Schools like Yale, UC Berkeley, and many public universities ask their applicants questions about diversity. While this question is most common in graduate school applications, it does come up in undergraduate admissions. Yale requests that applicants for a supplementary scholarship respond to this prompt:
“A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.”
The Common Application also provides students with the opportunity to talk about some aspects of diversity in the first and fifth prompts.
What Does Diversity Mean?
Many students are baffled about what to write about themselves concerning diversity. Contributing to a school’s “diversity” doesn’t simply refer to the fact that you are a member of a racial or cultural minority. Diversity includes anything about a person’s background that will make his or her perspectives and skills unique. A person’s diverse skills and perspectives are from his or her geography, gender, socio-economic status, race, spiritual beliefs, family background and experiences, special skills and talents, etc.
For example, you might be a strong debater because you grew up in a family of eight, where everyone gave their opinion about a news article over dinner. Or, you might wake up at dawn to start reading and exercising, because you were raised on a farm where the work day started at sunrise. Colleges want a diverse student body so that students can learn about life from each other, as well as from their professors.
Why Do Colleges Ask About Diversity?
Colleges want students to be teachers as well as students. In college, students learn not only from books and professors, but from each other. However, if everyone is exactly the same, what can they learn from each other? So a diverse student body made up of different races, family backgrounds, and beliefs brings a wider viewpoint and perspective and helps in the educational process. Colleges also want students to learn to accept new ideas. A diverse student body does that. The new idea you learn could be something very simple, like your roommate may prefer to eat with chopsticks, has her own pair, and teaches you how to hold them correctly. Harvard’s stated goal is to “promote equity, diversity & inclusion within our School and the greater community.”
What is a Common Mistake in Diversity Essays?
Common mistakes: The college you are applying to will already know your racial and socio-economic demographics through their application form. This means when they ask you to write about diversity in the essay, they are not simply trying to determine your race or ethnic background. In addition, don’t make the mistake of writing something along the lines of “I am diverse.” One person is not diverse on his or her own.
Questions about diversity are looking to determine how your skills and talents make you just the right puzzle piece to fit into the jigsaw puzzle made up of all students on a campus.
Also, students will sometimes think they have nothing to say about diversity because they are not a member of a minority. You might think, “I’m white, what can I write in a diversity essay?” The answer is: A lot! A thousand experiences from your past and dreams for your future make you different from your best friend and from someone you’ve never met. Your essay on diversity should show the college how you will bring your unique point of view to the classroom and campus. What has your grandmother taught you? What book has affected you? Is there a person you try to emulate? Depending on the exact essay question, your essay could also discuss a time when you learned something from someone with a very different background.
A sample diversity essay:
Below is a good example of a college admissions essay about diversity, written by an Essay Coaching student in 2005. Since then, the author has been admitted to his top choices for both undergraduate and professional education, both of which are ranked in the top 10 by US News and World Report.
Why is this a good example of a diversity essay? Read the essay, and read the explanation underneath.
People see me as tall and black, but I am more than that: I am a lawyer in the making. As a 6 foot 5, 220 pound black man, I walk through the crowded corridors of Northern High School drawing looks from nearly everyone. Often people stop to ask me, “Are you on the basketball team?”
To most I simply answer “No.” However, when it is someone I know, and I would like to give them more information, I tell them, “No, but I play lacrosse.” On the rare occasion that a Northern basketball player asks me, I answer yet another way. Anticipating a chance to join in an after-school pick-up game, I tell them that I don’t play basketball—but I’m good.
My tall white friends have told me they are rarely asked about their involvement in sports and it is mostly black people who ask me these questions. I have come to the conclusion that everyone looks at me from the outside in, looking at my height, my race, even my size 16 feet to determine what they think of me.
I wish people could see the logic in my veins, the law in my lungs, the mock trial on my mind, and the admiration in my heart for both Clarence Darrow—for his willingness to take on challenging cases, and Johnnie Cochrane—for his ability to win them.
I will bring to your university the same qualities I see in my role models: drive, determination, and a logical mind.
Why is this a strong diversity essay?
This is a strong diversity essay NOT because this essay discusses the author’s racial minority status. Rather, this is a strong essay because it:
- Gives the reader a memorable, distinct image of the writer (for example, size 16 feet)
- Reveals the writer’s self-insight (“To most I simply answer “no”… I have come to the conclusion that…)
- Shows his tolerance of others’ views (“When it is someone I know, and I would like to give them more information, I tell them “no, but I play lacrosse”.)
- Provides a great deal of impressive detail about his goals and interests in a compact, compelling way. Although he the writer is talking about ideas, he relates them to his physical self and his activities, so the reader can “see” and remember his ideas more easily. “I wish people could see the logic in my veins, the law in my lungs, the mock trial on my mind, and the admiration in my heart for both Clarence Darrow—for his willingness to take on challenging cases, and Johnnie Cochrane—for his ability to win them.”
Are You Looking for a College That Emphasizes Diversity?
The literature from many colleges emphasizes increasing diversity on their campuses, and many schools, including Harvard, UC Berkeley, and the University of Kentucky, have entire departments dedicated to diversity. Harvard’s stated goal is to “promote equity, diversity & inclusion within our School and the greater community.” Frank Bruni argues here that diverse demographics are not the entire solution. Bruni admires colleges with programs that encourage a diverse student body to interact:
“Davidson is coaxing campus organizations and even using off-campus trips to orchestrate conversations between white and black students, between religious students and atheists, between budding Democrats and nascent Republicans. By prioritizing these kinds of exchanges, the school sends the message that they matter every bit as much as the warmth and validation of a posse of like-minded people. At Denison University, near Columbus, Ohio, there are special funds available to campus groups that stage events with other, dissimilar groups. Adam Weinberg, the college’s president, told me that he’d attended a Seder at which Jewish students played host to international students from China.”
Read more how to answer the about the diversity question for a college application essay here.
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Updated June 19, 2017
We've been asked to post examples of diversity statements, so here are a few to start. We plan on posting several more over the next few weeks. It is important to note that diversity statements are truly optional, and not everyone should write one. Contrary to what you may have heard, it is not a missed opportunity to write more about yourself. In fact, we wrote a blog a few years ago on when you should write a diversity statement. We hope these are helpful!
I was raised by a single mother, but my home was filled with family. My mother, sister, and I shared a room with two twin-size beds. My aunts, uncles, five cousins, and grandparents shared the two remaining bedrooms. In total, there were thirteen people sharing a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home. For the children, the nonstop playtime and carefree memories mitigated the obstacles that came with our socioeconomic insufficiency. For me, our tight-knit family and living situation made it much easier to overcome the absence of my father.
My father represented many of the negative stereotypes that Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants have to combat. He immigrated to the United States as a young adult and fell into a life of criminal activity during our city’s booming methamphetamine trade. His choices had an adverse impact on not only my family, but also our community at large. I was somewhat sheltered from learning too much about my father, but I knew enough to feel burdened with shame. In fact, that feeling was so strong that I became fixated on the goal of creating a life opposite to that which my father had built.
Pursuing a brighter future did not come without obstacles in my neighborhood and family. Rejecting the criminal element in our community required a deliberate choice to exclude myself from the majority and often made me feel left out. Many of my peers criticized me and called me stuck up or “white washed” because of the choices I made. My family fully supported my goals, but their own education levels and unfamiliarity with the college admission process restricted the amount of guidance they were able to provide. Counselors at my high school were overloaded by high dropout rates and unable to focus on college bound students. It was the small acts of support and encouragement that ultimately got me to overcome my inhibitions and fears of the unknown and pursue a bachelor’s degree: a friend who told me what the SAT was, a teacher who explained the FAFSA and college deadlines. These processes seem basic to some, but can be overwhelming to a first-generation student to the point where it becomes easier to put it off or quit altogether.
I did not spend my entire youth in that overcrowded yet comforting home. Eventually, my mother remarried and we were able to move out of my grandparents’ house. But I still know what its like to feel insecure about where you come from and what you lack—it is something I will carry with me throughout my life and career. My education and career goals have been shaped by my background, and I will continue to aim high despite the challenges that may come my way.
For as long as I can remember, I outwardly portrayed myself as a calm and controlled individual. It is a true reflection of my demeanor, but it is the complete opposite of what I have lived throughout my childhood and adolescence. When I was in fourth grade, my father admitted to me that he was addicted to crack. At the time I did not understand what crack addiction meant, but I was educated by his actions soon enough. Shortly after this confession, the family structure I knew and loved began to collapse. In addition to my family’s dissolution, the neighborhood we lived in is not a place where success stories are born or a location people would visit without important cause. My neighborhood could be described as a breeding ground for gangs, drugs, violence, and anarchy. One of the few bright spots of growing up in my neighborhood is the chemistry children had with one another by having similar troubles at home. It was not uncommon for my neighborhood friends to have a drug abusing parent, a single parent household, alcoholic parents, or experience domestic violence. Even though my father’s addiction clouded his judgment, both he and my mother always warned me about the dangers of our neighborhood. I was not allowed to cross the street without their supervision due to gang members on the corner selling drugs, and playing outside at night was dangerous due to occasional shootings. Growing up in a neighborhood like mine was a double edged sword; it was dangerous, but our common struggles made it easy to relate to one another.
Living with a drug addicted parent was full of uncertainty and confusion. There were many break-ins, but I always had a strange feeling about these break-ins because although valuables were stolen, certain sentimental items of value would remain untouched. I did not learn until much later in life that my father was the one stealing from us. Eventually my mother left my father and moved out in the beginning of my seventh grade year. My sister and I stayed with our father.
In winter the heating bills went unpaid and the temperature in the house would drop to the low forties. My sister and I would walk to the local laundromat at night and warm our blankets and pillows in the dryer in order to have heat through the night. Money for food was scarce, and my sister and I became accustomed to eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner out of vending machines on a budget of six dollars a day. Although this experience was mentally and physically damaging, it served as motivation for me to strive for a better life and made me never want to regress to that standard of living.
After about a year of living with my father, I began my eighth grade year at my mom’s new home in a different neighborhood. I was separated from my childhood friends for that year, but we reunited the next year as freshmen in high school. Things had changed in that year: the friends that I grew up with became the gang members that my parents warned me about as a child. Out of all of my childhood friends, I was the only one to go on to college, let alone finish high school. The toughest part of my transition to my mother’s new home was this shift away from my childhood friends. Living with the feeling of turning my back on them by cutting off communication with them during high school was an isolating experience. If teachers saw me with them, I would be categorized as a gang member, or worse, if other gang members noticed then they would try to attack me because they thought I was a rival. I tried to explain this to my friends but they could not understand and eventually the friendships grew cold.
During the end of my ninth grade year, I was still adjusting to my new life. Although I no longer physically lived in that neighborhood, I still felt like I was alone and was stuck in the same position. My closest friends, the ones I could relate to, were all on a downward spiral in life; at the same time, I could not relate to the students in my honors courses. Many were discussing vacation trips, showing off new clothes or getting a new car for their birthday when getting their driving permit. While some of my classmates were planning on taking family vacations to Disneyland, I was planning to visit my father who had been recently arrested and was serving jail time for robbery. Instead of having memories of helping my parents wash their car in the front yard or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk as a child, I remember seeing people get shot and killed in my neighborhood or seeing a pregnant woman smoking crack.
Sophomore year of high school proved to be the lowest and most humbling part of my life. I remember vividly the moment I found out that I lost my first two friends to gang violence. “V is dead and J is arrested.” Those words made my heart race as I learned J killed V over a drug deal. At the funeral I approached V’s mother and offered my condolences. In a traumatized voice, she whispered to me, “I wished you could have taken V away with you and saved my son.” I can still hear her voice today speaking those words, and the chills still make my bones shiver.
There was a lot of guilt in the weeks that followed; I felt like there was more I could have done to steer them in the right direction. I began to replay my childhood and explore my life direction and I decided a change was needed. All of my experiences up until that point started to serve as an inspiration to become better than where I started and continue to build myself into a stronger person. My natural disposition allows me to see the positive things in every situation, and I realize that no matter how dire the situation seems, it could be worse. Many people say that phrase not knowing what that worse actually is. But I know. Opportunities that have come my way are very much appreciated, and I intend to make the most of them. Knowing where I once was, I am confident in my accomplishments and hopeful for future generations as I start a new trend in my family and build a strong foundation. My childhood is not a weight that drags me down; instead it has become the strength to push through adversity when challenges arise.
My life was supposed to be simple. I wanted to make my parents happy, to give us the future they desired. Winning Quran memorization competitions, fasting, and praying daily: my religious beliefs guided me throughout my childhood. After the September 11th attacks festered resentment for Muslims across the nation, I faced religiously charged backlash in my public school; as a result, I transferred to an Islamic school where I hoped to blend in better. It was clear, though, that another difference would soon set me apart.
My new classmates were quick to point out my effeminate mannerisms that unintentionally flowed from the flicks of my wrist. I, following my natural inclinations, also didn’t consider the implications of knitting in lieu of building toy airplanes. As my sexuality blossomed and the homophobic rhetoric harshened, I wrestled with conflicting feelings of living authentically and living without fear. I questioned whether my religious beliefs could sustain what I knew to be true about myself. I couldn’t see a way through to safe ground.
As a result, comforted by its familiarity, I resigned to the security of the proverbial closet. Clothing myself with a wardrobe of feeble masculinity, I prayed my actions would become my sexuality. By denying my identity, I rejected a part of myself for the sake of my parents. In my head, I was a martyr, bravely sacrificing for the greater good of my family. In my heart, I was a heretic, terrified to openly challenge my religious dogma and familial values.
Over time, though, the need to live genuinely became too great to deny. Sitting in a mosque attending a traditional Pakistani wedding, my own future telescoped before me. As I observed the beaming couple, I realized I would one day face a similar choice. How could I look into the eyes of a woman and speak of love as if I felt it between us? Dejected, I finally understood that what some call the closet felt more like a coffin. What once felt familiar was now incompatible.
Professing my queer identity to my parents swelled our home with such a rage that our relationship fragmented in an instant. They believed homosexuality was incompatible with Islam, and reparative therapy was the only cure for my dis-orientation. They kicked me out of the house and, with no place to stay, I happened to find a Buddhist abbey with a room to rent.
My struggle to reconcile religion and sexuality had left me ambivalent towards religious practice. So, initially, the abbey was only a place to sleep: a momentary reprieve from school and three jobs. Yet, the ringing bells and chanting monks, which now replaced my alarm clock, slowly tugged on my inquisitive nature.
Using my experience as a guide, I studied Buddhism from a neutral lens. As I began to explore the subtle boundaries of cultural practice and religious dogma, I recognized how unadulterated doctrine is assimilated into deeper cultural undertones. Just as some pervert scriptures of the Quran to promote acts of terrorism, others craft its teachings to legitimize homosexual prejudice. My spiritual introspection has galvanized my Islamic understanding: I am a Queer Muslim. I reclaim my faith with a broader interpretation of the Quran – one that advocates inclusion. Through self-reflection, analysis, and contemplation, the fabric of my identity evolves.
In America, the Queer community continues to face prejudice. Yet, in Pakistani society we struggle with blatant persecution. In coming out to my mother, I remember the disgust emanating from her curled lips and grimace. At the time, I took it as a clear sign: believing in Islam had failed me. Today, I am able to use this foreboding memory to fuel new purpose in my advocacy work. My parents still struggle with my coming out, but by shifting the paradigm from myself to empowering my Queer Muslim community, I hope to serve others who endure a similar experience.
As a child, I never found it odd that my parents were immigrants, spoke English with heavy accents, and were only minimally educated. My mother arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic at a young age, and although she was unfamiliar with the language, she made a fervent effort to forge a new and better life for herself. My father arrived to the U.S., from Ghana, under similar pretenses and worked hard to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities he found here. With their heavily accented English and menial jobs, my parents fostered an environment of love and support that allowed me to construct an identity that truly reflects the social, economic, and ethnic histories that have formed me. Because they were new to the area and struggling financially, my parents decided to settle in the most affordable area they could find, the South Bronx. The South Bronx is everything the media portrays it to be; dangerous, destitute and adverse. Nevertheless, it is still home, and as much as I have resisted it, growing up in the South Bronx has also had an undeniable impact on me.
As a college freshman, the many layers of my diversity unfolded in an inharmonious manner. It took me some time to integrate my experiences as a first-generation Latino and African American and a South Bronx native. I did not find many other students who shared my background when I began my undergraduate studies at the College of the Holy Cross. Along with standing out as one of the few persons of color, I also was an outlier socioeconomically. I soon began to feel inferior about my life and background. I avoided conversations that involved my home life and began wishing for another. I longed for affluent, American parents with professional careers. I desired the lavish home in the serene neighborhood or the summerhouse in Martha's Vineyard; I wanted to live the lives of the other Holy Cross students. Soon these longings festered into embarrassment towards my parents. I silently accused them of being lazy, choosing to be uneducated and thus forcing us to live in the South Bronx. I essentially blamed them for making me different in every possible sense.
Over time, I began to grasp that although I had a different racial and socioeconomic background than the majority of my classmates, these differences were not negative or adverse. My distinct experiences allowed me to stand out from many other students at my college; these experiences became sources of pride and strength. My background brought a fresh voice to the classroom setting, something that my professors greatly valued. As I fostered my perspective, I learned to develop and utilize this voice by speaking up and adding my diverse experiences to class discussions. I identified with the experiences of authors like Junot Diaz and Esmeralda
Santiago, who both lived in impoverished ghettos and faced the difficulties of having immigrant parents unaccustomed to the American way of life. I frequently contributed to discussions examining the social and academic difficulties Black students face on predominantly White college campuses. I began to understand that I needed to embrace my diversity rather than suppress it. Consequently, I began to value my multifaceted identity and came to trust in the significance of my diversity.
As I embark on a legal education, my experiences, not just as a person of color, but as a biracial and bicultural son of low income African and Latino immigrants, can help me contribute to the law school environment as well as the legal field. Diversity of thought and perspective are paramount in the study of law, and my unique voice can serve as an asset, allowing me to represent and bring forth the experiences of those who may not have a platform from which to do so.