The Common Application Prompts: Number 5

By Ryan Hickey + updated on December 8th, 2009

In our last three posts, we’ve examined the first four prompts featured on this year’s Common App. Today, we’ll take a look at the fifth, which is notably different from those first four. Rather than letting you talk about some experience, person, or creative work that relates to an unspecified issue you consider important about yourself, this prompt clearly defines the issue you must address: diversity.

Take a look at the exact wording below:

5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

The first thing you should notice is that the prompt consists of two sentences, the first of which is a statement that establishes a point important to consider when writing to your response. That introductory sentence clearly states that diversity is a positive factor that contributes to higher education. Thus, your response needs to find a way to support that sentiment in some way.

The directions for the essay offer a choice of two possible responses. You can either “describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community,” or you can “[describe] an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you. You cannot effectively respond to this prompt if you do not clearly show that diversity has played a role in your life. On top of that, depending on which route you decide to take, you also need to show how you will contribute to diversity on campus, or why/how you consider diversity important on a personal level.

As with our other posts on these essay prompts, I’d like to provide some examples of themes that come up quite often in essays based on this prompt:

  1. Being the lone individual who was somehow different than everyone else in a given situation
  2. Befriending a lone individual who was somehow different than everyone else in a given situation
  3. Your first experience in a foreign country

If you plan to write an essay that follows one of these scenarios, pay extra attention to keeping your message personal and unique. Otherwise you risk writing an essay that does not stand out in any way.

Beyond these frequently used themes, however, the most common mistake I see in responses to this prompt is students taking a narrow view of what diversity actually means. The majority of essays on this topic focus on issues of race, gender, nationality, and socio-economic class. These are all closely connected to diversity, but in many ways they’re also the most clichéd examples of that idea.

If you’re looking to write an essay on this prompt, I encourage you to spend some time considering what diversity means beyond issues of appearance and background. The prompt itself helps you out in this regard, providing some ideas in its initial sentence. Here are some other suggestions that might help you get started:

  1. Your academic interests – while it’s possible that you and your friends like all of the same subjects and activities, that’s likely not the case. Perhaps you could thus explore those differences in your essay.
  2. A situation in which you did something different than what was expected of you because you felt it was important to be yourself. The ideas to focus on here would be standing up for your beliefs and avoiding conformity, which are both important aspects of diversity.
  3. An experience that caused you to realize that your life lacked diversity in some way, and how you took steps to change that.

Overall, my main point is this: consider what diversity means beyond how it is traditionally perceived. If you do this, your essay will be unique, effective, and eye-catching.

Speaking of diversity, EssayEdge boasts a network of more than 100 editing professionals. Our editors are graduates of some of the world’s most prestigious universities and have diverse experiences that enable them to meet the unique needs of our customers. If you are looking for an editor who is a graduate of Yale Med School, an editor who has experience writing fiction, or an editor who studied the same field you intend to pursue, we can likely help. Call our customer service line now to speak with a representative who will help you find the editor you’re looking for!


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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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4 Responses to “The Common Application Prompts: Number 5”

  1. [...] cannot overemphasize the show it don’t tell part. That is why- if you are using your first experience in a foreign country as a theme, you need to make the readers feel, smell and see what you have felt, smelled and seen. [...]

  2. Siddharth says:

    In your opinion, is the “international student” essay overused? I’ve lived in five countries and was wondering whether I should write about that?

  3. Ryan Hickey says:

    Hi Siddharth,

    Great question. With international applications continuing to boom at many colleges and universities, there are definitely a lot of applicants with some sort of international background who choose to discuss that part of themselves in their essays. However, that doesn’t mean that the topic is universally overused and thus wise to avoid outright.

    In your case, for example, you say that you’ve lived in five countries – right there, you’ve got a theme for an essay that will be distinct from the majority of “international student”-based pieces. Most international students haven’t lived anywhere close to five different countries, so you could build a compelling essay around that aspect of your past. I imagine that moving so often to places so different from one another must have had quite an impact on your youth, so as long as you can tell a story that helps the reader better understand who you are because of those experiences, you will be in great shape.

    The key is always to find a way to make a story or theme your own. Sure, there are a lot of “I have an international background” essays out there, but none of those tell your particular story. Be unique, be detailed, and you’ll be fine.

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