Addressing Diversity in a College Application Essay

5 Tips for an Admissions Essay Addressing Diversity

Nearly all colleges want to enroll a diverse student body, and they also want to enroll students who appreciate diversity. For these reasons, diversity can be a good choice for an application essay. Although the Common Application dropped a question specifically about diversity back in 2013, the current Common Application essay questions still allow for an essay on the topic. Specifically, essay option one invites you to discuss your background or identity, and these broad categories open the door to an essay about the ways in which you will contribute to campus diversity.

Many of the other Common Application essay options—whether on obstacles, challenging beliefs, solving a problem, or personal growth—can also lead to essays about diversity. Do you see diversity leading to problems that need to be fixed? Has your attitude towards diversity changed over time? Diversity is such a broad topic that there are many ways to approach it in an essay.

You will also find that many colleges and universities have supplemental essays on diversity, even if that word isn't used in the essay prompt. If you're asked to explain what you'll bring to the campus community, you're being asked about diversity.

Key Takeaways: An Essay on Diversity

  • Diversity is about much more than race and skin color. Being white doesn't mean you don't contribute to campus diversity.
  • If writing about the importance of diversity, be sure to avoid clichés and stereotypes linked to positions of privilege.
  • Make sure your essay makes clear how you will contribute to the richness of the campus community.
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Diversity Isn't Just About Race

Santa Clara University - Students at a Game
Santa Clara University - Students at a Game. Photo Credit: Santa Clara University

While you can certainly write about race in your application essay, realize that diversity isn't just about skin color. Colleges want to enroll students who have a diverse range of interests, beliefs, and experiences. Many college applicants quickly shy away from this topic because they don't think they bring diversity to a campus. Not true. Even a white male from the suburbs has values and life experiences that are uniquely his own.

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Understand Why Colleges Want "Diversity"

An essay on diversity is an opportunity to explain what interesting qualities you'll bring to the campus community. There are check boxes on the application that address your race, so that isn't the main point with an essay. Most colleges believe that the best learning environment includes students who bring new ideas, new perspectives, new passions and new talents to the school. A bunch of like-minded clones has very little to teach each other, and they will grow little from their interactions. As you think about this question, ask yourself, "What will I add to the campus that others won't? Why will the college be a better place when I'm in attendance?"

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Be Careful Describing Third-World Encounters

College admissions counselors sometimes call it "that Haiti essay" — an essay about a visit to a third-world country. Invariably, the writer discusses shocking encounters with poverty, a new awareness of the privileges he or she has, and greater sensitivity to the inequality and diversity of the planet. This type of essay can too easily become generic and predictable. This doesn't mean you can't write about a Habitat for Humanity trip to a third-world country, but you want to be careful to avoid clichés. Also, make sure your statements reflect well upon you. A claim like "I never knew so many people lived with so little" can make you sound naive.

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Be Careful Describing Racial Encounters

Racial difference is actually an excellent topic for an admissions essay, but you need to handle the topic carefully. As you describe that Japanese, Native American, African American, or Caucasian friend or acquaintance, you want to make sure your language doesn't inadvertently create racial stereotypes. Avoid writing an essay in which you simultaneously praise a friend's different perspective while using stereotyping or even racist language.

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Keep Much of the Focus on You

As with all the personal essays, your essay needs to be personal. That is, it needs to be primarily about you. What diversity you will bring to campus, or what ideas about diversity you will bring? Always keep in mind the primary purpose of the essay. Colleges want to get to know the students who will become part of the campus community. If your entire essay describes life in Indonesia, you've failed to do this. If your essay is all about your favorite friend from Korea, you have also failed. Whether you describe your own contribution to campus diversity, or if you talk about an encounter with diversity, the essay needs to reveal your character, values, and personality. The college is enrolling you, not the diverse people you've encountered.