A Guide to the Law School Diversity Statement

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the Law School Diversity Statement

As you finalize your JD school list and look through the requirements, you might notice that many institutions provide you with the opportunity to add an optional diversity statement. The law school diversity statement is an essay that asks you to elaborate on an aspect of your identity, background, or extracurriculars that will bring a unique perspective to your future classroom. 

Though law school diversity statement prompts vary from school to school, they essentially ask the same question: what distinguishes you from other applicants? While your racial or ethnic identity might be the first criteria to jump out, you can also discuss an impactful activity, leadership opportunity, or work experience that provides the school with more context about why you’re an exceptional candidate. To help you navigate this component, I have outlined what the diversity statement is, prompts for top schools, what to include in the essay, and how the law school diversity statement plays a role in your admissions decision.

What is the Law School Diversity Statement?

As the name suggests, the law school diversity statement allows you to expand on a quality which makes you different from other applicants. Unless otherwise stated, the statement is not just for racial or ethnic minorities. Although racial and ethnic identities are a significant component of diversity, the term is far more expansive. If you aren’t racially diverse, it’s not something you can change. Instead of worrying about that, focus on how you can frame other parts of your profile as a meaningful focal point.

You should use the diversity statement as an opportunity to tell the admissions committee something unique about yourself, what makes you tick, or experiences that have shaped your worldview. This could include your background as well as any unique extracurricular activities, exceptional experiences, and honors and awards that make you stand out from the rest of the pack. Successful examples include family circumstances such as adoption, or unusual hobbies and accomplishments such as competitive weightlifting.

Diversity Statement Prompts for Top Law Schools

Not all JD schools ask for a diversity statement. For the majority of schools that do, the essay is optional. Let’s take a look at which schools in the top 20 allow you to add a diversity statement, and how the prompts are framed.

Ranking School Name Law School Diversity Statement Prompt
1 Yale N/A
2 Stanford University Optional: If you would like the committee to consider how your background, life and work experiences, advanced studies, extracurricular or community activities, culture, socio-economic status, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expressions, or other factors would contribute to the diversity of the entering class (and hence to your classmates' law school educational experience), you may describe these factors and their relevance in a separate diversity essay.
3 Harvard University Optional: The Admissions Committee makes every effort to understand your achievements in the context of your background and to build a diverse student body. If applicable, you may choose to submit an optional additional statement to elaborate on how you could contribute to the diversity of the Harvard Law School community.
4 University of Chicago N/A
5 Columbia University Optional: Candidates may add brief supplementary statements they believe will enable the Admissions Committee to make a fully informed decision on the application. The Committee especially welcomes addenda that allow it to understand the contribution the applicant's background (e.g., socioeconomic status, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation) would add to the Columbia Law School community.
6 New York University For underrepresented groups: Please attach a brief statement describing aspects of your identity, as indicated in section 7 (underrepresented group), that are relevant to your application.
7 University of Pennsylvania Optional: Describe how your background or experiences will enhance the diversity of the Penn Law community (e.g., based on your culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ideology, age, socioeconomic status, academic background, employment, or personal experience).
8 University of Virginia N/A
9 University of Michigan Ann Arbor N/A
10 Duke University Optional: You are invited to submit an essay that describes your particular life experiences with an emphasis on how the perspectives that you have acquired would contribute to Duke Law School’s intellectual community and enhance the diversity of the student body.
10 Northwestern University (Pritzker) Optional: The students at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law come from many different backgrounds. Please describe an aspect of your background that you feel would allow you to contribute uniquely to the school and/or your classmates.
10 University of California - Berkeley How will you (your perspective, experience, voice) contribute diversity in our classrooms and community? (350 word maximum)
13 Cornell University Optional: In making admissions decisions we give consideration, among other things, to diversity factors (including but not limited to racial or ethnic group identification; cultural, linguistic or economic group identification; sexual orientation; or other factors), obstacles that you have overcome, and/or discrimination that you have experienced. If you choose to submit a diversity statement (in addition to the required personal statement), discuss any or all of these issues to the extent they apply to you.
14 Georgetown University Optional: The Law Center recruits students from diverse racial, economic, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. The Admissions Committee encourages you to attach a brief statement that will enable the Committee to understand the contribution your personal background would make to the student body of Georgetown University Law Center.
15 University of California - Los Angeles For students who have overcome socio-economic disadvantages: Please describe the socio-economic disadvantages you have overcome.
16 University of Texas - Austin The Law School is interested in learning of any significant disadvantage that an applicant may have encountered or endured. Such disadvantage might take different forms, e.g., an applicant's challenges as a first-generation college graduate; an applicant's struggle with a serious physical or mental disability; an applicant's encounter with discrimination based on race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or national origin; or an applicant's limited educational opportunities due to geographical or other restrictions. Optional statements should be limited to one page each.
17 University of Southern California (Gould) Optional: If you answered "yes" to the diversity statement question, please include your statement as an attachment. Please limit your statement to 1-2 pages, double-spaced, and at least 12 point font.
18 Vanderbilt University Optional: In addition to listing diversity characteristics on the application form, we welcome diversity statements that describe any aspect of your background or experience that you would like to provide.
18 Washington University in St. Louis N/A
20 University of Minnesota Optional: Describe an experience of yours that speaks to the possibilities and challenges of diversity in an educational or workplace setting.

As you can tell from the table, the majority of top schools do have an option for you to add a law school diversity statement. The component might be optional or specific to certain underrepresented groups. On the flip side, many schools explicitly mention other kinds of diversity (employment, academic background, etc) in the prompt. If the school refers to diversity more broadly, you should answer the question even if you fear you aren’t diverse! It’s expected at schools that phrase it like that where most candidates in the pool will submit a response. So you need to submit an essay in order to distinguish yourself!

Even though most schools haven’t assigned a word limit, you should take clues from the ones that do such as UT Austin and USC, and make sure your essay doesn’t go beyond one to two pages double-spaced. 500 words is a good target to keep in mind when considering the length of the piece. Make sure you carefully review all of the instructions before deciding whether its inclusion would boost your application or not. 

What to Include in Your Law School Diversity Statement

A strong law school diversity statement requires you to be extremely introspective. The end goal is not to say “I am a perfect fit for law school.” The end goal of the diversity statement is to leave your reader with a better understanding of how your unique set of experiences has shaped your worldview. You shouldn’t mention adversity if what you’ve faced isn’t as challenging as what others might bring to the table. Think about how your topic will be read alongside your peers! 

You could write about how your racial or ethnic identity has shaped how you interact with the world around you. But it could just as easily be your religious experience, family makeup, significant age difference from the median law student, or upbringing in a rural community. Alternatively, it could simply be your love for art, or music, or – fill in another creative endeavor – and the confidence or solace you have found in it. Your options are abundant.

That being said, your diversity statement shouldn’t cover a topic that has already been described elsewhere in your application, especially in your personal statement. So another way of brainstorming would be to think of all the things you love that would tell an admissions committee who you are as a person, that you wanted to put into your personal statement, but couldn’t. 

Some of the examples Duke Law School provides to inspire applicants in search of topics are:

  • An experience of prejudice, bias 
  • Economic disadvantage
  • Personal adversity or other social hardship (perhaps stemming from one’s religious affiliation, disability, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity)
  • Experience as a first-generation college student
  • Significant employment history (such as in business, military or law enforcement, or public service)
  • Experience as an immigrant or refugee; graduate study
  • Impressive leadership achievement (including college or community service).

Once you’ve pinpointed the part of your identity you wish to highlight, think about how to frame it in an interesting manner. Include anecdotes that depict how this background has affected your life and played a role in shaping your perspective. If the prompt asks any specific questions, make sure you answer them. A strongly written diversity statement could be the final positive sign the reader needs to swing the admissions decision in your favor.

Role of the Law School Diversity Statement in the Admissions Process

This added component gives you another opportunity to show that you’d be a strong asset to their institution. But if you answer the diversity prompt in a poor way, admissions officers could feel like you have nothing interesting to bring to the table. Think critically about what you would write.

JD programs want a class that is diverse, where every student adds something new to the classroom. Just like your personal statement, admissions officers use the diversity statement to determine whether your background makes you a unique addition to the class and school. They don’t accept students from one particular major or students who have all participated in one type of activity. In fact, it’s the opposite. Law schools do all they can to make sure their classes aren’t full of the same type of students. 

This essay is a chance for admissions officers to know who you are beyond the personal statement and the experiences mentioned in your resumé. When you are trying to distinguish yourself from thousands of applicants, it never hurts to include an additional layer to your application that provides admissions officers with more context on your background and interests. 

Law school diversity statement essays helps institutions determine how diverse, in terms of race, gender, sexuality, class, and professional and extracurricular background an incoming class will be. Your essay should highlight an aspect of you that can help admissions officers understand your context better, and expand on a part of you that they wouldn’t guess easily. A well-written law school diversity statement might just be the component that sways the decision your way. So if you think that answering the diversity prompt can help make you memorable in the admissions officers’ eye, you should include one without a doubt.

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