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by Vault Education Editors | March 31, 2009


After evaluating the qualifications and talent of the applicant pool, admissions committees seek to build a class full of interesting people from varied backgrounds. The purpose of this question is to find out what you have to contribute to this potential class. Here are some general guidelines for identifying a strong topic:
  1. Don't write an ode to diversity. Many people spend half the essay writing about how much they value diversity, or about how important diversity is to enriching one's learning experience. Your readers know this, and you are wasting words by stating the obvious.
  2. If you fit into one of the obvious categories, make sure you have something substantive to say. You should not simply mention a factor such as your race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, age, disability, or international upbringing and expect that to be your distinguishing feature. Instead, focus on how your background has shaped your life or career; discuss how it affects the perspective you will bring to the program.
  3. Diversity is not just about the obvious categories. Some people who are from privileged backgrounds will write about experiences in multicultural settings. This can be effective, especially if you have an extensive background within a particular setting. But your topic need not have anything to do with the obvious categories. You could also talk about a unique extracurricular activity, work experience, or hobby that has influenced your development. Don't look for prepackaged answers, but be sincere and reveal something meaningful.
  4. Don't pick something that everyone else has. Make sure that the point you use to distinguish yourself is actually noteworthy. For example, don't say that what you have to contribute is your communication skills and leadership ability. Everyone will be emphasizing these skills in other questions, and you will lose an opportunity to stand out. Note: There are questions that simply ask about your most important qualities, rather than what you have to contribute to diversity. In those cases, you should talk about the important themes with which everyone else will be dealing, though finding an original point in addition is always helpful.
  5. Be sure to cite specific evidence. If you're discussing an experience that has shaped your perspective, focus on concrete details. If you're discussing more abstract qualities that you possess, offer examples to show how you cultivated those qualities or how they came into play in your life.
The other angle some schools may take on diversity is to ask about your experience in diverse situations. Again, this should not be an invitation to deliver a paean to diversity. If you're going to discuss the positive influence that diversity had on a situation, be sure to cite specific examples. Also, focus on your role even if the question just asks about your experience, since active contribution reveals more about your character than passive response. You might emphasize such qualities as your ability to communicate, to cooperate, to bridge differences, and so on, but always include specific examples to back them up.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School

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