Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated March 21, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

How to Write a Diversity Supplemental Essay

Key Takeaway

Diversity supplemental essays are often the most daunting for students. Finding the right topic and tone can be tricky. In this post, you'll learn how to find an authentic story and write about it in a compelling way.

This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays. You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here.

What is a Diversity supplemental essay?

In the last few years, we've seen an increase in college supplemental essays that focus on diversity. These essay prompts usually ask the applicant to discuss a way in which they bring diversity to their community or have experienced diversity in their lives.

These supplemental essays can be tricky to write. Not everyone sees themselves as embodying diversity or engaging with it extensively. This may be partly because many writers may associate "diversity" somewhat narrowly with categories like race, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.

Really, however, diversity can encompass much more. We've worked with students who have written compelling diversity essays about being a class clown, defining the diversity they add to their community in terms of humor.

If you're stressed about the diversity essay, this post is for you. We're going to go into the strategies we've used to help students write amazing diversity essays. We'll also provide some example essays to give you a sense of what a great diversity essay really looks like.

Diversity Essay Strategy

To write a good diversity essay, you first have to think through what schools are really after with these prompts.

Take the University of Washington's essay, which is somewhere between a diversity and a community essay:

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 UW.

This prompt is a helpful one because it gives a very broad definition of what diversity might look like. It kind of defines diversity in reverse by pointing to all these different communities, then asking you to talk about how your place in one of them contributes to diversity.

But UW's prompt is helpful for another reason: it clearly shows that the underlying purpose of the prompt is for the admissions committee to get a sense of what you will add to the school community.

This is the purpose of most, if not all, diversity essays. By reflecting on a community you belong to, or a way in which you add diversity, admissions officers are getting a clearer sense of who you will be as a member of their school community. You can use your diversity essays to underscore important parts of your overall application narrative.

Remember that assessing "school fit" is a major part of an admissions officer's job. You can think of diversity essays as a way to show school fit in a less direct way than you might in a "Why Us" essay.

One more note. As we've emphasized over and over, college supplementals should focus on personal strengths. You don't need to brag, but you do need to show yourself in a positive light that helps an admissions officer understand the values you'll bring to their campus.

This gets us to a clearer sense of a strategy for Diversity essays. Your goal is three-fold:

  1. Hone in on a way in which you contribute diversity, even if it falls outside the traditional categories we might think of when we think of diversity.
  2. Show you understand the school community, making a case for school fit. This may be more or less important depending on the prompt. In the UW example, it's clearly paramount.
  3. Tell a story that showcases your strengths and the benefit you'll add to a school community.

If you can do those three things, you should come out the other side with a pretty solid diversity essay.

How to do Diversity Essay school research

Let's pretend that you're writing your diversity essay about your South Indian heritage. Maybe you grew up in a predominately white community and are a minority at your high school.

I bet you have a lot to say about what it was like to grow up in a community where you were outside the predominant racial group. If you feel comfortable writing about that experience, then go for it.

I want to pause here for a moment a lot of our students will debate with themselves about writing essays that deal with that kind of topic. They usually have a sense that these topics are "overplayed" or "generic."


If there's a meaningful story to tell there, if it feels important to write about, you should follow that instinct, especially for diversity supplementals. Writing about your experience as a minority in your community is a perfect way to address a topic that explicitly asks about diversity. I encourage you to lean into these stories if they feel accessible for you to write about.

Once you've settled on that story, however, you may want to do some research into the types of organizations and programs at the school that you could join that fit your story.

If you're writing about the difficulty of finding a sense of identity in a predominately white community, you could talk about how you can't wait to join the Indian Students Alliance. You could talk about helping to organize a student Diwali celebration. You could even take it into the academic realm, and pick out a course from the Asian Studies department that would help you get a better sense of Indian history.

My point is simple. Try to find programs, courses, or clubs that the school already offers that fit with the topic of your diversity essay. Then, make a case for how you would engage with those offerings. Give the school a clear sense of how you'll engage with their community if they invite you to join it. In other words, help them make a case for school fit.

Now let's pretend you're writing your essay about something that falls outside of the traditional ambit of diversity. Let's go with comedy!

You're a pretty funny person, and lacking a more traditional answer to diversity prompts, you decide to write about how you bring diversity by lightening any room with your sense of humor.

Tell your story, then write about how you would join the school's improv comedy club. Find a class on comedy screenwriting and talk about that.

Bottom line: even in a diversity essay, it can pay to do your research about the school and make a case for school fit. Where Why Us essays may often focus more on academic offerings, Diversity essays are a good opportunity to make a case for fit in a broader, more cultural sense.

How to write a Diversity supplemental essay

The right way to approach a Diversity supplement will vary based on prompts. Some schools may ask you to take a more formal, even policy-oriented approach to the question of diversity. Other prompts may simply ask you to relate a story that highlights diversity. Of the two, the second is more common, so that's what we'll focus on here.

The most challenging part of writing a diversity essay is often picking the type of diversity that you represent. As we've discussed, diversity can look like many things.

If you're having trouble thinking about how you represent diversity, try stepping away from the term. Instead ask yourself, "What's something I'm good at?"

I find this question to be helpful because, for most people, it's way easier to answer.

You might be good at comedy, or gardening, or making coffee, or political analysis, or cooking amazing soups.

Any of those five skills could be reinterpreted to answer a diversity prompt. Why? Because diversity, at its most basic level, means difference. Another way to answer the diversity prompt is to answer the question, “What makes you different from other people?”

Thinking about what you’re good at is an easy way to answer that question. What do you do well that others don’t? Almost any answer to that question will give you a solid answer to a diversity prompt. As a bonus, framing your answer to a diversity prompt around strengths will make it easy to keep your essay strength-focused.

Once you have your topic in hand, the writing process begins.

Most great diversity essays (we'll see a couple of examples later) tell a story. It might be about an experience you had with a classmate, an encounter with someone else in your life, or a broader narrative about a trend that's shaped your life.

As with most supplemental essays, I recommend outlining first and making sure that you're super clear about how your response fits the prompt. Among all types of supplemental essays, Diversity essays can be among the easiest to mess up because the essay you write doesn't actually fit the requirements of the prompt.

Here's an example of what a basic diversity essay structure might look like:

Intro: Tell a story that introduces the reader to your definition of diversity.

Middle: Introduce your definition of diversity more directly and reflect on the role it's played in your life / how it's shaped who you are as a person.

Conclusion: Answer any prompt-specific stuff directly. For example, in the UW prompt, this is where you'd talk about how you'd contribute to diversity.

The conclusion is also where you might tie in the kind of school research we talked about earlier.

As you're writing, ask yourself whether you're meeting the criteria for a good diversity essay we laid out above. Are you...

  • Giving a clear definition of diversity, even if it's a bit unorthodox?
  • Highlighting personal strengths through your story?
  • Connecting to the school -- either through values or through specific school research?

If you're doing all three of these things, your essay should be in good shape.

Now, let’s take a look at a great diversity essay example.

Diversity Supplemental Essay Example

Example: Growing Up Rural

Columbia: 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. (200 words or fewer)*

When the closest grocery store is an hour away, you learn to get creative. Applesauce replaces vegetable oil, milk gets thickened with cornstarch, and sometimes you have no choice but to omit the garlic. Such is the life of a rural kid.

Growing up on a farm, I’ve learned to take academic and community challenges in stride.((The writer provides a clear statement about where they come from and how it has shaped their worldview.)) Whereas most students can simply hop on the school bus in winter, my dad has to grade our road so the bus won’t get stuck. I spend nearly three hours each day on the bus alone, and my afternoons are filled with combining corn before I can get started on homework.

New York and my hometown are about as different as you can get. What unites them is that I belong in both.((This sentence clearly transitions between the relationship between their home town and life at Columbia.)) The corn we grow feeds thousands, but we rely on bus drivers, supply chains, and the helping hands of neighbors to keep us going.  I don’t always agree with my rural family or neighbors, and I’m sure I won’t always agree with my classmates at Columbia.

But my background has made me open-minded, flexible, and adaptable, traits I would love to bring to the Columbia classroom.((The essay concludes with this sentence that explicitly answers the prompt and draws on values that align with Columbia’s.))

Interested in reading more example supplemental essays? Hop on over to our college essay examples post for some of our favorites.




Liked that? Try this next.