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/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, too, require diversity essays from applicants. So if you're planning to eventually apply to graduate school, be aware that you might have to write yet 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.
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.
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 University of Washington strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values, and viewpoints.
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 (#5 and #7) 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 a 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?
The University of Oklahoma is home to a vibrant, diverse and compassionate University community. Our President, David L. Boren, refers to our strong community 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, both of which are diversity college essay prompts. The maximum word count for each is 250 words.
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 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.
Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here.
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 or more of Pitzer’s core values?
What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?
Many colleges and universities, such as Purdue University, use the Common Application and its essay prompts. (Note that the Common App essay prompts for the 2017-18 application cycle will be the same for the 2018-19 cycle.)
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, two of which (A and B) are diversity college essay prompts that ask you to elaborate on your environment, a community, and your personal identity.
Essay A: What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.
Essay B: Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.
Be the red apple.
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!
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.
Coffee not required for writing an excellent diversity essay.
How to Write an Effective Diversity Essay: 4 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. While 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, proofread 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 you, or someone else? Are some areas a little too cheesy? Could you 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 altogether effective diversity college essay.
Conclusion: Writing Diversity Essays for College
A diversity essay is a college admissions essay that revolves 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, sexual orientation, etc.
Many colleges—such as the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, and UNC—use the diversity essay to ensure diversity in their student bodies. Some schools require the essay, whereas 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—proofread, edit, and get someone else to look over your essay
- Take your time—start early, preferably by 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.