How to Write the Diversity Essay – With Examples

May 1, 2024

diversity essay examples how to write a diversity essay

The diversity essay has newfound significance in college application packages following the 2023 SCOTUS ruling against race-conscious admissions. Affirmative action began as an attempt to redress unequal access to economic and social mobility associated with higher education. But before the 2023 ruling, colleges frequently defended the policy based on their “compelling interest” in fostering diverse campuses. The reasoning goes that there are certain educational benefits that come from heterogeneous learning environments. Now, the diversity essay has become key for admissions officials in achieving their compelling interest in campus diversity. Thus, unlocking how to write a diversity essay enhances an applicant’s ability to describe their fit with a campus environment. This article describes the genre and provides diversity essay examples to help any applicant express how they conceptualize and contribute to diversity.

How to Write a Diversity Essay – Defining the Genre

Diversity essays in many ways resemble the personal statement genre. Like personal statements, they help readers get to know applicants beyond their academic and extracurricular achievements. What makes an applicant unique? Precisely what motivates or inspires them? What is their demeanor like and how do they interact with others? All these questions are useful ways of thinking about the purpose and value of the diversity essay.

It’s important to realize that the essay does not need to focus on aspects like race, religion, or sexuality. Some applicants may choose to write about their relationship to these or other protected identity categories. But applicants shouldn’t feel obligated to ‘come out’ in a diversity essay. Conversely, they should not be anxious if they feel their background doesn’t qualify them as ‘diverse.’

Instead, the diversity essay helps demonstrate broader thinking about what makes applicants unique that admissions officials can’t glean elsewhere. Usually, it also directly or indirectly indicates how an applicant will enhance the campus community they hope to join. Diversity essays can explicitly connect past experiences with future plans. Or they can offer a more general sense of how one’s background will influence their actions in college.

Thus, the diversity essay conveys both aspects that make an applicant unique and arguments for how those aspects will contribute on campus. The somewhat daunting genre is, in fact, a great opportunity for applicants to articulate how their background, identity, or formative experiences will shape their academic, intellectual, social, and professional trajectories.

Diversity College Essay Examples of Prompts – Sharing a Story

All diversity essays ask applicants to share what makes them unique and convey how that equips them for university life. However, colleges will typically ask applicants to approach this broad topic from a variety of different angles. Since it’s likely applicants will encounter some version of the genre in either required or supplemental essay assignments, it’s a good idea to have a template diversity essay ready to adapt to each specific prompt.

One of the most standard prompts is the “share a story” prompt. For example, here’s the diversity-related Common App prompt:

“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.”

This prompt is deliberately broad, inviting applicants to articulate their distinctive qualities in myriad ways. What is unsaid, but likely expected, is some statement about how the story evidences the ability to enhance campus diversity.

Diversity College Essay Examples of Prompts – Describing Contribution

Another common prompt explicitly asks students to reflect on diversity while centering what they will contribute in college. A good example of this prompt comes from the University of Miami’s supplemental essay:

Located within one of the most dynamic cities in the world, the University of Miami is a distinctive community with a variety of cultures, traditions, histories, languages, and backgrounds. The University of Miami is a values-based and purpose-driven postsecondary institution that embraces diversity and inclusivity in all its forms and strives to create a culture of belonging, where every person feels valued and has an opportunity to contribute.

Please describe how your unique experiences, challenges overcome, or skills acquired would contribute to our distinctive University community. (250 words)

In essays responding to these kinds of prompts, its smart to more deliberately tailor your essay to what you know about the institution and its values around diversity. You’ll need a substantial part of the essay to address not only your “story” but your anticipated institutional contribution.

Diversity College Essay Examples of Prompts – Navigating Difference

The last type of diversity essay prompt worth mentioning asks applicants to explain how they experience and navigate difference. It could be a prompt about dealing with “diverse perspectives.” Or it could ask the applicant to tell a story involving someone different than them. Regardless of the framing, these types of prompts ask you to unfold a theory of diversity stemming from social encounters. Applicants might still think of how they can use the essay to frame what makes them unique. However, here colleges are also hoping for insight into how applicants will deal with the immense diversity of college life beyond their unique experiences. In these cases, it’s especially important to use a story kernel to draw attention to fundamental beliefs and values around diversity.

 How to Write a Diversity Essay – Tips for Writing

Before we get to the diversity college essay examples, some general tips for writing the diversity essay:

  1. Be authentic: This is not the place to embellish, exaggerate, or overstate your experiences. Writing with humility and awareness of your own limitations can only help you with the diversity essay. So don’t write about who you think the admissions committee wants to see – write about yourself.
  2. Find dynamic intersections: One effective brainstorming strategy is to think of two or more aspects of your background, identity, and interests you might combine. For example, in one of the examples below, the writer talks about their speech impediment alongside their passion for poetry. By thinking of aspects of your experience to combine, you’ll likely generate more original material than focusing on just one.
  3. Include a thesis: Diversity essays follow more general conventions of personal statement writing. That means you should tell a story about yourself, but also make it double as an argumentative piece of writing. Including a thesis in the first paragraph can clearly signal the argumentative hook of the essay for your reader.
  4. Include your definition of diversity: Early in the essay you should define what diversity means to you. It’s important that this definition is as original as possible, preferably connecting to the story you are narrating. To avoid cliché, you might write out a bunch of definitions of diversity. Then, review them and get rid of any that seem like something you’d see in a dictionary or an inspirational poster. Get those clichéd definitions out of your system early, so you can wow your audience with your own carefully considered definition.

How to Write a Diversity Essay – Tips for Writing (Cont.)

  1. Zoom out to diversity more broadly: This tip is especially important you are not writing about protected minority identities like race, religion, and sexuality. Again, it’s fine to not focus on these aspects of diversity. But you’ll want to have some space in the essay where you connect your very specific understanding of diversity to a larger system of values that can include those identities.

Revision is another, evergreen tip for writing good diversity essays. You should also remember that you are writing in a personal and narrative-based genre. So, try to be as creative as possible! If you find enjoyment in writing it, chances are better your audience will find entertainment value in reading it.

How to Write a Diversity Essay – Diversity Essay Examples

The first example addresses the “share a story” prompt. It is written in the voice of Karim Amir, the main character of Hanif Kureishi’s novel The Buddha of Suburbia.

As a child of the suburbs, I have frequently navigated the labyrinthine alleys of identity. Born to an English mother and an Indian father, I inherited a rich blend of traditions, customs, and perspectives. From an early age, I found myself straddling two worlds, trying to reconcile the conflicting expectations of my dual heritage. Yet, it was only through the lens of acting that I began to understand the true fluidity of identity.

  • A fairly typical table setting first paragraph, foregrounding themes of identity and performance
  • Includes a “thesis” in the final sentence suggesting the essay’s narrative and argumentative arc

Diversity, to me, is more than just a buzzword describing a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations. Instead, it evokes the unfathomable heterogeneity of human experience that I aim to help capture through performance. On the stage, I have often been slotted into Asian and other ethnic minority roles. I’ve had to deal with discriminatory directors who complain I am not Indian enough. Sometimes, it has even been tempting to play into established stereotypes attached to the parts I am playing. However, acting has ultimately helped me to see that the social types we imagine when we think of the word ‘diversity’ are ultimately fantastical constructions. Prescribed identities may help us to feel a sense of belonging, but they also distort what makes us radically unique.

  • Includes an original definition of diversity, which the writer compellingly contrasts with clichéd definitions
  • Good narrative dynamism, stressing how the writer has experienced growth over time

Diversity Essay Examples Continued – Example One

The main challenge for an actor is to dig beneath the “type” of character to find the real human being underneath. Rising to this challenge entails discarding with lazy stereotypes and scaling what can seem to be insurmountable differences. Bringing human drama to life, making it believable, requires us to realize a more fundamental meaning of diversity. It means locating each character at their own unique intersection of identity. My story, like all the stories I aspire to tell as an actor, can inspire others to search for and celebrate their specificity. 

  • Focuses in on the kernel of wisdom acquired over the course of the narrative
  • Indirectly suggests what the applicant can contribute to the admitted class

Acting has ultimately underlined an important takeaway of my dual heritage: all identities are, in a sense, performed. This doesn’t mean that heritage is not important, or that identities are not significant rallying points for community. Instead, it means recognizing that identity isn’t a prison, but a stage.

  • Draws the reader back to where the essay began, locating them at the intersection of two aspects of writer’s background
  • Sharply and deftly weaves a course between saying identities are fictions and saying that identities matter (rather than potentially alienating reader by picking one over the other)

Diversity Essay Examples Continued – Example Two

The second example addresses a prompt about what the applicant can contribute to a diverse campus. It is written from the perspective of Jason Taylor, David Mitchell’s protagonist in Black Swan Green.

Growing up with a stutter, each word was a hesitant step, every sentence a delicate balance between perseverance and frustration. I came to think of the written word as a sanctuary away from the staccato rhythm of my speech. In crafting melodically flowing poems, I discovered a language unfettered by the constraints of my impediment. However, diving deeper into poetry eventually made me realize how my stammer had a humanistic rhythm all its own.

  • Situates us at the intersection of two themes – a speech impediment and poetry – and uses the thesis to gesture to their synthesis
  • Nicely matches form and content. The writer uses this opportunity to demonstrate their facility with literary language.

Immersing myself in the genius of Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and Maya Angelou, I learned to embrace the beauty of diversity in language, rhythm, and life itself. Angelou wrote that “Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” For me, this quote illuminates how diversity is not simply a static expression of discrete differences. Instead, diversity teaches us the beauty of a multitude of rhythms we can learn from and incorporate in a mutual dance. If “everything in the universe has a rhythm,” then it’s also possible that anything can be poetry. Even my stuttering speech can dance.

Diversity Essay Examples Continued – Example Two

  • Provides a unique definition of diversity
  • Conveys growth over time
  • Connects kernel of wisdom back to the essay’s narrative starting point

As I embark on this new chapter of my life, I bring with me the lessons learned from the interplay of rhythm and verse. I bring a perspective rooted in empathy, an unwavering commitment to inclusivity, and a belief in language as the ultimate tool of transformative social connection. I am prepared to enter your university community, adding a unique voice that refuses to be silent. 

  • Directly addresses how background and experiences will contribute to campus life
  • Conveys contributions in an analytic mode (second sentence) and more literary and personal mode (third sentence)

Additional Resources 

Diversity essays can seem intimidating because of the political baggage we bring to the word ‘diversity.’ But applicants should feel liberated by the opportunity to describe what makes them unique. It doesn’t matter if applicants choose to write about aspects of identity, life experiences, or personal challenges. What matters is telling a compelling story of personal growth. Also significant is relating that story to an original theory of the function and value of diversity in society. At the end of the day, committees want to know their applicants deeper and get a holistic sense of how they will improve the educational lives of those around them.

Additional Reading and Resources