The Diversity College Essay: How to Write a Stellar Essay
- What’s Covered in a Diversity Essay?
- What Is a Diversity Essay?
- Examples of the Diversity Essay Prompt
- How to Write the Diversity College Essay After the End of Affirmative Action
- Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
The Diversity Essay exists because colleges want a student body that includes different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, backgrounds, interests, and so on. The essay asks students to illuminate what sets them apart so that admissions committees can see what kind of diverse views and opinions they can bring to the campus.
In this post, we’ll be going over what exactly a diversity essay is, examples of real prompts and essays, and tips for writing a standout essay. You’ll be well prepared to answer this common essay prompt after reading this post!
What’s Covered in a Diversity Essay?
Upon hearing the word diversity, many people assume that they have to write about gender and sexuality, class, or race. To many, this can feel overly personal or forced, or can cause students to worry that their identity isn’t unique or interesting enough. In reality, the diversity essay is much broader than many people realize.
Identity means different things to different people, and the important thing is that you demonstrate your uniqueness and what’s important to you. You might write about one of the classic, traditional identity features mentioned above, but you also could consider writing about a more unusual feature of yourself or your life—or even the intersection of two or more identities.
Consider these questions as you think about what to include in your diversity essay:
- Do you have a unique or unusual talent or skill? For example, you might be a person with perfect pitch, or one with a very accurate innate sense of direction.
- Do you have beliefs or values that are markedly different from the beliefs or values of those around you? Perhaps you hold a particular passion for scientific curiosity or truthfulness, even when it’s inconvenient.
- Do you have a hobby or interest that sets you apart from your peers? Maybe you’re an avid birder, or perhaps you love to watch old horror movies.
- Have you done or experienced something that few people have? Note that if you choose to write about a single event as a diverse identity feature, that event should have had a pretty substantial impact on you and your life. Perhaps you’re part of the 0.2% of the world that has run a marathon, or you’ve had the chance to watch wolves hunt in the wild.
- Do you have a role in life that gives you a special outlook on the world? Maybe one of your siblings has a rare disability, or you grew up in a town of less than 500 people.
Of course, if you would rather write about a more classic identity feature, you absolutely should! These questions are intended to help you brainstorm and get you thinking creatively about this prompt. You don’t need to dig deep for an extremely unusual diverse facet of yourself or your personality. If writing about something like ability, ethnicity, or gender feels more representative of your life experience, that can be an equally strong choice!
You should think expansively about your options and about what really demonstrates your individuality, but the most important thing is to be authentic and choose a topic that is truly meaningful to you.
What Is a Diversity Essay?
Diversity essay prompts come up in both personal statements and supplemental essays. As with all college essays, the purpose of any prompt is to better understand who you are and what you care about. Your essays are your chance to share your voice and humanize your application. This is especially true for the diversity essay, which aims to understand your unique perspectives and experiences, as well as the ways in which you might contribute to a college community.
It’s worth noting that diversity essays are used in all kinds of selection processes beyond undergrad admissions—they’re seen in everything from graduate admissions to scholarship opportunities. You may very well need to write another diversity essay later in life, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with this essay archetype now.
If you’re not sure whether your prompt is best answered by a diversity essay, consider checking out our posts on other essay archetypes, like “Why This College?”, “Why This Major?”, and the Extracurricular Activity Essay.
Examples of the Diversity Essay Prompt
The best-known diversity essay prompt is from the Common App. The first prompt states:
“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.”
Some schools also have individual diversity essay prompts. For example, here’s one from 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.” (250 words)
And here’s one from Rice:
“Rice is strengthened by its diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders and change agents across the spectrum of human endeavor. What perspectives shaped by your background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity inspire you to join our community of change agents at Rice?” (500 words)
In all instances, colleges want you to demonstrate how and what you’ll contribute to their communities.
How to Write the Diversity College Essay After the End of Affirmative Action
In June 2023, the Supreme Court overturned the use of affirmative action in college admissions, meaning that colleges are no longer able to directly factor race into admissions decisions. Despite this ruling, you can still discuss your racial or ethnic background in your Common App or supplemental essays.
If your race or ethnic heritage is important to you, we strongly recommend writing about it in one of your essays, as this is now one of the only ways that admissions committees are able to consider it as a factor in your admission.
Many universities still want to hear about your racial background and how it has impacted you, so you are likely to see diversity essays show up more frequently as part of supplemental essay packets. Remember, if you are seeing this kind of prompt, it’s because colleges care about your unique identity and life experience, and believe that these constitute an important part of viewing your application holistically. To learn more about how the end of affirmative action is impacting college admissions, check out our post for more details.
Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
1. Highlight what makes you stand out.
A common misconception is that diversity only refers to aspects—such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. While these are standard measures of diversity, you can be diverse in other ways. These ways includes (but aren’t limited to) your:
- Interests, hobbies, and talents
- Perspectives, values, and opinions
- Personality traits
Ask yourself which aspects of your identity are most central to who you are. Are these aspects properly showcased in other portions of your application? Do you have any interests, experiences, or traits you want to highlight?
For instance, maybe you’re passionate about reducing food waste. You might love hiking and the outdoors. Or, maybe you’re a talented self-taught barber who’s given hundreds of free haircuts in exchange for donations to charity.
The topic of your essay doesn’t have to be crazy or even especially unique. You just want to highlight whatever is important to you, and how this thing shapes who you are. You might still want to write about a more common aspect of identity. If so, there are strong ways to do so.
If you do choose to write about a more common trait (for example, maybe your love of running), do so in a way that tells your story. Don’t just write an ode to running and how it’s stress-relieving and pushes you past your limits. Share your journey with us—for instance, maybe you used to hate it, but you changed your mind one day and eventually trained to run a half marathon. Or, take us through your thought process during a race. The topic in itself is important, but how you write about it is even more important.
2. Share an anecdote.
One easy way to make your essay more engaging is to share a relevant and related story. The beginning of your essay is a great place for that, as it draws the reader in immediately. For instance, the following student chose to write about their Jewish identity, and opened the essay with a vivid experience of being discriminated against:
“I was thirsty. In my wallet was a lone $10 bill, ultimately useless at my school’s vending machine. Tasked with scrounging together the $1 cost of a water bottle, I fished out and arranged the spare change that normally hid at the bottom of my backpack in neat piles of nickels and dimes on my desk. I swept them into a spare Ziploc and began to leave when a classmate snatched the bag and held it above my head.
“Want your money back, Jew?” she chanted, waving the coins around. I had forgotten the Star-of-David around my neck, but quickly realized she must have seen it and connected it to the stacks of coins. I am no stranger to experiencing and confronting antisemitism, but I had never been targeted in my school before.”
An anecdote allows readers to experience what you’re describing, and to feel as if they’re there with you. This can ultimately help readers better relate to you.
Brainstorm some real-life stories relevant to the trait you want to feature. Possibilities include: a meaningful interaction, achieving a goal, a conflict, a time you felt proud of the trait (or ashamed of it), or the most memorable experience related to the trait. Your story could even be something as simple as describing your mental and emotional state while you’re doing a certain activity.
Whatever you decide on, consider sharing that moment in media res, or “in the middle of things.” Take us directly to the action in your story so we can experience it with you.
3. Show, don’t tell.
If you simply state what makes you diverse, it’s really easy for your essay to end up sounding bland. The writer of the previous essay example could’ve simply stated “I’m Jewish and I’ve had to face antisemitism.” This is a broad statement that doesn’t highlight their unique personal experiences. It doesn’t have the same emotional impact.
Instead, the writer illustrated an actual instance where they experienced antisemitism, which made the essay more vivid and easier to relate to. Even if we’re not Jewish ourselves, we can feel the anger and pain of being taunted for our background. This story is also unique to the writer’s life—while others may have experienced discrimination, no one else will have had the exact same encounter.
As you’re writing, constantly evaluate whether or not you’re sharing a unique perspective. If what you write could’ve been written by someone else with a similar background or interest, you need to get more granular. Your personal experiences are what will make your essay unique, so share those with your reader.
4. Discuss how your diversity shapes your outlook and actions.
It’s important to describe not only what your unique traits and experiences are, but also how they shape who you are. You don’t have to explicitly say “this is how X trait impacts me” (you actually shouldn’t, as that would be telling instead of showing). Instead, you can reveal the impact of your diversity through the details you share.
Maybe playing guitar taught you the importance of consistent effort. Show us this through a story of how you tackled an extremely difficult piece you weren’t sure you could handle. Show us the calluses on your fingers, the knit brows as you tinkered with the chords, the countless lessons with your teacher. Show us your elation as you finally performed the piece.
Remember that colleges learn not just about who you are, but also about what you might contribute to their community. Take your essay one step farther and show admissions officers how your diversity impacts the way you approach your life.
Where to Get Your Diversity Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your diversity essay? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!