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Writing the Diversity Statement

Author: Darline Garibay


Do I need one?

The diversity statement is usually optional, and is used for consideration for graduate school fellowships. Diversity has a lot of different meanings, and for Cornell the requirements for the applicant are as follows: 1) First-generation college student 2) member of an ethnic or racial group historically underrepresented in graduate education 3) McNair or Mellon Mays Undergraduate Scholar 4) experiences overcoming any significant challenges in your path toward graduate education. Be sure to double-check that you meet the school’s criteria, but most programs include first-generation college students. Although this statement is optional, I highly encourage you to write one. I was lucky enough to be awarded a four-year SUNY Diversity Fellowship with my 2-page essay, and this created a lot of opportunities for me. In this essay, you want to speak about challenges you have overcome and demonstrate your tenacity, persistence, and resilience.

What to include

As first-generation students, we face a lot of challenges in navigating the college and graduate school experience. The diversity statement is an opportunity to share those with a committee. The things I shared in my statement, are things that even very close friends do not know, so do not be afraid to get personal! The important thing is to share these experiences in a way that highlights how you overcame obstacles, and how these obstacles helped you grow. For example, “I had no one to turn to for advice, or help when it came to navigating school; Mom was always working, Grandma only had a third-grade education, and no one spoke English. My success depended on my ability to build a different perspective, one that was completely different from my home life. I accepted the counsel of my teachers, and counselors, and forged ahead to overcome adversity.” Here I put a positive spin on the fact that I had no guidance at home, I went out of my way to find mentors. Finding people to help you succeed is an important skill for graduate school, and for life!

Other people's prospectives helps.

Personal experience

I wrote my essay emphasizing my background on how I grew up, and the challenges I overcame to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. I wrote, “To relieve the financial stress on my family, I worked full-time while maintaining a full academic load. I contributed to my family’s bills and college tuition for my siblings. These circumstances taught me prioritization, time management, and perseverance to achieve my lifelong dream of being the first in my family to graduate college.” Here I talked about a challenge, and how I overcame it. As someone wrapping up their Ph.D., I can assure you there will be many challenges to overcome! Therefore, highlighting your tenacity will make you stand out.

The second component of the diversity statement I wrote was based on experiences in school, and work that helped me gain valuable skills needed in graduate school. For example, “During my high school, and college summers, I worked as an educational aid, and interventionist for children with special needs, primarily on the Autism Spectrum. Working with children who had a hard time communicating their wants, and needs furthered my understanding of the importance of communication, and made me appreciate my social communication, and personal expression skills. I will utilize my ability to communicate, and work with many different types of people to collaborate with all of the individuals I come across as a graduate student, and as a professional.” Here, I gave a work example, what I learned, and how I can apply that to graduate school. Again, you want to show the committee that you have developed skills that will help you succeed in graduate school.

Share your story

The diversity statement is not just a way to apply for fellowships, but also an opportunity to share about what you have overcome to get to this stage in life. Although we likely share many similarities as first-generation students, there will be a lot of variation in the statement. Share your story, you are unique, you are resilient, and your differences have made you who are, and the reason you are one step closer from being a graduate student!

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