University of Oklahoma who want to qualify for a leader, community service, or major-based scholarship must answer two optional, additional writing prompts , one of which tackles diversity. The word count for this prompt is 650 words or less.
The University of Oklahoma is the home of a vibrant, diverse, and compassionate university community that is often referred to as “the OU family.” Please describe your cultural and community service activities and why you chose to participate in them.
In addition to having to answer the Common Application or Coalition Application essay prompts, applicants to Duke University may (but do not have to) submit short answers to two prompts, four of which are diversity college essay prompts . The maximum word count for each is 250 words.
We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community .
We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
We recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you.
Duke’s commitment to inclusion and belonging includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Feel free to share with us more about how your identity in this context has meaning for you as an individual or as a member of a community .
At Pitzer, freshman applicants must use the Common Application and answer one supplemental essay prompt. One of these prompts is a diversity essay prompt that asks you to write about your community.
At Pitzer, five core values distinguish our approach to education: social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, student engagement, and environmental sustainability. As agents of change, our students utilize these values to create solutions to our world's challenges. Reflecting on your involvement throughout high school or within the community, how have you engaged with one of Pitzer's core values?
The Common Application
Many colleges and universities, such as Purdue University , use the Common Application and its essay prompts.
One of its essay prompts is for a diversity essay, which can be anywhere from 250 to 650 words. This prompt has a strong focus on the applicant's identity, interests, and background.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
ApplyTexas is similar to the Common Application but is only used by public colleges and universities in the state of Texas. The application contains multiple essay prompts, one of which is a diversity college essay prompt that asks you to elaborate on who you are based on a particular identity, a passion you have, or a particular skill that you've cultivated.
Essay B: Some students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. If you are one of these students, then tell us about yourself.
In a diversity essay, focus on an aspect of your identity or cultural background that defines you and makes you stand out.
What Do Colleges Look for in a Diversity Essay?
With the diversity essay, what colleges usually want most is to learn more about you , including what experiences have made you the person you are today and what unique insights you can offer the school. But what kinds of specific qualities do schools look for in a diversity essay?
To answer this, let's look at what schools themselves have said about college essays. Although not many colleges give advice specific to the diversity essay, many provide tips for how to write an effective college essay in general .
For example, here is what Dickinson College hopes to see in applicants' college essays:
Tell your story.
It may be trite advice, but it's also true. Admissions counselors develop a sixth sense about essay writers who are authentic. You'll score points for being earnest and faithful to yourself.
Authenticity is key to writing an effective diversity essay. Schools want you to be honest about who you are and where you come from; don't exaggerate or make up stories to make yourself sound "cooler" or more interesting—99% of the time, admissions committees will see right through it! Remember: admissions committees read thousands of applications, so they can spot a fake story a mile away.
Next, here's what Wellesley College says about the purpose of college essays:
Let the Board of Admission discover:
- More about you as a person.
- The side of you not shown by SATs and grades.
- Your history, attitudes, interests, and creativity.
- Your values and goals—what sets you apart.
It's important to not only be authentic but to also showcase "what sets you apart" from other applicants—that is, what makes you you . This is especially important when you consider how many applications admissions committees go through each year. If you don't stand out in some positive way, you'll likely end up in the crapshoot , significantly reducing or even eliminating your chances of admission .
And finally, here's some advice from the University of Michigan on writing essays for college:
Your college essay will be one of nearly 50,000 that we'll be reading in admissions—use this opportunity to your advantage. Your essay gives us insights into your personality; it helps us determine if your relationship with the school will be mutually beneficial.
So tell us what faculty you'd like to work with, or what research you're interested in. Tell us why you're a leader—or how you overcame adversity in your life. Tell us why this is the school for you. Tell us your story.
Overall, the most important characteristic colleges are looking for in the diversity essay (as well as in any college essay you submit) is authenticity. Colleges want to know who you are and how you got here; they also want to see what makes you memorable and what you can bring to the school.
An excellent diversity essay will represent some aspect of your identity in a sincere, authentic way.
How to Write an Effective Diversity Essay: Four Tips
Here are some tips to help you write a great diversity college essay and increase your chances of admission to college.
#1: Think About What Makes You Unique
One of the main purposes of the diversity essay is to present your uniqueness and explain how you will bring a new perspective to the student body and school as a whole. Therefore, for your essay, be sure to choose a topic that will help you stand apart from other applicants .
For example, instead of writing about your ability to play the piano (which a lot of applicants can do, no doubt), it'd be far more interesting to elaborate on how your experience growing up in Austria led you to become interested in classical music.
Try to think of defining experiences in your life. These don't have to be obvious life-altering events, but they should have had a lasting impact on you and helped shape your identity.
#2: Be Honest and Authentic
Ah, there's that word again: authentic . Although it's important to showcase how unique you are, you also want to make sure you're staying true to who you are. What experiences have made you the person you are today? What kind of impact did these have on your identity, accomplishments, and future goals?
Being honest also means not exaggerating (or lying about) your experiences or views. It's OK if you don't remember every little detail of an event or conversation. Just try to be as honest about your feelings as possible. Don't say something changed your life if it really had zero impact on you.
Ultimately, you want to write in a way that's true to your voice . Don't be afraid to throw in a little humor or a personal anecdote. What matters most is that your diversity essay accurately represents you and your intellectual potential.
#3: Write Clearly, Correctly, and Cogently
This next tip is of a more mechanical nature. As is the case with any college essay, it's critical that your diversity essay is well written . After all, the purpose of this essay is not only to help schools get to know you better but also to demonstrate a refined writing ability—a skill that's necessary for doing well in college, regardless of your major.
A diversity essay that's littered with typos and grammatical errors will fail to tell a smooth, compelling, and coherent story about you. It will also make you look unprofessional and won't convince admissions committees that you're serious about college and your future.
So what should you do? First, separate your essay into clear, well-organized paragraphs. Next, edit your essay several times. As you further tweak your draft, continue to proofread it. If possible, get an adult—such as a teacher, tutor, or parent—to look it over for you as well.
#4: Take Your Time
Our final tip is to give yourself plenty of time to actually write your diversity essay. Usually, college applications are due around December or January , so it's a good idea to start your essay early, ideally in the summer before your senior year (and before classes and homework begin eating up your time).
Starting early also lets you gain some perspective on your diversity essay . Here's how to do this: once you've written a rough draft or even just a couple of paragraphs of your essay, put it away for a few days. Once this time passes, take out your essay again and reread it with a fresh perspective. Try to determine whether it still has the impact you wanted it to have. Ask yourself, "Does this essay sound like the real me or someone else? Are some areas a little too cheesy? Could I add more or less detail to certain paragraphs?"
Finally, giving yourself lots of time to write your diversity essay means you can have more people read it and offer comments and edits on it . This is crucial for producing an effective diversity college essay.
Conclusion: Writing Diversity Essays for College
A diversity essay is a college admissions essay that r evolves around an applicant's background and identity, usually within the context of a particular community. This community can refer to race or ethnicity, income level, neighborhood, school, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.
Many colleges—such as the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, and Duke—use the diversity essay to ensure diversity in their student bodies . Some schools require the essay; others accept it as an optional application component.
If you'll be writing diversity essays for college, be sure to do the following when writing your essay to give yourself a higher chance of admission:
- Think about what makes you unique: Try to pinpoint an experience or opinion you have that'll separate you from the rest of the crowd in an interesting, positive way.
- Be honest and authentic: Avoid exaggerating or lying about your feelings and experiences.
- Write clearly, correctly, and cogently: Edit, proofread, and get someone else to look over your essay.
- Take your time: Start early, preferably during the summer before your senior year, so you can have more time to make changes and get feedback from others.
With that, I wish you the best of luck on your diversity essay!
You understand how to write a diversity essay— but what about a "Why this college?" essay ? What about a general personal statement ? Our guides explain what these essays are and how you can produce amazing responses for your applications.
Want more samples of college essay prompts? Read dozens of real prompts with our guide and learn how to answer them effectively.
Curious about what a good college essay actually looks like? Then check out our analysis of 100+ college essays and what makes them memorable .
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.
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How to Write a Diversity Essay | Tips & Examples
Published on November 1, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.
Table of contents
What is a diversity essay, identify how you will enrich the campus community, share stories about your lived experience, explain how your background or identity has affected your life, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.
Diversity essays ask students to highlight an important aspect of their identity, background, culture, experience, viewpoints, beliefs, skills, passions, goals, etc.
Diversity essays can come in many forms. Some scholarships are offered specifically for students who come from an underrepresented background or identity in higher education. At highly competitive schools, supplemental diversity essays require students to address how they will enhance the student body with a unique perspective, identity, or background.
In the Common Application and applications for several other colleges, some main essay prompts ask about how your background, identity, or experience has affected you.
Why schools want a diversity essay
Many universities believe a student body representing different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.
Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community.
Through the diversity essay, admissions officers want students to articulate the following:
- What makes them different from other applicants
- Stories related to their background, identity, or experience
- How their unique lived experience has affected their outlook, activities, and goals
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Think about what aspects of your identity or background make you unique, and choose one that has significantly impacted your life.
For some students, it may be easy to identify what sets them apart from their peers. But if you’re having trouble identifying what makes you different from other applicants, consider your life from an outsider’s perspective. Don’t presume your lived experiences are normal or boring just because you’re used to them.
Some examples of identities or experiences that you might write about include the following:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Socioeconomic status
- Immigration background
- Religion/belief system
- Place of residence
- Family circumstances
- Extracurricular activities related to diversity
Include vulnerable, authentic stories about your lived experiences. Maintain focus on your experience rather than going into too much detail comparing yourself to others or describing their experiences.
Keep the focus on you
Tell a story about how your background, identity, or experience has impacted you. While you can briefly mention another person’s experience to provide context, be sure to keep the essay focused on you. Admissions officers are mostly interested in learning about your lived experience, not anyone else’s.
When I was a baby, my grandmother took me in, even though that meant postponing her retirement and continuing to work full-time at the local hairdresser. Even working every shift she could, she never missed a single school play or soccer game.
She and I had a really special bond, even creating our own special language to leave each other secret notes and messages. She always pushed me to succeed in school, and celebrated every academic achievement like it was worthy of a Nobel Prize. Every month, any leftover tip money she received at work went to a special 509 savings plan for my college education.
When I was in the 10th grade, my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS. We didn’t have health insurance, and what began with quitting soccer eventually led to dropping out of school as her condition worsened. In between her doctor’s appointments, keeping the house tidy, and keeping her comfortable, I took advantage of those few free moments to study for the GED.
In school pictures at Raleigh Elementary School, you could immediately spot me as “that Asian girl.” At lunch, I used to bring leftover fun see noodles, but after my classmates remarked how they smelled disgusting, I begged my mom to make a “regular” lunch of sliced bread, mayonnaise, and deli meat.
Although born and raised in North Carolina, I felt a cultural obligation to learn my “mother tongue” and reconnect with my “homeland.” After two years of all-day Saturday Chinese school, I finally visited Beijing for the first time, expecting I would finally belong. While my face initially assured locals of my Chinese identity, the moment I spoke, my cover was blown. My Chinese was littered with tonal errors, and I was instantly labeled as an “ABC,” American-born Chinese.
I felt culturally homeless.
Speak from your own experience
Highlight your actions, difficulties, and feelings rather than comparing yourself to others. While it may be tempting to write about how you have been more or less fortunate than those around you, keep the focus on you and your unique experiences, as shown below.
I began to despair when the FAFSA website once again filled with red error messages.
I had been at the local library for hours and hadn’t even been able to finish the form, much less the other to-do items for my application.
I am the first person in my family to even consider going to college. My parents work two jobs each, but even then, it’s sometimes very hard to make ends meet. Rather than playing soccer or competing in speech and debate, I help my family by taking care of my younger siblings after school and on the weekends.
“We only speak one language here. Speak proper English!” roared a store owner when I had attempted to buy bread and accidentally used the wrong preposition.
In middle school, I had relentlessly studied English grammar textbooks and received the highest marks.
Leaving Seoul was hard, but living in West Orange, New Jersey was much harder一especially navigating everyday communication with Americans.
After sharing relevant personal stories, make sure to provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your perspective, activities, and goals. You should also explain how your background led you to apply to this university and why you’re a good fit.
Include your outlook, actions, and goals
Conclude your essay with an insight about how your background or identity has affected your outlook, actions, and goals. You should include specific actions and activities that you have done as a result of your insight.
One night, before the midnight premiere of Avengers: Endgame , I stopped by my best friend Maria’s house. Her mother prepared tamales, churros, and Mexican hot chocolate, packing them all neatly in an Igloo lunch box. As we sat in the line snaking around the AMC theater, I thought back to when Maria and I took salsa classes together and when we belted out Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” at karaoke. In that moment, as I munched on a chicken tamale, I realized how much I admired the beauty, complexity, and joy in Maria’s culture but had suppressed and devalued my own.
The following semester, I joined Model UN. Since then, I have learned how to proudly represent other countries and have gained cultural perspectives other than my own. I now understand that all cultures, including my own, are equal. I still struggle with small triggers, like when I go through airport security and feel a suspicious glance toward me, or when I feel self-conscious for bringing kabsa to school lunch. But in the future, I hope to study and work in international relations to continue learning about other cultures and impart a positive impression of Saudi culture to the world.
The smell of the early morning dew and the welcoming whinnies of my family’s horses are some of my most treasured childhood memories. To this day, our farm remains so rural that we do not have broadband access, and we’re too far away from the closest town for the postal service to reach us.
Going to school regularly was always a struggle: between the unceasing demands of the farm and our lack of connectivity, it was hard to keep up with my studies. Despite being a voracious reader, avid amateur chemist, and active participant in the classroom, emergencies and unforeseen events at the farm meant that I had a lot of unexcused absences.
Although it had challenges, my upbringing taught me resilience, the value of hard work, and the importance of family. Staying up all night to watch a foal being born, successfully saving the animals from a minor fire, and finding ways to soothe a nervous mare afraid of thunder have led to an unbreakable family bond.
Our farm is my family’s birthright and our livelihood, and I am eager to learn how to ensure the farm’s financial and technological success for future generations. In college, I am looking forward to joining a chapter of Future Farmers of America and studying agricultural business to carry my family’s legacy forward.
Tailor your answer to the university
After explaining how your identity or background will enrich the university’s existing student body, you can mention the university organizations, groups, or courses in which you’re interested.
Maybe a larger public school setting will allow you to broaden your community, or a small liberal arts college has a specialized program that will give you space to discover your voice and identity. Perhaps this particular university has an active affinity group you’d like to join.
Demonstrating how a university’s specific programs or clubs are relevant to you can show that you’ve done your research and would be a great addition to the university.
At the University of Michigan Engineering, I want to study engineering not only to emulate my mother’s achievements and strength, but also to forge my own path as an engineer with disabilities. I appreciate the University of Michigan’s long-standing dedication to supporting students with disabilities in ways ranging from accessible housing to assistive technology. At the University of Michigan Engineering, I want to receive a top-notch education and use it to inspire others to strive for their best, regardless of their circumstances.
If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
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In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .
Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.
Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .
To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.
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Step by Step Guide To Write a Diversity Essay (Examples + Analysis)
What is a Diversity essay?
First, let’s understand the diversity question in a school application, and more significantly, what is the value when applying to leading programs and universities?
A diversity essay is an essay that inspires applicants with minority backgrounds, unique experiences, special education, or bizarre family histories to write about how these factors will contribute to the diversity of their target school’s class and community.
Several schools have a supplemental essay prompt that requires students to speculate on their experiences and show how those experiences would enable them to add to the diversity of a college community.
For example, let’s look at Duke’s optional* diversity prompt:
(Optional) Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250-word limit)
*While this prompt is optional, our team would not recommend you to treat this prompt as optional —it’s a huge opportunity to help yourself stand out from other candidates.
The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech's community? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)
So, the question is, why do universities ask variations of this question? At the risk of repeating the above, universities appreciate a diverse student body for several reasons.
One reason is the notion that a solid education includes encountering values, faiths, and perspectives that are different from your own (Caltech makes this fairly straightforward in its prompt mentioned above).
Many academic fields, from marketing to history to medicine, are day by day realizing how diversity empowers creativity and understanding. The diversity essay is also another opportunity to show how you and a college fit together.
One general is what exactly schools mean by “diversity.” While it can indicate things like religion, faith, ethnicity, or sexuality, those can be solid topics to write about, and diversity is limited.
Open your mind, and then think—what perspective will you bring to college, particularly one that others cannot?
How can you show that you add diversity?
If you are an immigrant to the U.S. or born to immigrants or someone whose ethnicity is a minority in the U.S., you may find your answer to this question crucial to your application effort. Why? Because you can use it to prove how your background will add to the mix of viewpoints at the program you are applying to.
Of course, if you’re not an under-represented minority and don’t fall into one of those categories, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to write about.
If you are applying to a school and have an unusual or unique experience to share, like serving in the military, becoming part of a dance troupe, or caring for a disabled relative, use your knowledge to convey how you will bring diverse school’s campus.
You could be the first member of your family to apply to college; you could have struggle your way through college, worked hard in poverty, or raised your siblings.
Diversity is not limited to one’s religion, culture, language, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It’s an element of your identity that distinguishes you from others.
Going further, let’s talk about some
Do’s and Don’ts
Some do’s: .
- Think about how this helps the admission committee to understand more about who you are.
- Think about several ways you’re distinct from other people.
In numerous ways, you can approach diversity essays like you do “ community” prompts.
To save some time and effort, consider writing a combined essay that can be used for prompts that think community and focus on diversity.
Try to think in terms of identity and perspective (which often align with communities).
- As I mentioned earlier, don’t assume that “difference” only applies to culture or social class.
There are numerous ways to define “difference.”
- At all costs, avoid privilege clichés.
A common essay on diversity is like this: The writer watches a person on a street or bus, or train. They see the person, whose skin is of a different color than theirs, wears torn clothes or worn-out shoes. The writer expresses a feeling of disgrace and gratitude for their privileged position. They either help the person somehow and feel good, but also bad, or just neglect the person and feel bad or don’t feel anything. These kinds of stories have several problems:
- In such a situation, the interaction is minimum, so compelling insights are improbable to occur. As a result, diversity essays often end up displaying a common theme along the lines of “I realized I have so much to be grateful for.”
- It’s crucial to come to recognize privilege. But understanding privilege in an essay like this runs the danger of showcasing blunt negative qualities.
One important thing to do is link the values you’ve developed
Help readers see how these factors of diversity have shaped your values and insights.
Step by step process to write the “Diversity” Essay
Let’s look at two simple approaches for how you can write your diversity essay:
- If you belong to a community that embraces how you’ll contribute to the diversity of the campus, you can create your essay around your engagement with that community.
- And, if there’s individuality or perspective that represents the diversity you’ll bring to campus, you can work on that also.
1. First is the “Community” approach
Step 1: Prepare a “communities” chart by posting all communities you’re a part of. Remember that communities can be defined by ...
- Place: Crowds of people who live, work, and have leisure time near one another
- Action: Crowds of people who bring change in the world by building, doing, or solving something together (Examples: Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives)
- Interest: Associations coming together based on similar interests, skills, events, experiences, or expertise
- Circumstance: Gatherings brought together either by chance or external emergencies/situations
Step 2: Once you’ve picked a community, use the following exercise to develop your essay content.
- What did you do in that community? (Important Tip: You can use active verbs like “designed” and “directed” to clarify your responsibilities.)
- What kinds of difficulties/ problems did you solve?
- What particular impact did you have?
- What did you learn (your skills, characteristics, values)?
- How did you implement the lessons you learned in that community?
Don’t skip that step. It’s significant: it’s easy for students to write just so-so community essays if they don’t take the time to brainstorm specific content.
Step 3: Pick a structure (Narrative or montage).
Narrative Structure works fine for students who have faced a challenge in this community. Otherwise, you can use Montage Structure.
If you choose Narrative, you have to focus on answering the following three-question Structure:
- What challenges did you face?
- How did you overcome those challenges?
- What did you learn?
Go with the Montage Structure if you want to approach essays that don’t necessarily focus on a particular challenge.
2. Second is the Identity/Perspective approach
List out diverse ways in which you identify. Again, think with an open mind. Here an open mind approach is much needed. For example, "I'm a ... writer, rock lover, Indian, dancer, feminist, etc." Try to name as many identities as you think you are.
Then, in short, describe how these identities reveal different versions of you.
Is there an identity you haven’t spoken about so far in your application that's very important to you, or maybe one you've had a hard time with? If so, what have you found stimulating about it?
Regarding perspective: Talk about some unique experiences that have shaped you. For example, have your values clash with your family’s in complicated ways? Have you been raised differently? What has molded how you see the world and your role in it? (Remember that this can lead to excellent essays, but is a little harder, as “perspective” is a more abstract thing than “identity” or “community.”)
Again, Montage or Narrative Structure can work here.
Option for both approaches: As your prompt and its word count, think about adding some “Why us?” elements to the end of your diversity essay—even if the prompt doesn’t ask you to.
How you’ll contribute to the diversity on campus? Are there groups or communities that allow you to continue what you’ve already done? Or are you planning to start an organization? Express to your reader that you have got an idea about how you want to engage with the school community.
Diversity Essay Example 1
Let’s look at an example that takes the “community” approach:
When I joined the Durham Youth Commission, a group of students chosen to represent youth interests within local government, I met Miles. Miles told me his cousin’s body had been stuffed into the trunk of a car after he was killed by a gang. After that, my notion of normal would never be the same.
A melting pot of ideologies, skins, socio-economic classes, faiths, and educations, the DYC is a unique collaborative enterprise. Each member adds to our community’s network of stories, that weave, bump, and diverge in unexpected ways. Miles talked about his cousin’s broken body, Witnessa educated us about “food deserts,” supervisor Evelyn Scott explained that girls get ten-day school suspensions for simply stepping on another student’s sneakers, and I shared how my family’s blending of Jewish tradition and Chinese culture bridges disparate worlds. As a person who was born in Tokyo, lived in London and grew up in the South, I realize difference doesn’t have to be an obstacle to understanding. My ability to listen empathetically helped us envision multifaceted solutions to issues facing 21st-century youth.
My experience in this space of affirmation and engagement has made me a more thoughtful person and listener. I want to continue this effort and be the woman who both expands perspectives and takes action after hearing people’s stories. Reconciling disparate lifestyles and backgrounds in the Commission has prepared me to become a compassionate leader, eager to both expand perspectives and take collaborative action.
Tips and Analysis
- Hook us, then keep us: We find that hook jolting every time we read i. But that’s the reason it’s effective. So while your hook doesn’t have to be as shocking and mysterious as this one, always spend some time researching options for ways to hook your reader. While the hook does a great job of hooking us, the body does a great job of keeping us engaged.
We get to see how the writer has explored various perspectives, making space for others to share, and tried to establish understanding by offering her own. The insights she gives are quick but effective, and she transitions perfectly into concentrating on how diversity has shaped her, and how she wants to continue engaging and participating in the future.
- Show your engagement: The way she described the final paragraph could be set depending on the phrasing of the prompt—some schools clearly ask how you’ll contribute to diversity on campus. For these prompts, remember to add some “why us”-like details, showing that you’ve found associations and opportunities at the school that inspires you.
- Save yourself time: Use this essay for various prompts which ask about things like diversity or community, saving her hours of writing. As you brainstorm for your diversity prompts, think about how you can write one essay that can be used for all of them (with needed revisions to fit the prompt’s phrasing and word count).
Diversity Essay Example 2 (with analysis in the essay)
This one focuses more on perspective:
My whole family sits around the living room on a lazy Sunday afternoon when we suddenly hear sirens. Lots of sirens. Everyone stops. My dad peers out the window, trying to get a glimpse of the highway. My mom gets up and goes to the phone. After a few stressful rings, the person on the other line answers. My mom bursts out, “Is Josh ok?”
Great hook! We’re engaged by the questions this essay raises. Is Josh ok? Who is this Josh? Why are there is a lot of sirens?
Josh is my fourteen-year-old cousin, and he lives less than a mile from my house. Whenever we hear sirens, my mom will give their house a call or shoot my aunt a text, just in case. Josh was born with a syndrome that affected the formation of the bones of his head and face. As a result, his hearing, vision, breathing, and some of his brain structures are compromised. He’s unable to do athletics, his tracheostomy always provides a possibility of disaster, and an unwieldy head brace used to grace his head.
Here the writer gives context by describing who Josh is. He also defines “difference” with a few particular details.
Living so close to Josh, we have had the opportunity to interact daily. We go on vacations together, I drive Josh to school twice a week, at every holiday we either go down to their house or they come up to my family’s house, we play wiffle ball in the yard behind their house. One of my favorite activities is board games with him—Risk, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, we play it all. Last Christmas, there were endless laughs when prompted by our fathers’ nostalgia, we constructed a slot car track and raced those miniature cars around tight turns and short straightaways. This game was perfect for Josh, as he could stay in a comfortable seat and still experience the speed and excitement that he is usually barred from.
In this section, the writer shows us how close he is to Josh, and the final sentence shows his sympathy and feeling.
It goes without saying that Josh has not had an easy childhood. He has had to fight for his life in the hospital when his peers were learning how to multiply and divide in school or playing capture the flag on the beach. A large portion of his childhood has been arbitrarily taken from him. That is most obviously unfair.
At our high school, I see Josh every day walking from the second period to the third period, and every day I say hello and have a small conversation with him. One day I was walking with a few of my friends when I stopped to talk with him. During the conversation, I made a little joke at Josh’s expense. It wasn’t at all relating to his disability, but to something completely independent of that—specifically, his Instagram habits. My friends were horrified and chastised me as they saw it appropriate.
He’s setting up for the end and also raised a question: Why did he make the joke at Josh’s expense?
My friends didn’t understand. He is not some extremely delicate dandelion who falls apart at every breath that causes a slightly adverse situation. Everywhere he goes, he’s the most popular guy in the room; people flock to him, surround him, pity him, overwhelm him. All Josh wants is to be treated like any other person. He is my cousin, and he is my friend, so I treat him as such. We joke we make fun of each other, just as any other two friends do.
Insight! The writer treats Josh as he would treat any of his friends—like a normal human being.
Josh has proved to me that people with disabilities are exactly that—people. As if that needed proving. But it’s something that is too easily forgotten. It’s hard to see anything except the handicap. A person’s wheelchair or white cane inevitably trumps any other characteristic. It’s a natural human reaction, but it too often leads to the dehumanizing of disabled people. One of my favorite people on Earth has lived a life of disability. And he plays a mean game of Monopoly.
In the end, he connects the dots and provides a bit more understanding: Treating people differently because of their disability can be degrading.
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Writing A Diversity Essay: Simple Steps To Follow
Today, every university is striving to have a student body that includes individuals from various ethnic or religious backgrounds, socio-economic groups, and even sexual orientation. This is why a diversity essay is becoming extremely necessary. It helps the university understand what sets a student apart and the diverse views they can hold.
What is a Diversity Essay?
When applying to any university, a student is expected to submit a personal essay and some supplemental essays based on the prompts provided. One of them is an essay on diversity.
This is usually a 500–650-word essay that answers the question, “How can I bring diversity to the college?” A diversity essay aims to establish the different issues or ideas that a student truly cares about. It helps humanize the application and also expand the diversity in an educational institution.
Some colleges and universities may not ask for diversity essays specifically. Instead, they provide diversity prompts in the application, which you will have to respond to in your personal statement.
Common Diversity Essay Topics
You can get some of the best diversity essay ideas when reflecting on your own life and upbringing. The best diversity essay topics are as follows:
- Cultural groups
- Ethnicity or race
- Values on diversity on inclusion
- Cultural diversity in your country
- How you can contribute to the diversity
- Your views on diversity
- Sexual orientation
- Socio-economic backgrounds
- Diversity in your neighborhood
- An organization or club that you work with
The primary goal of your essay about diversity is to help the college understand how adding you to the student group will help them create an inclusive environment.
Diversity Essay Example
For as long as I can remember, it has been easy for me to get along with other people, even those who are much different from me. When I was a young child, I was never shy about meeting new people; instead, whenever I met a stranger, I was eager to learn more about them and make a new friend. In fact, my parents would often find themselves apologizing for me because I was asking too many questions. My love for meeting new people was one of the things that initially made me decide to pursue a career in nursing, and I believe that it will also make me a valuable contributor to the university campus. As I meet people from a wide range of backgrounds with highly diverse academic and personal interests, I look forward to getting to know them and recognizing the value of their unique individual backgrounds and ideas. For me, recognizing and appreciating diversity is not an obligation or a burden. Rather, I view living and learning on a diverse campus as an unprecedented opportunity to interact with more interesting people than I ever have before. Because I am entering my university experience with this positive attitude about diversity, I believe I will contribute significantly to a positive learning environment on campus.
I will also personally contribute to improving the experience of the campus as a welcoming and inclusive place to learn through my commitment to engagement both inside and outside the classroom. I plan to approach my courses from the perspective that I can learn from other students by actively participating in class discussions and studying in groups outside of class, and I believe that my clear willingness to work with others will help to promote an inclusive learning atmosphere. I recognize that every individual I encounter in my courses has faced unique challenges, and working closely with them in my nursing courses will help me prepare to work with diverse populations when I become a nurse. Therefore, I will take steps to engage with as many of my classmates as I can, which I believe will support a positive learning experience for all of us.
I am also interest in making the campus a more inclusive place to learn by participating in a diversity-related student organization that promotes inclusion. As a student at the university, there are many options for me to choose from, and I have not yet decided which group to join, but I know that there are a variety of on-campus organizations that celebrate diversity in a way that supports a more inclusive environment. Therefore, by participating in one of these groups, I will be able to add to the positive at the environment at the university where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their background. When I join one of these groups, I am particularly interested in inviting more diverse speakers to campus, which will further demonstrate that the campus is an open and welcoming learning environment.
Overall, both my attitude and my activities will make me a positive contributor to the university atmosphere. I would love to have the opportunity to add to the diversity on campus as a student in the future.
What Colleges Look For
If you go through any cultural diversity essay samples, you will notice some common features. Every college that asks for a diversity essay looks for certain qualities in a student that these features highlight. These includes:
- Authenticity: If you are writing a how will you contribute to diversity sample essay, make sure that you are honest in your views and opinions. If you exaggerate, the admissions committee will see right through it. The goal is not to appear more impressive. It is to present a real understanding of diversity, be it your own or that of fellow students.
- Highlight how you are different: Your personal story is one of the best diversity topics to write about. Narrating personal experiences tells the university more about you as an individual. It is also an insight into personal values and your history. The idea is to stand out positively.
Four Simple Tips for a Great Diversity Essay
- Highlight Your Unique Story
Diversity is not restricted to religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. You can write how you can contribute to diversity essay by talking about unique perspectives and values, family background, life experiences, personality traits and interests, hobbies, or talents.
For example: “Hailing from a family of war veterans, I have learned to….”, or, “Through my journey as a dancer, I have had the opportunity to interact with individuals from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds…”
- Share anecdotes from your life
There is nothing more personal and engaging than an anecdote. These anecdotes work best when placed right at the beginning of your essay. For instance, in continuation with the examples mentioned above:
Examples: “Hailing from a family of war veterans, I have learned to be very sensitive to the needs of people around me. As a child, I remember how my father used to instantly understand if anyone in our household staff was having a rough day and was quick to respond to it.” “Through my journey as a dancer, I have had the opportunity to interact with individuals from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I remember the first time I was backstage at an international show when I interacted with people outside my country. I was fascinated by how diverse we were, and yet, so similar…’
As you would see in most college essays on diversity, the best way to appeal to any reader is to share as many real-life stories and personal anecdotes as possible. This shows the reader that you have lived through the experience, making you a more authentic candidate.
- Talk about how these experiences have molded your values
If you need more assistance with interesting, high-quality diversity essays, you can get in touch with a professional. We provide all the essay writing help you need to improve your chances of getting admission into your chosen university.
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Last updated March 8, 2023
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Blog > Essay Advice , Supplementals > How to Write a Diversity Supplemental Essay
How to Write a Diversity Supplemental Essay
Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University
Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant
This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays. You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here .
What is a Diversity supplemental essay?
In the last few years, we've seen an increase in college supplemental essays that focus on diversity. These essay prompts usually ask the applicant to discuss a way in which they bring diversity to their community or have experienced diversity in their lives.
These supplemental essays can be tricky to write. Not everyone sees themselves as embodying diversity or engaging with it extensively. This may be partly because many writers may associate "diversity" somewhat narrowly with categories like race, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.
Really, however, diversity can encompass much more. We've worked with students who have written compelling diversity essays about being a class clown, defining the diversity they add to their community in terms of humor.
If you're stressed about the diversity essay, this post is for you. We're going to go into the strategies we've used to help students write amazing diversity essays. We'll also provide some example essays to give you a sense of what a great diversity essay really looks like.
Diversity Essay Strategy
To write a good diversity essay, you first have to think through what schools are really after with these prompts.
Take the University of Washington's essay, which is somewhere between a diversity and a community essay:
Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the UW.
This prompt is a helpful one because it gives a very broad definition of what diversity might look like. It kind of defines diversity in reverse by pointing to all these different communities, then asking you to talk about how your place in one of them contributes to diversity.
But UW's prompt is helpful for another reason: it clearly shows that the underlying purpose of the prompt is for the admissions committee to get a sense of what you will add to the school community.
This is the purpose of most, if not all, diversity essays. By reflecting on a community you belong to, or a way in which you add diversity, admissions officers are getting a clearer sense of who you will be as a member of their school community. You can use your diversity essays to underscore important parts of your overall application narrative .
Remember that assessing " school fit " is a major part of an admissions officer's job. You can think of diversity essays as a way to show school fit in a less direct way than you might in a "Why Us" essay.
One more note. As we've emphasized over and over, college supplementals should focus on personal strengths. You don't need to brag, but you do need to show yourself in a positive light that helps an admissions officer understand the values you'll bring to their campus.
This gets us to a clearer sense of a strategy for Diversity essays. Your goal is three-fold:
- Hone in on a way in which you contribute diversity, even if it falls outside the traditional categories we might think of when we think of diversity.
- Show you understand the school community, making a case for school fit. This may be more or less important depending on the prompt. In the UW example, it's clearly paramount.
- Tell a story that showcases your strengths and the benefit you'll add to a school community.
If you can do those three things, you should come out the other side with a pretty solid diversity essay.
How to do Diversity Essay school research
Let's pretend that you're writing your diversity essay about your South Indian heritage. Maybe you grew up in a predominately white community and are a minority at your high school.
I bet you have a lot to say about what it was like to grow up in a community where you were outside the predominant racial group. If you feel comfortable writing about that experience, then go for it.
I want to pause here for a moment — a lot of our students will debate with themselves about writing essays that deal with that kind of topic. They usually have a sense that these topics are "overplayed" or "generic."
If there's a meaningful story to tell there, if it feels important to write about, you should follow that instinct, especially for diversity supplementals. Writing about your experience as a minority in your community is a perfect way to address a topic that explicitly asks about diversity. I encourage you to lean into these stories if they feel accessible for you to write about.
Once you've settled on that story, however, you may want to do some research into the types of organizations and programs at the school that you could join that fit your story.
If you're writing about the difficulty of finding a sense of identity in a predominately white community, you could talk about how you can't wait to join the Indian Students Alliance. You could talk about helping to organize a student Diwali celebration. You could even take it into the academic realm, and pick out a course from the Asian Studies department that would help you get a better sense of Indian history.
My point is simple. Try to find programs, courses, or clubs that the school already offers that fit with the topic of your diversity essay. Then, make a case for how you would engage with those offerings. Give the school a clear sense of how you'll engage with their community if they invite you to join it. In other words, help them make a case for school fit.
Now let's pretend you're writing your essay about something that falls outside of the traditional ambit of diversity. Let's go with comedy!
You're a pretty funny person, and lacking a more traditional answer to diversity prompts, you decide to write about how you bring diversity by lightening any room with your sense of humor.
Tell your story, then write about how you would join the school's improv comedy club. Find a class on comedy screenwriting and talk about that.
Bottom line: even in a diversity essay, it can pay to do your research about the school and make a case for school fit. Where Why Us essays may often focus more on academic offerings, Diversity essays are a good opportunity to make a case for fit in a broader, more cultural sense.
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How to write a Diversity supplemental essay
The right way to approach a Diversity supplement will vary based on prompts. Some schools may ask you to take a more formal, even policy-oriented approach to the question of diversity. Other prompts may simply ask you to relate a story that highlights diversity. Of the two, the second is more common, so that's what we'll focus on here.
The most challenging part of writing a diversity essay is often picking the type of diversity that you represent. As we've discussed, diversity can look like many things.
If you're having trouble thinking about how you represent diversity, try stepping away from the term. Instead ask yourself, "What's something I'm good at?"
I find this question to be helpful because, for most people, it's way easier to answer.
You might be good at comedy, or gardening, or making coffee, or political analysis, or cooking amazing soups.
Any of those five skills could be reinterpreted to answer a diversity prompt. Why? Because diversity, at its most basic level, means difference. Another way to answer the diversity prompt is to answer the question, “What makes you different from other people?”
Thinking about what you’re good at is an easy way to answer that question. What do you do well that others don’t? Almost any answer to that question will give you a solid answer to a diversity prompt. As a bonus, framing your answer to a diversity prompt around strengths will make it easy to keep your essay strength-focused.
Once you have your topic in hand, the writing process begins.
Most great diversity essays (we'll see a couple of examples later) tell a story. It might be about an experience you had with a classmate, an encounter with someone else in your life, or a broader narrative about a trend that's shaped your life.
As with most supplemental essays, I recommend outlining first and making sure that you're super clear about how your response fits the prompt. Among all types of supplemental essays, Diversity essays can be among the easiest to mess up because the essay you write doesn't actually fit the requirements of the prompt.
Here's an example of what a basic diversity essay structure might look like:
Intro: Tell a story that introduces the reader to your definition of diversity.
Middle: Introduce your definition of diversity more directly and reflect on the role it's played in your life / how it's shaped who you are as a person.
Conclusion: Answer any prompt-specific stuff directly. For example, in the UW prompt, this is where you'd talk about how you'd contribute to diversity.
The conclusion is also where you might tie in the kind of school research we talked about earlier.
As you're writing, ask yourself whether you're meeting the criteria for a good diversity essay we laid out above. Are you...
- Giving a clear definition of diversity, even if it's a bit unorthodox?
- Highlighting personal strengths through your story?
- Connecting to the school -- either through values or through specific school research?
If you're doing all three of these things, your essay should be in good shape.
Now, let’s take a look at a great diversity essay example.
Diversity Supplemental Essay Example
Example: growing up rural.
Columbia: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)*
When the closest grocery store is an hour away, you learn to get creative. Applesauce replaces vegetable oil, milk gets thickened with cornstarch, and sometimes you have no choice but to omit the garlic. Such is the life of a rural kid.
Growing up on a farm, I’ve learned to take academic and community challenges in stride.(( The writer provides a clear statement about where they come from and how it has shaped their worldview.)) Whereas most students can simply hop on the school bus in winter, my dad has to grade our road so the bus won’t get stuck. I spend nearly three hours each day on the bus alone, and my afternoons are filled with combining corn before I can get started on homework.
New York and my hometown are about as different as you can get. What unites them is that I belong in both.(( This sentence clearly transitions between the relationship between their home town and life at Columbia.)) The corn we grow feeds thousands, but we rely on bus drivers, supply chains, and the helping hands of neighbors to keep us going. I don’t always agree with my rural family or neighbors, and I’m sure I won’t always agree with my classmates at Columbia.
But my background has made me open-minded, flexible, and adaptable, traits I would love to bring to the Columbia classroom.(( The essay concludes with this sentence that explicitly answers the prompt and draws on values that align with Columbia’s.))
Interested in reading more example supplemental essays? Hop on over to our college essay examples post for some of our favorites.
Liked that? Try this next.
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