How to Discuss Diversity in Your Law School Applications

Mine the life experiences that set you apart to write a successful diversity statement.

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Think beyond race and consider the unique experiences that have influenced your life as you write your diversity statement.
Think beyond race and consider the unique experiences that have influenced your life as you write your diversity statement.

As prospective law students begin to prepare their applications this summer and fall, undoubtedly many will wonder how to best share their diverse backgrounds and experiences with the school admissions committees. Law school admissions directors seek a varied student body in which peers can learn from one another and contribute unique perspectives to foster discussion.

Keep in mind, however, that diversity is very broadly defined and is just one factor among many – such as LSAT score, GPA, essays and recommendations – that are considered in admissions decisions. Most law schools allow you to submit an optional diversity or supplemental statement to give you the chance to elaborate further on your background, experiences and unique qualities.

[Find out which law schools have the greatest diversity.]

You should be sure to consider the myriad ways in which you will bring diversity of thought and experience to the school. One distinction to consider when working on your law school applications is that, in the minds of law school admissions committees, diversity is not simply synonymous with ethnicity.

While you have the opportunity to share your ethnic background on your application, if you so choose, merely checking a box does not paint a full picture of your life experiences for admissions readers; this can best be done through the essays, particularly the optional diversity statement, which does not have to be about your ethnicity.

[Learn what traits successful law school applicants share.]

Many applicants assume that they do not have a diverse perspective to offer, when in fact they may have experiences that would add very significantly to the richness of the class. Perhaps you were raised by a single parent, or you grew up in a military family and traveled across the country or the world, or you were raised on a farm and are applying to a school in a large city. Think more along the lines of experiences that set you apart from others and how you have affected your community.

Two of the finest – and most successful – diversity statements that I have read at Stratus Prep were about the life lessons that the prospective students learned from their jobs as a waitress and a house painter and from the colleagues with whom they shared these life experiences.

[Check out the top 20 law schools in pictures.]

The former waitress wrote with empathy about the plight of the working poor from the perspective of many of her former colleagues, for whom the job was not just a brief detour, but a career. The house-painter-turned-law-applicant conveyed the lessons of integrity, dedication and optimism that his fellow painters shared with him through their words and actions. Both were admitted to top five schools with numbers that were well below the schools' means.

Due to the competitive nature of law school admissions and the fact that diversity is one factor, of many, in admissions decisions, there is a temptation to exaggerate ethnic connections that do not influence your character or perspective.

For example, if your grandfather is Hispanic, but you do not self-identify as Hispanic and that culture has not been a part of your life in a meaningful way, you should not write a diversity statement about your Hispanic heritage. It will almost certainly come across as inauthentic and backfire, particularly if you do not participate in related cultural or extracurricular activities.

Again, recall that diversity and ethnicity are not one and the same. Whatever endows you with a unique perspective, you should narrate your story honestly and genuinely as this will fully demonstrate your potential to contribute to your class.

What are you writing about in your diversity statement? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com or contact me via Twitter at @shawnpoconnor.