The Diversity College Essay: How to Write a Stellar 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 admissions committees 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 is a Diversity Essay?
In the college admissions process, you’ll need to submit two main types of essays: the personal statement and supplemental essays. The personal statement is your main application essay that goes to every school you apply to, often via the Common App. This essay tends to be 500-650 words, and it focuses on who you are and what you care about.
Supplemental essays are school-specific prompts that only go to the school that requests them. You often have to write 1-3 essays that are usually 100-400 words each. These essays are often used to assess your fit with a school, whether that’s in terms of academics or extracurriculars. Common prompts include “Why This College?”, “Describe an Extracurricular,” and “Why This Major?”.
Diversity essay prompts come up in both personal statements and supplemental essays. As with all college essays, the purpose 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 how you might uniquely contribute to the college community.
It’s worth noting that diversity essays are used in all kinds of selection processes beyond undergrad admissions, from graduate admissions to scholarship competitions. You may very well need to write another diversity essay later in life, so it’s a good idea to get very familiar with this essay archetype now.
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:
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 words)
And here’s one from Rice:
Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspectives would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 words)
In all instances, colleges want you to demonstrate how and what you’ll contribute to their communities.
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. This includes 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 aspects 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 aspect shapes who you are. If you do choose to write on 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 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 so.
2. Share an anecdote.
One easy way to make your essay more engaging is to share a related story. The beginning of your essay is a great place for that, as it draws the reader in immediately. For instance, this 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 in 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. 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 easy 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. What makes your essay unique are your personal experiences, so share those with us.
4. Discuss how your diversity shapes your outlook and actions.
It’s important to not only describe your unique traits and experiences, 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 not only learn about who you are, but also what you might contribute to their community. Take your essay the final step and show admissions officers how your diversity impacts the way you approach your life.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.