How to Write a Diversity Supplemental Essay for College

female student writing in notebook
Updated:
February 5, 2024
10 min read
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/5/24

Not sure how to write your diversity essay? Our guide will help you with everything you need to know. Read on for tips, analysis, and examples to help you craft a stellar essay for college! 

Many colleges seek to foster a community that promotes many different perspectives. To ensure that they are admitting applicants from many different backgrounds, colleges may ask students to submit a diversity essay. 

However, as an applicant, it’s not always easy to know how to write a compelling supplemental essay. As prompts are often open-ended, it might be difficult for you to zero in on a topic to write about. 

If you’re having trouble writing your essay, read on for tips and examples to help you get started!

Diversity Essay Prompts 2024

While many schools ask applicants to submit an essay on diversity, each school’s prompt is slightly different. Let’s take a look at a few prompt examples from different sources. 

Common App Diversity Prompt

The most well-known diversity essay prompt is probably from the Common Application. Over a million students use the Common App each year, so you will likely encounter this prompt in your college applications. 

The Common App asks students to respond to the following diversity 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.” 

Harvard Diversity Prompt

Harvard University requires applicants to respond to several short-answer prompts, one of which is related to diversity. Here’s Harvard’s diversity prompt

“Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?” 

Columbia Diversity Prompt

Columbia’s diversity prompt focuses on offering a unique perspective: 

“A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia's diverse and collaborative community.” 

Duke Diversity Prompt

Writing an essay on diversity for Duke will involve highlighting your differences: 

“We recognize that ‘fitting in’ in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you.”

Johns Hopkins Diversity Prompt

The diversity prompt for Johns Hopkins relates to your future goals: 

“Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins. This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social.”

Northwestern Diversity Prompt

Northwestern University provides an optional diversity prompt

“Northwestern is a place where people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world can study, live, and talk with one another. This range of experiences and viewpoints immeasurably enriches learning. How might your individual background contribute to this diversity of perspectives in Northwestern’s classrooms and around our campus?”

Georgetown Diversity Prompt

Georgetown asks students to respond to an open-ended diversity prompt: 

“As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.”

NYU Diversity Prompt

NYU’s diversity prompt is related to the opportunity to access higher education: 

“NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education. That sense of opportunity for all students, of all backgrounds, remains a part of who we are today and a critical part of what makes us a world-class university. Our community embraces diversity, in all its forms, as a cornerstone of the NYU experience.

We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community. Please respond in 250 words or less.”

UMich Diversity Prompt

For the University of Michigan, applicants answer a diversity prompt related to community: 

“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.”

two male students writing essays

How to Write a Diversity Essay - Analysis & Tips

To learn how to write an essay about diversity, it’s important to understand why you’re being asked to write one and what exactly colleges are looking for. 

Colleges ask applicants to submit essays on diversity so that they can ensure they have a student body with many different perspectives. In your essay, you’ll want to demonstrate what you can contribute to the school’s community as a result of your unique background. 

Diversity is important in an academic environment because it allows students to come face-to-face with perspectives they may not have encountered before. This helps students to expand their worldviews and develop nuanced viewpoints on important issues, which in turn helps to prepare them for a diverse world after graduation. 

Colleges also ask students to write these essays as a way to evaluate their character and values. A well-written essay can showcase your individuality and uniqueness, your commitment to cross-cultural understanding, and your willingness to engage with others who are different from you. 

These essays also help admissions committees evaluate students more holistically. Through your essay, you can demonstrate characteristics that would otherwise be left out of your application, such as resilience, compassion, and open-mindedness. 

If you’re at a loss for what to write or where to begin, here are some tips to help you tackle your essay on diversity and inclusion. 

Tip #1: Consider What Makes You Unique

You may be unsure of what to write about in your essay, especially if you’re not a member of an underrepresented minority group. But you can still write a compelling essay, as long as you focus on what makes you unique. 

Your essay can address a variety of different topics pertaining to your identity or background. To get you started, here are some topics to think about as you brainstorm: 

  • Culture
  • Religion 
  • Language
  • Ethnicity
  • Family tradition & generational differences
  • Involvement in activism
  • Stereotypes & privilege 
  • Socioeconomic status 

The list doesn’t end here, however! You can think outside the box to write a strong essay. For example, you may have had a unique upbringing and taken on responsibilities that your peers didn’t have to shoulder. 

Maybe you had to struggle in certain ways or face unusual circumstances, such as caring for a sick relative or dealing with complicated family matters. Maybe you’ve built significant relationships with people from a different demographic and learned important lessons about diversity from them. 

If you have had little experience with discrimination, you may even choose to reflect on your own privilege or ways in which you haven’t interacted with those who are different from you. 

Tip #2: Tell a Story

To make an impression with your essay, it’s important to tell a story rather than just make a statement. A personal anecdote will make your experience more impactful and meaningful to the admissions committee, and will help them feel more connected to you. 

The expression “show, don’t tell” is especially applicable here. Use storytelling techniques like imagery, metaphor, and a strong hook to draw the reader into a vivid scene and keep them invested. 

For example, rather than saying, “I faced difficulties when my family immigrated to America from Peru”, talk about the specific difficulties you faced and how they made you feel. It’s often even more impactful to zero in on one specific instance or story. Don’t overlook the small details! 

Tip #3: Keep the Focus On Yourself

It’s important to remember that a personal essay should be exactly that - personal. It should be mainly about you and your own experiences. 

Many students make the mistake of talking too much about other people in their personal essays. While it’s good to talk about what you’ve learned from others, remember to make your own experience the focal point. 

Don’t focus only on your family or culture; instead, make sure to consider how your experiences have shaped your identity. The admissions committee wants to know who you are.  

Tip #4: Discuss Changes

Your essay should include a section on how your experiences have helped you to learn, grow, and change. It’s important to spend a lot of time on your identity, background, and life experience, but make sure to also discuss how those experiences have affected you. 

How have you been shaped, molded, and made different because of what you’ve experienced? How does your identity or experience affect how you behave now? How do you treat others and approach life as a result of your diverse identity? 

Tip #5: Be Authentic

Authenticity is key when writing college essays, especially an essay all about you and your personal identity! 

Remember not to get caught up in what you think the admissions committee wants to hear about. You don’t need to exaggerate or embellish details to try and make your story more impactful. 

Just be honest and talk about who you truly are. Telling a genuine story will be more impactful than anything you could make up!

Tip #6: Connect Your Experience to the School

It’s always a good idea to tailor your application to the school you’re applying to. For your essays, consider how your diverse viewpoint will contribute to each school’s specific student body and college community. 

To do this well in your essay, you should research the school in depth and examine its values, mission, and vision. Then, in your essay, discuss how your values align with theirs. This will demonstrate that you’re a good fit for the school’s culture. 

Tip #7: Proofread!

It sounds simple, but proofreading is a crucial step that many students often miss. Submitting an essay with grammatical or spelling errors is an easy way to lose credibility! 

Ask a trusted friend or relative to read your essay over, and make sure to read your essay over several times yourself. A good trick is to copy and paste it into a separate document and then change it to a different font to proofread. The mistakes will stand out much more starkly!

Examples of Diversity Essays That Worked

It’s often helpful to look at other work in order to get inspiration. Here are some diversity essay examples to help you get started. These essays were written by real students who were accepted to their dream colleges! 

Sample Essay #1 - Harvard University

Here’s an example of an essay written for Harvard University, responding to the below prompt: 

“Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?”  

“On my parents’ 22nd wedding anniversary, we received the dreaded call. My grandfather, my father’s father, had succumbed to Covid-19. He died alone due to Covid restrictions. He and my grandmother had flown from [STATE] to [CITY] so that my grandmother could have a hip replacement at [HOSPITAL NAME]. He contracted Covid while in [CITY]  and, in a tragic twist of events, he ended up dying in that very same hospital. When a loved one passes away, they are torn away from us, leaving a tear in our lives where they once were. In Judaism, we tear our clothes in mourning to symbolize our pain and sorrow. Sadly, the tears in our family fabric happened long before my grandfather died from Covid.
Specifically, my father married a gentile. Typically, in the Jewish religion, it is expected that one marry another Jew: "You shall not marry them (the gentiles, about which the Torah speaks in the previous verses), you shall not give your daughter to their son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son." The reason for this prohibition is clearly spelled out in the following verse: "because he will lead your son astray from Me and they will serve strange gods…"
My father was raised in a reform Jewish family. They were not very observant but, culturally, their Jewish identity was meaningful. It was important to his family that he become a bar mitzvah when he turned 13. The portrait of him reading from the Torah on the bima has always been proudly displayed in my grandparents’ home. I even used his yad (Torah pointer) and kiddush cup when I became a bar mitzvah. I think that my grandmother, however, wasn’t thrilled that my father fell in love with a non-Jew. 
Judaism is matrilineal, meaning one born to a Jewish mother is Jewish. My mother chose to convert from Catholicism to Judaism in her first year of marriage. She wanted her future family to be of one faith and, learning about the religion through my father, she eagerly converted to Judaism and embraced the customs and traditions. So my brother, my sister, and I are all Jewish through birth: matrilineally. 
Over the course of my parents’ happy 25 years of marriage, my grandmother has never warmed up to my mother; if anything, she became overtly hostile. Because of her disdain, my immediate family has been ostracized. While I was growing up, my parents tried to please her, but it was always tense at birthdays, holidays, recitals, and the like. We were left out of most family get-togethers. Even while at my grandparents’ home cheering for our beloved [FOOTBALL TEAM NAME], it seemed my family was on a separate team. My grandmother treated my mother like an outsider and, by default, me.
One person who never made my mother or any member of my family feel left out, however, was my grandfather. He did his best to knit the family together. He was a kind, intelligent, hard-working role model who I’ve always strived to emulate. He had a long career as a [PHYSICIAN] in [STATE], loved attending my piano recitals so much that he began piano lessons at the age of 80, and even sparked my love of fishing when I was five and he took me to a small pond near his home. He rarely missed one of my tennis matches and was supportive when I lost. Education was crucial to him, so he encouraged me to study and get good grades. 
My grandfather greatly enjoyed his time spent with us. One of my fondest memories is climbing into my grandfather’s old, wooden, black-and-gold chair. He told me it was his Harvard chair. On my father’s 40th birthday, my grandfather proudly presented my father with his own Harvard chair. He told me that if I worked really hard in school, someday I might get a shot at attending Harvard and becoming a third-generation alumni to continue their legacy. He said maybe someday I’d be the caretaker of all three chairs. I didn’t really know what Harvard was at that time, but I knew that no matter what happened, I was determined to make my grandfather and my father proud. I did what my grandfather said: I studied hard and got great grades, I trained hard and played great tennis, and I practiced hard and played great piano. As I write this, I am sitting in my father’s Harvard chair. 
Because of the rift in my family, I rarely saw my grandfather the last two years of his life. My parents threw him a party for his 80th birthday, which he loved because he was at the beach surrounded by all of his children and grandchildren. My parents invited them for birthdays, recitals, and Mother's Day, but my grandmother always said “no”. Looking back, I bet he would’ve loved to attend each event. After all, he moved to [CITY] to be with family. He would’ve loved that I’m applying to Harvard now, as it was always something he wished for me and of which he knew I was capable. I wonder what his application process was like back in the 1950s… 
Now, my grandfather is gone, and I have to wonder if all of the heartache was worth it. What did my grandmother gain by not welcoming my mother into the family? Her intolerance cheated us of time with my grandfather that we will never get back. But thanks to him, my background is as diverse as it comes. I’m a direct descendent of [SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS] who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials. I have a great, great grandmother from [COUNTRY] and great grandparents from [COUNTRY]. Diversity adds to families. Just as my father introduced her to Judaism, my mother brought gifts from her side, like excellent cooking, art, music, and height. Ultimately, I’m so glad that my parents found each other because, together, they made me.” 

Why Sample Essay #1 Worked

This essay seamlessly weaves together complicated topics: the applicant’s Jewish identity, the complicated family dynamics resulting from their religion, and their connection with their grandfather. It begins with a strong hook and comes full circle at the end by calling back to their grandfather’s death. 

The writer also uses strong images and symbols, such as the “Harvard chair, " which is not only an effective writing technique but also demonstrates their commitment to Harvard. It shows how their desire to attend Harvard has a deep, personal meaning. 

Sample Essay #2 - Columbia University

Here’s another diversity essay sample written for Columbia University, responding to this prompt: 

“A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia's diverse and collaborative community.”
“Family trips to the Asian markets were always a treat! As a child, I still remember enjoying my own curry puff from the Bangladeshi bakery, savoring every bite.
Next to the bakery, Chinese, Filipino, and other Southeast Asian stores clustered next to each other. The diversity of people who shopped there, the hospitality, and the sense of mutual respect was inspiring to me and I began to value community and diverse representation, something Colombia prides itself in.
With my experience in coordinating and planning as President of the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering Club, I have an appreciation for organizing events that bring people together. At Columbia, I would help orchestrate an event that spotlights some of the amazing Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian alumni who are able to inspire future generations and highlight the outlets Columbia provides in promoting diversity. Additionally, I would like to collaborate with students who write for BWOG to share insightful and satirical pieces about the shared ups and downs of growing up Desi-American.
Whether it's through organizing events, sharing stories, or simply being a friendly face, I am committed to making the most of my time at Columbia, where there is a community for everyone.”

Why Sample Essay #2 Worked

This essay opens with a vivid scene that both engages the reader’s senses and directly addresses Columbia’s prompt, as it shows the writer thriving in a diverse environment. It demonstrates that their experience has provided them with a unique perspective and desire to engage with other cultures. 

The writer also talks specifically about how they plan to contribute to Columbia’s school community and hope to amplify diverse voices. This shows that they’ve done their research and have clear goals for how to succeed at Columbia. 

Sample Essay #3 - Georgetown University

Take a look at this example essay written by a successful Georgetown applicant

“As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.”

“I come from a mid-sized suburb of [CITY] called [SUBURB NAME]. It isn’t the most notable of birthplaces – nothing like the grandeur of big cities or the natural wonder of a rural town in Montana. In response to the dreaded, “Where are you guys from?” question, instead of explaining the nuanced differences between [CITY]  and [SUBURB NAME], we simply swallow our pride and claim residence in the nearest star to home on the map. However, even these cities have points of celebration. [SUBURB NAME] has the largest concentrated population of Arab and Middle-Eastern communities outside of the Middle East. From my earliest memories, those of different backgrounds have treated one another with immense respect. Of my teachers in preschool, half wore hijabs. There was no difference in my mind between students in my elementary school playground; we were all just friends, playing the same game together. Being from [[SUBURB NAME]], I have had a unique opportunity to not only see, but to participate in other cultures. Just a few months ago, I was able to attend a Ramadan festival, up late into the night eating traditional food, listening to traditional songs. I have had the opportunity to view a real Torah, to pray in a mosque, to join in a communal meal in a Sikh temple. I’ve always been outspoken about my support for diversity and equity, through protests, speeches, and other events. Within [[SUBURB NAME]], I have participated in many protests, rallies, and other political events. Four years ago, on MLK Day, I participated in a protest against racism and police brutality, marching from the local library to the city hall. Recently, I attended a protest against the banning of LGBTQIA+ centered books. I hope to continue this activism and to be an advocate for social justice into my future in college and beyond.” 

Why Sample Essay #3 Worked

This essay provides insight into how to write a diversity essay focused on your experiences with other cultures. This student highlights their experiences with people from other cultures and religions, and it’s clear that these experiences have been very meaningful for them. 

By discussing their involvement in activism, the writer also demonstrates a strong commitment to fighting for and maintaining diversity. This passion is admirable and shows the admissions committee that the writer aligns with Georgetown’s values. 

Sample Essay #4 - New York University

Here’s another sample for the following NYU essay prompt: 

“NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education. That sense of opportunity for all students, of all backgrounds, remains a part of who we are today and a critical part of what makes us a world-class university. Our community embraces diversity, in all its forms, as a cornerstone of the NYU experience.

We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community. Please respond in 250 words or less.”

“What I’d add to the NYU menu is time-tested tradition translated into battle-tested characteristics and skills that make for seasoned leaders and entrepreneurs. This tradition spans not only academic excellence in school, but also entrepreneurial prowess in DECA and even empowers me personally when it comes to my Jewish faith. Since I can remember, Friday nights have always been spent at my grandparents’ house. The euphoric smells of challah and kugel diffuse from the kitchen as the familiar faces of close family sit hungrily around the dinner table, eager to begin the Shabbat prayers. As the last blessing concludes, my grandpa raises his glass. L’chaim, “to life”, echoes throughout the dining room and is accompanied by the sounds of clinking glass and tikvah, “hope”. And finally, it’s time to eat. 
These Shabbat memories have ultimately fueled my ever-growing Jewish identity. The traditional Ashkenazi Jewish recipes that cover the dinner table, symbols of the strength of my ancestors who migrated to America from war-torn Poland during the Holocaust, and the gathering of family each Friday night, symbols of a surviving legacy, have inspired me to hold these traditions close to my heart as I forge my own path through both Judaism and life. 
Today, involvement in my synagogue’s youth program has continued to fuel my ever-growing Jewish identity by allowing me to channel my enthusiasm through civic engagement initiatives that aim to foster change within our community and beyond, such as the [NAME OF EVENT] and other fundraising events within our synagogue.”

Why Sample Essay #4 Worked

This essay both begins and ends with a description of what the writer hopes to offer to the NYU community, demonstrating motivation and ambition. Then, they connect their ambition with their Jewish identity, showing how their background has shaped them into who they are now. 

The Shabbat scene in the essay body is vivid and detailed. It’s crystal clear to the reader that the writer is deeply connected to their Jewish heritage and holds it close to their heart. The authenticity here shines through!  

Sample Essay #5 - University of Michigan

Here’s one more essay example written for the University of Michigan!

“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.” 

“I am French and a proud member of the French community - for lack of a better term.  This community is difficult to name definitively, because there is actually surprisingly little community between us in a traditional sense other than a loose global affiliation of people from France who all seem to share a common contempt for American cheese, an enthusiasm for our soccer team, and a powerful love of the French language.  
I have had the pleasure of meeting other French people in a plethora of contexts: in Marrakech on a camel-riding tour, at an Italian restaurant in Connecticut, at an airport terminal in Miami, and on a tour of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The common trait of all these interactions is an automatic connection formed upon our common heritage. At the Italian restaurant, I spoke with our French waiter about his life for 20 minutes while my American family members waited to order. Of course, all of these exchanges are in French, because all displaced Frenchmen and women share an eagerness to speak our language. Accordingly, growing up French in a half-American family, my role in this atypical cross-section of a community has typically been that of the translator, ensuring communication flowed seamlessly, mellifluously, between parties.  
The transience of our community is what I love most; wherever I may be, I can find souvenirs of my grandparents’ French town, [TOWN NAME], where I spent every summer growing up. Though there is a greater diversity of race, ideology, and geographical location amongst the French than many other cultures, our bond remains equally strong because of the pride we take in our words. French is the official language of 39 countries, tied only with English. In all of these countries, and anywhere else that French is spoken, I am at home.”

Why Sample Essay #5 Worked

This is a beautiful essay that focuses on the significance of language and how it relates to identity. The writer discusses how their French heritage has shaped them and the ways in which they interact with people, especially as a translator and cross-cultural communicator. 

Get More Sample Essays Here!

For more inspiration, you can find 190+ sample essays with our extensive college essay example database!  

FAQs

If you still have questions about writing essays on diversity, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions! 

1. How Do You Start a Diversity Essay?

You may choose to start your essay by reflecting on your identity and personal experiences with diversity. It’s also a good idea to start your essay with a hook to catch your reader’s attention. 

2. How Long Should an Essay About Diversity Be? 

The length of your essay depends on the specific requirements of the school you’re applying to. College essays can range from 50 to 1,000 words. 

3. What Counts As Diversity? 

Diversity often refers to factors such as culture, religion, ethnicity, and more. However, your essay is not limited to these factors. Focus on what makes you unique. 

4. What Should an Essay on Diversity Say? 

In your essay, you should reflect on your personal identity and experiences with diversity, as well as how your experiences have affected you and helped you grow. Themes like empathy, respect, and understanding are also relevant. 

5. How to Write a Diversity Essay When You’re Not an Underrepresented Minority? 

Your essay doesn’t have to be about your personal identity. You can also write about your experiences with people who are different from you or about privilege and stereotypes. Write about your authentic experience!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, these tips have given you the confidence to tackle your diversity essay in your college applications. Remember to be authentic and tell your unique story. By simply being genuine, you’ll surely win over the admissions committee! 

Good luck!

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