Decide whether to write the optional diversity essay and learn how to make it stand out
The law school diversity statement is optional, and you may be unsure whether you should even write one.
This uncertainty induces a lot of anxiety. This anxiety is particularly high for applicants who feel as though they are not “diverse enough.” This may be true if you are White, male, or otherwise not part of an underrepresented racial, ethnic, or religious minority. For others, there is a fear that their essay may come across as cliché or trite as admissions officers read scores of essays about first- and second-generation immigrants, or various stories of adversity, such as those of poverty, sexual orientation, racial background, or mental health.
This article will directly answer questions about the diversity statement for law school, while providing specific tips for you to write it well.
Why is diversity important to law schools?
Let us first spend some time defining diversity as it is understood to law school admissions officers. The legal profession is often regarded as unrepresentative of America’s vibrant ethnic and racial diversity. As such, law schools are trying to attract students who are not only among the country’s brightest, but also from minority backgrounds in an effort to mitigate this gap.
Some law schools will ask, “describe how your background or experiences will contribute to or enhance the diversity of the law school community (e.g. based on your culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ideology, age, socioeconomic status, academic background, employment experience, etc.). This is an expansive understanding of diversity. The definition encompasses a range of unique experiences that could color your ability to engage in the classroom and provide your peers with perspectives and viewpoints that are crucial to receiving a holistic legal education. They are looking for experiences and backgrounds that will help to enrich the broader law school community. These include stories of adversity, whether economic adversity, health difficulties, or disability.
Should I write a law school diversity statement?
Before jumping into drafting, take some time to explore the possibility of submitting the essay. Everyone should engage in this exercise of self-reflection. Do not shy away from the steps if you feel you are not diverse for the purpose of the essay.
Follow the guiding steps below as you work through the brainstorming process.
1. Reflect. Take some time to jot down a few transformative moments in your life. Broadly, the reviewers are looking for diversity of thought, geography, faith, experiences, backgrounds, ethnicity, gender and interests. Examples include:
Living in a state that is historically less represented
Service in law enforcement or military
Growing up in certain faith communities
Extensive work experience (over five years)
Growing up in a household with an abusive parent, or a caregiver with addiction issues
Competing in sports professionally
Parenting, or raising children through a guardianship
Attending public school, if a majority of your peers attended private schools
Living in poverty
Through this reflection exercise, ask yourself:
How am I different from my peers?
How am I different from the broader American culture, and legal culture in particular?
What sets me apart?
After reflecting, you may still feel lost and unsure. There is no red-line answer for whether your particular background warrants another essay. There are two ground rules if one is still feeling stuck. First, ask a trusted friend or colleague of your dilemma. Often times, talking through an issue out loud helps one to better articulate a solution. Second, if you are feeling ambivalent, err on the side of not writing the diversity statement. It is better to skip the essay all together than to write material that lacks depth. Remember, your application should be complete without the essay, and deciding to forego writing an essay will not hurt your chances.
2. Impact. Before we begin the writing process, be sure to spend some time brainstorming moments wherein your experiences impacted your life. Outline specific stories and moments in your life that made you feel alienation, or a lack of belonging. These should be in the form of anecdotes and short stories or memories. Examples include:
The day you decided to leave a career you have been pursuing for five years in government for a chance to attend law school.
Feeling overwhelmed and unsure about the path you are pursuing.
Emboldened to make a dramatic shift to mitigate feelings of stagnation.
Reveling in the excitement of merging your skills and experiences in different sectors.
The first day you attended a private school after attending public schools your whole life.
Feelings of isolation and fear in a new, and perhaps alienating space.
Beginning to gain a sense of understanding behind the socioeconomic imbalances of educational opportunities between public and private institutions.
Excited by the prospects of new growth opportunities, and merging them with your communities and passions.
As you’re outlining, ask yourself:
How did this experience or background impact you?
What challenges did it pose?
What benefits did it give rise to?
How will it inform your persona and professional goals?
How may this impact your law school experience?
How should I format my essay?
Unlike your personal statement, your diversity statement should be concise. The essay should generally be no more than 500 words. Each and every word, sentence and story counts. With this in mind, let’s jump right into the content and structure of the essay.
The most successful diversity statements are those that laser focus on one theme, or story. That can be a particular experience, or an identity. Be as specific and explicit as possible about what you would like to highlight.
Example: My journey to America began well before my birth. My father migrated to the United States in the midst of political turmoil and unrest from Iran in 1980. Shortly thereafter, my mother joined him with three children into a one-bedroom apartment. My parents may have left Iran, but they ensured the tradition, cultural practices and traditions informed our daily family gatherings.
The opening paragraph will unveil the root of the story, whereas the rest of the essay will add depth, and layer the story in compelling ways. Think creatively about ways in which various moments or experiences informed one another and find thematic connections between your experiences. There are several ways to structure the remaining 2-3 paragraphs of the essay. Some suggestions include:
1. Tracking an emotional journey. Perhaps you were embarrassed by your background as a child, but have grown to be more appreciative of your unique background. Help guide the reader through this journey.
Example: In my youth, I was preoccupied with my difference of culture, language and food. I refused to bring my home-made lunch to school, and shied away from any mention of my Korean family or their migration story. I felt ashamed and ostracized, and sought to erase my unique cultural background in school. I have come to understand that while I sought assimilation in my childhood, I was now seeing authenticity and integration without compromise.
2. Developing context. It may be the case that you share a story that is difficult to process or understand for an outsider who does not share your particular background. If so, add context to the story by briefly explaining the larger context within you live. Do not spend more than two sentences explaining context, as every sentence should center your narrative and journey.
Example: I walked home with a limp after my competition and knew that I will need a doctor within seconds of my injury. Rather than pass me Advil to numb some of the pain, my mother continued to pass the hanyak, or traditional Korean medicine, before taking me to a Korean herbal clinic. At the clinic, the healer would diagnose me by feeling my radial pulse, and visualize the tension and maladies plaguing my body.
In the example above, a reader may not have understood what a Korean herbal clinic entails, and providing context may add depth to the essay. If you are using a term that is not readily known, such as haynak above, define it immediately. Again, brevity is key.
Finally, be sure to end the essay succinctly. The ending of the essay should round out the essay, and take the reader back to the opening scene. Weave the initial storyline, and track the trajectory.
Example: In many ways, my life abroad instilled in me a desire to further the demands of human rights activists and victims. I plan on carrying with me the stories of the many women I met in India in my career, and in my personal commitments. It is on the shoulders of fierce and courageous giants that I stand, and hope to make my mark.
The law school diversity statement is yet another chance to showcase your writing, and share some of your most meaningful life experiences. Do not shy away from sharing stories that are personal if you are comfortable doing so. This short essay will shed light into the ways in which you will engage in the law school community and layer your portfolio with rich narratives. Edit this essay as meticulously as you do your personal statement, and ensure that it is as evocative and passionate as possible.