The Law School Applicant’s Guide to the Diversity Statement

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Most law schools offer applicants an opportunity to write a short diversity statement illustrating how their diverse background and upbringing has impacted their lives. Law schools understand that a diverse student body benefits students, faculty, and the school community at large. Though not required, this statement supplements the applicants' admissions materials with information about their life experiences.

A diversity statement can also help your application and offer further insight into why you are an ideal candidate for admission. Note, however, that you should not address any of the topics or ideas covered in the personal statement. It should be a complement, not a replacement for your personal essay. The two should work together to provide a complete portrait of you, the applicant, without being repetitive.

Key Takeaways: Diversity Statement for Law School Application

  • The diversity statement is an opportunity to tell the admissions committee how your unique experiences as part of a diverse group can enrich the school's environment. It is different to your personal essay, which addresses why you want to go to law school and why you are qualified to attend.
  • Be sure to consider the school's definition of diversity. It may include race, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, among other characteristics.
  • The diversity statement should be personal and reflective in tone.
  • Your statement should be short, but memorable. Aim for about 500 words, but no more than 800.

Reasons to Write a Diversity Statement

When schools and colleges talk about diversity, they're discussing how people with different backgrounds and varied life experiences work together and learn from each other. Diversity expands students' outlook by allowing them to share their varied cultures and backgrounds. 

A strong diversity statement can illustrate how your particular background and life experience can bring a unique perspective to your law school class. But before you begin, make sure you understand how each law school would like you to address the topic of diversity. The term itself and its implications can have different meanings to different people, and law schools are no exception. Some schools may have a broad definition, while others ask that student statements reflect only racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual identity issues. New York University Law School, for example, broadly describes diversity as "all aspects of human differences (including, but not limited to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, etc.) that give an application a unique perspective different from the general application pool." Your statement should illustrate how your experience as a member of a diverse community impacted your upbringing and shaped your understanding of the world.

Make sure your statement addresses only the type of diversity the law school wants to address. For example, some schools, such as the University of California—Berkeley, ask students who have experienced disadvantages that adversely affected their performance but were successfully overcome to complete a socioeconomic questionnaire with their application materials. Other schools, such as Harvard, allow applicants to submit an additional statement to explain further how their background can contribute to the diversity of the law school community.

Reasons Not to Write a Diversity Statement

If your particular type of diversity doesn't speak to any of the characteristics outlined in the law school application, don't submit one. If you can't think of anything or if writing something feels in any way forced or artificial, don't provide one. Former Yale Law School Dean Asha Rangappa counseled students against submitting superfluous additional material: "While you can include as much information as you like, you also want to be judicious in the number and amount of additional essays/addenda that you provide. ...If you do choose to write a diversity essay, please, PLEASE try to be serious about it and make sure it is something that has truly shaped your experiences and perspectives. Do NOT write a diversity statement on how you are "a good listener" or something similar."

The diversity statement is entirely different from the personal statement. The personal statement explains why you want to go to law school and why you are qualified to attend. The diversity statement is an opportunity to tell the admission committee what you can uniquely bring to the law school experience.

American University suggests first thinking about how you define diversity and then asking how your experience played a part in your personal growth. Then, consider the ways you might embody that diversity and how you can contribute to the overall culture at the school and as part of the profession.

Length and Formatting

Most admissions departments prefer the diversity statement to be no longer than one double-spaced page with one-inch margins, so aim for about 500 but no more than 800 words. Look for sample diversity statements in your school's websites to gain further insight and to understand what topics and formatting each school requires.

Choosing a Subject

You must keep your statement short but memorable. You should address one topic only: you, your background, and your family. Everything else belongs in your personal statement. Use the limited space you have to tell a brief story about your diverse background. Many students do this by choosing one moment or incident that reveals something significant about who they are. For example, one student might write about her experiences performing traditional Chinese dance as a way to talk about both her Chinese heritage and the discipline she learned from dancing. Other examples of statements that have impressed admissions counselors—according to US News—include a former waitress who wrote movingly about the plight of the working poor from her co-workers' perspectives, and a house-painter's statement about learning about integrity, dedication, and optimism from his fellow painters. An HIV-positive applicant discussed the strength he developed through coping with his diagnosis.

Tips for Getting Started

Before beginning to write your statement, take some time to look back on your own life, and ask yourself what makes your experience different from most other applicants. Some examples might include: 

  • Growing up in a particular religious tradition
  • Living with a chronic illness or disability
  • Serving in the military
  • Being an older student or a single parent returning to school
  • Issues related to sexual orientation
  • Growing up in poverty, addiction, or abusive circumstances

When you have a moment or an experience in mind, stop to consider how it may have influenced you as well as your decision to attend law school. A good plan of attack is to draft an outline before you begin to write. Begin with a persuasive paragraph giving the reader a roadmap to the experiences you're going to describe. The next two or three paragraphs should take the reader into your world and your experience. Be as descriptive as you can. The last paragraph should conclude by saying why this experience has helped prepare you for law school. Read a few more examples of diversity statements to help you format your own. 

Voice and Tone

The diversity statement should be personal and reflective in tone. Write about your experiences sincerely and in your own voice. Even though you may be writing about difficult moments in your life, your overall tone should be positive. Avoid hints of self-pity, and don't suggest that your background can or should excuse any flaws in your application profile. In your own words, tell the story of a moment that taught you something positive about yourself.

Conclusion

A good diversity statement should illustrate how these experiences helped to give you insights that will make you an asset to the law school community. Even if you are writing about a painful or negative experience, try to end your statement on a positive note. Admissions officers want to read a story that illustrates how where you came from has influenced who you are why that path has led you to law school. Did it give you a depth of understanding your peers may not have? State how it inspired you to become an advocate for others in similar circumstances? Make sure this last paragraph ties where you came from to your desire to become an attorney. 

Sources

  • "Diversity Statement Resource Guide." American University College of Law. https://www.wcl.american.edu/career/documents/diversity-statement-resource-guide/
  • “Application Components.” Yale Law School, https://law.yale.edu/admissions/jd-admissions/first-year-applicants/application.
  • O'Connor, Shawn P. “3 Ways Personal, Diversity Statements Differ in Law School Applications.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 17 Aug. 2015, https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/2015/08/17/3-ways-personal-diversity-statements-differ-in-law-school-applications.
  • O'Connor, Shawn P. “How to Discuss Diversity in Your Law School Applications.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 10 June 2013, https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/2013/06/10/how-to-discuss-diversity-in-your-law-school-applications.
  • Shemmassian, Shirag. “How to Write an Amazing Law School Diversity Statement.” Shemmassian Academic Consulting, Shemmassian Academic Consulting, 31 Jan. 2019, https://www.shemmassianconsulting.com/blog/diversity-statement-law-school.
  • Spivey, Mike. “Examples of Successful Diversity Statements.” Spivey Consulting, Spivey Consulting, 29 May 2018, https://blog.spiveyconsulting.com/examples-of-diversity-statements/.
  • “The Law School Diversity Statement.” The Law School Diversity Statement, http://cas.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/cas/prelaw/handbook/Law-School-Application-Process/the-law-school-diversity-statement.html.
  • “What's a Diversity Statement and How Do You Make Yours Stand Out?” Best Masters Degrees & Masters Programs 2020, 18 Apr. 2018, https://www.lawstudies.com/article/whats-a-diversity-statement-and-how-do-you-make-yours-stand-out/.