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How to write a diversity statement.

How to write a diversity statement. (From rutlo on Flickr.)

Last week, I covered what a diversity statement is and how to decide whether a diversity statement is right for you. Now, for those of you who will be writing one, I will cover how to do it.

Generally speaking, your diversity statement should be written very much like your personal statement. However, the approach you will take will differ slightly.

In your personal statement, you are presenting yourself to the admissions counselor as an ideal candidate for your prospective school. You are to show them how your experience is indicative of your qualities and drive and how these traits are proof of how you’ll succeed, at school and in the future. These experiences can be either personal or professional, but, either way they have to somehow exemplify your abilities as a prospective student.

With your diversity statement, you have to provide yet further examples of your experience, and talk about how these have made you a mature, more diverse person. Meaning, you will have to discuss your personal background and how this has affected you. Some people talk about the diversity statement being akin to an adversity statement, but that’s not necessarily the case– it doesn’t have to necessarily be about obstacles. However, it does have to involve is your personal experience, and how this has given you a different or more diverse perspective than most other students.

Note the marked differences between these two types of statements.

While both the personal statement and diversity statement serve the same purpose– to shed more light on your personality for the admissions committee–  they differ in the manner in which they do that.

Like any writing task, you should start with a brainstorming session. However, the diversity statement can be much more, well, personal than the personal statement– as such, your brainstorming should naturally be different along these lines as well. In last week’s post, I wrote some basic questions you should ask yourself when considering whether to write a diversity statement or not. Your brainstorming should stem from the answers from these questions.

Once you have narrowed it down to one– or even a few– topic ideas, start outlining. The only way to test drive the solidity of a possible argument is to outline it; if you can come up with enough material to develop your argument from start to finish, think about it a bit further and consider using this as a viable topic. If you find yourself scrambling to fill out this outline, then drop it.

Because of the often deeply personal nature of diversity statements, you will have to spend a fair amount of time on this. Granted, the word-count for a diversity statement is not nearly as much as a personal statement. (Personal statements should be about 2 pages, double-spaced with reasonable font and margin sizes, while diversity statement should be about a page, page and a half, tops.) However, the diversity statement does needs extra consideration– certainly more thought than, say, an addendum. Chances are, your diversity statement will be dealing with some pretty sensitive issues. Take time and precaution with how you treat your topic, as failing to do so can turn an otherwise compelling and moving statement into something trivial or, even worse, bad.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

DON’T:

  • …be antagonistic. Being critical of greater social and cultural forces is one thing, but using your diversity statement as a soapbox is another.
  • …throw yourself a pity party.  Admissions counselors want to see how you’ve matured and grown. Don’t trivialize yourself by coming off as if you’re complaining or whining.
  • …blame others. Instead of pointing fingers at who or what may have complicated your background, talk about how these things have changed you for the better. Playing the blame game will only make you seem immature and close-minded.
  • …talk about “would have, should have, could have”. Your life, up to this point, is what it is. Take ownership of that, and talk about the past in how it reflects your present and your future, but don’t talk about rewriting anything. Talking about ” what if”s can be a waste of time and, in this case, precious word-count.

Instead, DO:

  • …talk about how your life has changed because of your experience. Admissions counselors want to know the level of maturity and self-confidence you will bring to the admitted class but they also want to know how you have grown to achieve that. Shed light on how you’ve grown and developed into the person you are now, at the precipice of entering into a new degree-track.
  • …use some humor, but tastefully. You can have a healthy sense of humor about your background– it doesn’t have to be all gloom-and-doom. However, don’t be crass, crude, or morbid. That can be a party and application killer. So, don’t be that guy.
  • …talk about the positive aspects of your experience. What good came from your diverse background? What are you grateful for?
  • …draw upon your personal statement or letters of recommendation. If there is a common tie between your career goals and what you talk about in your diversity statement, then make that connection. Don’t be afraid to be thematic in your application, stemming connections and ties across your diversity statement, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and even addenda. It would only help to make your application a more solid package.

 

 

 

 

Should I write a diversity statement?

Blank page. (From Birohi >H!ROK< on Flickr.)

Now that applications are fully underway, I’ve received tons of questions about supplemental essays.. Applications call for more than just a personal statement— often, a secondary “Why [insert school name]?” also known as a “Why X” essay, may be included. Also, students may need to include an addendum.

Another type of supplemental essay that is the diversity statement.  I describe in further detail how to write a successful diversity statement in a later post but, first, let’s break down what a diversity statement actually is.

Many of you already have the right idea: that it’s an essay that explains your diverse background or experience. But, there is some confusion after that.

You don’t have to an Under-Represented Minority (or, URM) to write one. There is a common misconception that a diversity statement should be about only ethnicity or race. It’s not. A diverse experience can be related to, yes, ethnicity and race, but it can also relate to your sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, religious belief, or age. It is more than just the color of your skin; it is about any circumstances or experiences that have made you outside the mainstream, different from the rest of the applicant pool. This also applies to your home life or household as well– whether you grew up in a non-English speaking household, an adoptive home, or any otherwise “non-traditional” household.

It’s up to you to decide what your diverse experience is. Again, what constitutes diversity is often misunderstood, so only you can be the best judge of that. But, here are some questions for you to consider, when deciding whether you should write one or not:

  • Did you have a diverse experience, background, or upbringing?
  • Does this background make you genuinely different and more diverse than others?
  • Did these experiences allow you to have a different perspective?
  • How has this diverse perspective changed your outlook? Your career and life goals?
  • How will this experience help diversify the student body? What about your experience can you bring to the table as part of the admitting class?

Carefully consider these questions. Now, there is one more important factor you must consider as well.

As an applicant, you want your application to be as competitive as possible. One of the ways to do so is to possibly include a diversity statement in your application packet. After all, you would not considering adding yet another essay on top of a long and arduous process if that was not the case. I’m glad you’re a kind of achiever that is willing to do the extra work, but, as an optional essay, there is a risk.

Diversity statements are not mandatory. As such, not including this optional essay will not detract from your application. Your application packet– the application itself, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement– can very well get you into the school that you want. It is perfectly possible for applicants to get in with only these items and plenty of applicants before you have gotten in without any supplementation or additional materials at all. The admissions package is designed to, at its barest bones, to do allow admittance– that’s why they are the required parts of the application over others.

A supplemental essay, by definition, is supposed to do exactly that– to supplement your application. It’s an opportunity for you to present yet another side to your personality to the admissions committee. And, it’s an opportunity for the admissions counselor to get to know you further and possibly find more reasons to admit you.

If your essay is well written, well-composed, and truly compelling, it will do all these things. However, if your essay is not, then you risk taking away from your own application. By presenting additional information, you’re giving them more to look at which, as I said, can work to your advantage. But, in doing so, you’re also giving them more written material to judge you on and, by nature, giving yourself more room for error.

This is why you must be particularly selective and careful with your decision. Just as you have to be selective with your recommenders, your statement topic, and your methods of LSAT studying, you also must be selective in the supplemental materials you provide.

If, when considering all these factors I’ve listed, you still feel uncomfortable or unsure, then don’t do it. You won’t lose out by not doing a diversity statement, but you can lose out by doing a bad one. If you find that you’re forcing yourself to write one, that awkwardness will be evident to the admissions counselor. Trust me– they look at up to thousands of these kinds of essays and forced, awkward writing is easy to pinpoint and with good accuracy, too.

I’m not trying to scare you, I promise. However, I do want you to be realistic– don’t write a diversity statement just to write one. Write one because, as a diverse person or one who can bring diversity to your prospective schools, you have something strong and meaningful to say. If you feel that you do and feel comfortable with the material enough to write about it, then by all means do so. This essay is supposed to serve not only as a supplement but as a complement  to your application package. If you treat it as such and write a genuine, well-meaning essay, then it will.

If, at the end of this exercise, you have decided that a diversity statement is the right choice for you, then check out my post on how to write one.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Statement Personal: or, how to organize your essay.

Brainmap. (From sidewalk flying on Flickr.)

Many students come to me when they are at a loss. They have worked on draft after draft, corrected every misplaced comma and spelling mistake, and chose each word meticulously. They have great topics and great experiences to choose from. So, “why isn’t this working?”

The most common mistake I’ve encountered, even including grammar and syntax, is disorganization. There are too many things to say, not enough words to say them in, and they’re in a rush to say them all.

I’ve discussed in a previous post the idea of the personal statement being a form of branding. Now, I’m taking it one step further. With a personal statement, you are asked, essentially, to devise an argument: you are asked to argue why you are an ideal candidate for the admitting class. Regardless of what you end up writing your personal statement about, or how you decide to go about the statement itself, your end-goal is to make this argument, effectively. That is, your goal is to convince the admissions counselor of your side of the argument– which is, of course, admittance.

So, how does one make this argument, effectively?

One of the principles of rhetoric, according to our ancient Greek friends, is disposito, or arrangement– the organization of the argument itself. A large part of the compelling, persuasive strength of an effective argument lies in this organization– the clarity of not only what you’re arguing but also of how you’re arguing it.

With that said, the best way to organize your essay (and your entire thought process, too) is to make an outline.

I know, I know– outlines are usually stressed when talking about writing papers or much longer essays, but they are just as applicable to personal statements.

When you write an outline, all sorts of magical things happen. You will not only be able to organize your essay, but you’ll also be able to fully flesh out what your topic is, in a clear and succinct way.

Many students write about their work/school/life experiences, leading to some sort of conclusion as to why this has brought them to a particular point. Sometimes, this may be about an obstacle or problem of some sort– whether it be professional, academic, or personal– that had lead to a life change or achievement or development of a particular skill set.  Others may forgo this model and choose to write about an anecdote that highlights their personal qualities or work ethic.

Regardless of what your topic is, you have to expand upon it enough to create a framework, a structure around which you will build your statement. It, in other words, has to form your main argument.

Experiences —> Problems/Issues Raised —> Solution

This is a quick mock up of a diagram I had drafted up for one of my students. To create this, I took her topic (how working as a case worker in foster care has led her to pursue legislation) and boiled it down to its most basic elements– through her experience, significant issues and obstacles were raised, leading her to propose a solution. The purpose of this diagram is to visualize an argument structure. Seeing how your argument is formed, even in the most rudimentary way, makes writing your statement remarkably easier. Creating a visual can be all the difference between setting up the foundations to your statement and staring at a blank page in a panic.

Once you create a diagram of your argument, you’ll start to see a theme, or even a number of themes, present in your statement. Whether it’s your love for community-building or your own sharp aptitude and drive, these themes will build upon the framework you’ve just created.

These thematic elements are the pieces you will use to build upon your framework– they form the muscular system on top of the skeleton. Together, they are the solid core of your argument. The rest of your statement– the specific examples, quotes, or other creative elements– will be organized around this core. This is when your outline comes in.

How you outline your statement is up to you– you can use a (albeit more advanced) linear diagram like what I had just shown you or simply a bulleted list. For those looking for a more spatial outline, I advise not to use a brainmap as it will be too confusing and unstructured (but I definitely recommend using one during topic formulation). Either way, you want to use an outline to further visualize how your argument will unfold. With everything– your argument and its structure and the specific examples used to develop your story– laid out in front of you, you will be able to organize your ideas and your thoughts better. (Whew!) From there, you can begin to piece your statement together, with a clearer sense of direction and a much-clearer head.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Choosing a personal statement topic.

What is your statement about? (From UggBoy

To say admissions essays are daunting is putting it rather mildly. The application process itself –getting transcripts and recommendation letters,  prepping for required admissions tests, making Big Decisions about Huge Life Changes– is arduous, terrifying, and seemingly life-ending.

And yet, despite of all that, you’re also expected to write about yourself.

This pressure often leads to feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and a little afraid. Perhaps you may even feel like an impostor. Where do you even start?

Alas, one does not have to begin by breathing into a paper bag.

The first step to writing a personal essay is really no different from that of research papers or essays– it all starts with brainstorming. For the personal essay, however, brainstorming means making a list.

Make a list of all the accomplishments, awards, honorable mentions, accolades, and even old-fashioned, good deeds that you’ve done so far. Think of everything you’ve ever done in the last few years that you’re even the slightest bit proud of, and write them down– and I mean everything. If you’re a former student body president, state chess champion, and director of the school play, then write those amazing things down.  But, even if you feel that you haven’t done anything that’s “good enough” to be considered, think harder. Your first step to a great personal essay is to sit down, get out a sheet of paper, and stay a while. Spend time thinking of how awesome you are, and all the equally awesome things you’ve done. Everyone’s done something worthwhile and noteworthy, whether it was volunteering to save orphans in a third-world country or being a good friend to someone in their time of need. Helping old ladies cross a street counts too. It can be anything– I mean it. Be shameless.

Keep this list handy as this will not only serve as a jump-off point for possible topic ideas but also be a helpful reminder during the application process that you CAN do this.

Once you’ve exhausted every possible feat, step away from it, take the rest of the day off, and work on other parts of your application (this is a prime example of why time management is extremely important). The next day, return to your list. What sticks out to you? What do you feel most proud of? If you’re still stuck, hand this list to someone else, anyone you’d trust to give an objective opinion. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member or friend–a coworker or neighbor will do. What do they think?

Circle a couple of options from your list, the ones that stand out to you (or your friend) the most. When you’ve narrowed it down to two or three, jot down a few notes on each, and go forward from there. If need be, consult your friend again or yet another person. Follow this same process of elimination until, boom, you’ve got yourself a topic and started the essay writing process. And, hopefully, you haven’t reached for that paper bag yet.

Easy? Of course not. But, at least this way, you can make a topic choice that is not rushed or haphazard and can hold the attention of your reader. Holding your reader’s attention is crucial as your reader, in this instance, is the person deciding your academic future. If you’re not content with what you’ve narrowed it down to, start the process again. There’s nothing to be afraid of starting over; however, you should certainly be afraid of writing about a topic you’re not entirely happy with which is A LOT harder to do, let alone to do successfully. Repeating the process a couple of times may be just what you need to get your gears rolling on a topic that is truly awesome.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

How to write an addendum.

Writing the news. (From ElvertBarnes on Flickr.)

“What is an addendum?” and, “how do I write one?” are two questions often posed by students when completing university applications for either undergraduate or graduate work.

An addendum is used to address certain parts of your application– either grades, attendance records, disciplinary records, and other areas– that may need further explanation due to extraordinary or extenuating circumstances. Usually an addendum is included in an application to explain issues with low grades, standardized test scores, absences, disciplinary action, or other areas that need to be answered.

The idea behind an addendum is to give insight to an admissions committee that they would not otherwise have regarding a possible problem with your application. Whether it’s a lapse in grades, poor test scores, or a long medical absence, your addendum should ideally provide answers to any possible questions or ambiguity that your application may have.

It’s important to note that, by writing an addendum, you are essentially asking the admissions committee to make an exception– that is, you’re asking them to reconsider these issues and to evaluate your application differently than they would have ordinarily.

So, as you can imagine, it is especially crucial that addenda are well written, truthful, and concise. Here are a few tips on how to write an effective addendum:

Decide whether you need an addendum.

Let’s say you did poorly during a particular semester: normally, your grades are above-average but, during a particular semester, they dipped under 3.0, due to circumstances. Why did this happen? Whether it’s because your grandmother had passed away, you missed two weeks of class due to illness, or you were stricken by a series of personal crises, these are all good and acceptable reasons to write an addendum. An addendum would address that, due to extenuating circumstances, your normally good grades suffered and, for a brief period of time, you did not do as well as you normally would have.

If you feel that a particular part of your application warrants an explanation, then you should consider writing an addendum. However, if you don’t have an actual explanation for a discrepancy in your application, then writing an addendum may not be the best idea. Addenda are to elaborate on legitimate circumstances, not excuses.

Also, don’t feel that you have to write an addendum. If your application is fairly solid and without glaring discrepancies, then, great! You are free to devote that time to something else (like your personal statement!).

Be factual.

Regardless of what your addendum is about, you must disclose all facts IN FULL. By no means should you assume that the admissions officer will simply “get” what you’re trying to say. Your goal is to explain the situation and its detrimental effects to its fullest extent and to do so as factually as possible.

This means, however, that you should not write a full-fledged argument as to why you should be considered. Argumentative tangents or emotional pleas are NOT what admissions counselors want to read, nor will they sway their decisions positively– in fact, you could risk doing the opposite. An addendum should explain what happened, as it happened, and how it affected you. That’s it. If you have a truly burning desire to argue your case and cannot go forward without presenting your argument, then perhaps this is better suited for your personal statement.

Be honest.

I addressed honesty in my previous post, but it is especially relevant in this instance. If you feel that your circumstances are so unusual that the committee might not believe you, elaborate on why they should. However, if you feel that your reason is somehow unsatisfactory, do not exaggerate. To do so would be, essentially, cheating. Also, admissions counselors pour over thousands of applications a cycle and will see through excuses and nonsense immediately. That is their job, and they do it well. If you can’t get away from possibly stretching or exaggerating your explanation, then perhaps you should reconsider writing one at all.

Following my first point, you are to explain what had happened, and how this affected you, but without embellishment or exaggeration. You can certainly make your reasons compelling, but by no means should you exaggerate them.

Be concise.

While you should write your addendum as completely as possible, its also important that its as concise as possible. Addenda should never exceed a page; in reality, they should actually only be a paragraph or two. So, in the essence of space (and the counselor’s attention span), your addendum must be to the point. There is literally no room for long, flowery prose, nor opportunity as this should be only a disclosure of facts, not an argument.

Remember, an addendum should disclose facts only as this is NOT the place to pull heartstrings or ask for absolution. Your addendum should be also be short, to the point, and, most importantly, honest.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com