Writing an Essay on Diversity

6 minutes


Updated June 8, 2022

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Most universities don’t ask you to write essays aside from your statement of purpose. However, we’ve noticed from experience that some, like Dartmouth,* and Purdue* do ask you to write a diversity essay.

In fact, this essay is a key requirement for you to be considered for certain fellowships at Purdue University, namely The Purdue University Doctoral Fellowship, David M. Knox Fellowship, and George Washington Carver Fellowship.

These are fun additions to your application, as they make you think about questions you wouldn’t normally think about.

​think​Who are you and what has contributed to your identity?

How have you shown leadership in the past?

What will you do to improve the diversity at the university?

Universities consider diversity in the classroom a way to enhance the educational experiences for all students.*

Imagine this scenario: It is the fifth day of your orientation. The professor in your class begins the lecture with the question, “How can we solve the energy needs of our future?”

A brave student raises her hand and shares how in her home country, Barbados, a lot of citizens have begun using electric vehicles that are charged through solar power stations, always present in a five-kilometer radius.* Motivated by her response, a student from Australia raises his hand and shares a recent article he read stating that his country is building a large-scale plant to convert natural gas feedback into renewable hydrogen.* Now, hearing such diverse and novel ideas, you are tempted to speak up and mention how in your home state, Tamil Nadu, more than 25% of the energy consumption comes from wind power thanks to the monsoon seasons.*

That’s the power of sitting in a diverse classroom.

The power of diversity can also be witnessed in international conferences.

The Harvard College Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR)* is an independent, non-profit, student-run organization at Harvard College founded in 1991 to foster discussions on Asian international relations. Presently, it holds two conferences every year, one in an Asian city and the other inside the Harvard campus. These conferences are attended by hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students from across the world, all of whom bring a unique perspective to debate on pertinent topics such as public health and foreign policy. Adding more flair, some of the past notable speakers include the President of Singapore, Crown Prince of Perak, and the Finance Minister of the Philippines.*

When you attend such a conference and take part in intense discussions, your world view will be dramatically expanded. I can attest to this first-hand.

In 2016, I was fortunate to be one among ten students from India to receive the Cargill Global Scholarship, awarded for academic and leadership excellence. The best part of the scholarship was not the scholarship itself, despite being a sizable amount. Rather, it was the opportunity to attend a week-long leadership conference that happened in Minneapolis, USA. In that week, I met 59 other scholars coming from six countries. We sat through seminars on key topics related to diversity and inclusion, were put in groups to brainstorm, and asked to make presentations.

It was exhausting and wonderful.

Aside from the experience inside the classroom, universities care about diversity because employers care about diversity.

​stats​Employers are no more silent on their diversity goals. To date, Salesforce has spent $10.3 million to fix the pay disparity due to gender, race, and ethnicity.* Google’s 100,000 employee workforce is made up of 32% women, 41.9% Asians, and the company has more than quadrupled the number of black employees in the past six years.* Since 2012, the number of Fortune 500 companies with greater than 40% diversity has more than doubled, from 69 to 145.*

Given all the above, universities want to encourage diversity on campus and hence admit students who contribute to that.

Let’s look at a real example question. Below is the question prompt given by Purdue University:*

Describe your leadership, work experience, service experience, or other significant involvement with racial, ethnic, socio-economic, or educational communities that have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education, and how these experiences would promote a diversity of views, experiences, and ideas in the pursuit of research, scholarship, and creative excellence.

That is a very verbose question. Once you deconstruct it, you will realize that it’s asking you to:

  • Identify an instance from your past when you worked with a community that is underrepresented in the higher education domain.

  • Describe your involvement and outcome.

  • Connect your past experience to future endeavors.

​think​Think hard and identify an instance you can talk about. Did you ever volunteer at an NGO?

Are you part of clubs or groups that have people who are underrepresented? Have you asked them about their experiences?

Were any of your projects or internships aimed at educating more people?

The Four-Step Framework

We’ll walk through a four-step framework to help you construct your essay, and at the same time, write a sample one ourselves.

First, begin the story with your first encounter with the underrepresented community. Try to be as specific as you can with the details.

I was not expecting to walk out with a heavy heart when I stepped inside the Mahatma Gandhi Orphan Home in Trichy, India on July 22, 2018. I had gone there to assist my friend in conducting a class on chemistry for 20 ninth-graders. During a break, I was having a conversation with a teacher there when I heard the bad news. She told me that the students had thus far attended private schools thanks to numerous generous donations. However, the money had run out and they had no means to fund their high school and pursue education further. They were now reliant on a few part-time faculty and students from nearby universities to take one-off classes in lieu of proper education.

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