Each year, we receive a huge number of questions about when you should include a diversity statement in your application and whether or not your particular identity or experience would warrant submitting such a statement in addition to a personal statement. The answer is not always a simple one. On one hand, it is wise to provide law schools with a great deal of information about you as an applicant. Yet on the other hand, you want to make sure that this information is relevant to the diversity statement prompt and helpful to law school admissions offices in determining who you are as an individual, a future law student, and future lawyer. Diversity statements are truly optional statements; there will not be a negative mark on your application if you don’t have one. That said, it can offer a richer perspective on you as an applicant.
Here are a few factors that may help you decide if writing a diversity statement would work for you.
First, be sure to read each school’s application instructions on submitting a diversity statement; each prompt may be different, but many use a very broad definition of diversity. Race, ethnicity, national origin, and culture (i.e., coming from a background or community that is and/or has been historically excluded, marginalized, oppressed, and underrepresented) are certainly included, but they are not the only strict classifications or topics that fall under this category. Socioeconomic disadvantage, first-generation status, religion, sexual orientation, disability (and the intersectionality of any and all of these) are all examples of possible topics for a diversity statement. Also, an uncommon upbringing, overcoming adversity, or having gone through a serious, life-altering experience are examples of other themes — and even this is not an exhaustive list.
Your diversity statement should be different from your personal statement. Your personal statement can be a topic that would fit as a diversity statement, but then be sure your diversity statement is not redundant with your personal statement, and it shouldn’t be used to simply lengthen it.
The topic should be fairly obvious to you; if you can’t think of something that makes sense right away, it is probably a sign that you do not need to write one. This does not mean that your diverse identity cannot be complicated or not fully actualized, but in general, you shouldn’t try to stretch something that is a temporary hardship into a lifelong challenge. For example, there is a significant difference between growing up poor and going through a temporary drop in disposable income. The former is much more likely to have a deep and lasting impact on someone’s outlook. Adversity can make for a highly compelling diversity statement, but only when said adversity is both truly distinctive AND it provides you with an added dimension and perspective to bring to a law school.
Bad topic choices include: getting a used car as a gift instead of a new one because of a parent’s recent job change, being left-handed, having an econ major, appreciating diverse viewpoints, having fallen out of a chairlift, being liberal/conservative (e.g. “diversity of thought”), etc. (these are all real diversity statements we have seen). Writing about one of these things could do more harm than good. It can be seen as exercising poor judgment on the applicant’s part to miss the point of the diversity statement.
Your diversity statement should focus on YOU, your qualities, your characteristics, and your experiences. Don’t waste time making comparisons between yourself and other applicants, because you don’t have direct knowledge of those stories.
In sum, a diversity statement can be a great opportunity to provide the admissions committee with more information about you and what you can bring to their law school’s community and classroom. It is not something that everyone should submit, but when done well, a diversity statement can make a strong impact in a law school application.