Many applications now have a question, sometimes optional, geared to encouraging people with minority backgrounds or unusual educational or family histories to write about their background.
How Are YOU Diverse?
First the easy answer: If you are an immigrant to the US, the child of immigrants or someone whose ethnicity is a minority in the US, you might find this question an interesting one to show how your background will add to the mix of perspectives at the program you are applying to.
Of course if you’re not a minority and don’t fall into one of those categories (and those are elements that you have no control over, so you can’t just jump into one of those categories), that doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to write about. If you are applying to school after having an unusual experience for applicants, like serving in the military, becoming part of a dance troupe, or caring for disabled relative, you can use your experience to evoke the way in which you will bring diversity to campus.
Why Does Diversity Matter?
The more diverse perspectives found in the classroom, throughout the dorms, in the dining halls, and mixed into study groups, the richer the discussions will be and the more creative the teams will become. Plus, learning and growing in this multicultural environment will prepare students for working in our increasingly multicultural and global world.
Different Ways to Show Your Diversity
Your family’s culture, situation and traditions, and the way they have helped you develop particular character and personality traits are of interest, as are unusual experiences that have shaped you. Here are some examples you could write about:
1. You grew up with a strong insistence on respecting elders, attending family events or learning your parents’ native language and culture.
2. You are close to grandparents and extended family who have taught you how teamwork can help everyone survive.
3. You have had to face and deal with difficulties that stem from your parents’ values being in conflict with those of your peers.
4. Teachers have not always understood the elements of your culture or outside-of-school situation and how they pertain to your school performance.
5. You suffered from discrimination and formed your values and personality traits around your success in spite of the discrimination.
6. You learned skills from a lifestyle that is outside the norm – living in foreign countries as the child of diplomats or contractors, performing professionally in theater, dance, music, or sports, or communicating with a deaf sibling.
It’s not just about who your parents are. It’s about who you are – to the core. Your background, your influences, your religious observances, your language, your ideas, your work environment, your community experiences – all of these factors come together to create a unique individual, an individual who can contribute to a diverse class and a diverse world.
Writing about Diversity
Your answer for the diversity question should focus on how your experiences have built your empathy for others, your resilience, your character, and your ideas. WHO are you? WHAT have you done? HOW do you think? These elements will serve as the framework for your essay.
Remember: You don’t need to be a tight-rope walker living in the Andes to pass the diversity test. You need to have invested yourself in the world of diversity – to have lived and breathed uniqueness – in order to write successfully about how you will contribute to your school’s diverse population.
• From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding application essays
• What to Do if You Belong to an Overrepresented Applicant Group
• Different Dimensions of Diversity, a podcast episode