If you’ve been following the news at all, you’ll know that in June 2023, the Supreme Court banned race-based affirmative action in college admissions. While the Court determined that race itself cannot be a factor in deciding whether to admit an applicant, the Court held that individual experiences (as they relate to race, and also, by extension, cultural heritage and ethnicity) can be expressed by applicants–say, for instance, in the college essay.
In many ways, the Court’s decision emphasizes the subjective and individual nature of the college admissions process. If an applicant makes the decision to speak about race on their application, it will be a conscious decision, in which an applicant may speak about their own personal experience with these aspects of their identity.
With this understanding in mind, let’s consider how you can use the essay portion of your application to better articulate your diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Emphasize Cultural Heritage and Identity
One way for you to showcase your own personal experiences–especially relating to cultural, ethnic, and/or racial background–is by highlighting your heritage and identity in your college essay. Perhaps you might write about customs, traditions, or values that have shaped your upbringing. Did you grow up speaking another language at home? How might this have impacted your educational experience? Are there any holiday traditions that might be unique to your cultural background? Have you traveled to other countries or parts of the world, in order to reconnect with your cultural heritage? By sharing personal anecdotes or reflections, you can provide admissions officers with insights into your unique perspectives and the diversity you bring to the campus community.
Discuss Intersectionality and Overlapping Identities
You can demonstrate your diverse background by discussing the intersectionality of your identity. This can include exploring how your race, gender, socio-economic background, or other factors intersect and influence your experiences and worldview. For instance, if you grew up in a bilingual household, you could delve into the challenges and rewards of navigating two cultures simultaneously. By exploring these complexities, you can provide a nuanced understanding of your identity and demonstrate your ability to contribute to the innately diverse fabric of the college community. Showing that you understand the complexity of intersectionality and overlapping identities will demonstrate to admissions officers that you are surely college-ready. It signifies your capacity to embrace and engage with diverse perspectives, fostering an inclusive environment that enriches the college experience for everyone involved.
Highlight Community Involvement and Social Impact
While it is important to avoid repeating points from your resume or extracurricular activities list, the college essay provides you with a good chance to speak more deeply about a specific experience you have had, whether that be engagement in community service, social activism, or involvement in organizations that promote diversity and inclusivity. In your essay, you may discuss your efforts to address social issues, advocate for underrepresented groups, or bridge cultural divides. You can also articulate your own experience being part of a cultural heritage organization, a fraternal order, or even a religious group. By showcasing your commitment to organizations that matter to you, you can show how their identity informs the way that you spend your free time.
Connect Diverse Experiences to Academic and Career Goals
In your college essay, you should strive to connect your diverse experiences and backgrounds to your academic and career goals. You can discuss how your background has influenced your interests, aspirations, or research endeavors. For instance, you may wish to utilize your education to make a positive impact within your own ethnic group or country of origin. Alternatively, your upbringing as part of a particular ethnic community might have shaped your choice of college major or future career path. (I know my own Greek heritage certainly influenced my decision to study Philosophy)! By illustrating the connection between your diverse experiences and your academic pursuits, you can demonstrate the unique perspectives you bring to your chosen fields of study.
While race will no longer be a (typically) automatic aspect of college applications, the college essay remains a powerful tool for you to showcase your diverse experiences and backgrounds. By emphasizing cultural heritage, discussing intersectionality, and highlighting community involvement, you can demonstrate the rich diversity of background and experiences you will bring to your future college campus.
Conquer the Common Application Essay with confidence from the comfort of your home with our virtual on-demand course, providing videos, resources, prompts and weekly office hours to help you achieve success.
Students will walk away with a complete, authentic Personal Statement that they can be proud to submit to the colleges of their dreams.
Peter Klapes is a Boston native and studied philosophy at Boston College, with interests in psychoanalysis, literature, hermeneutics, and continental philosophy. He previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Dianoia and currently manages The Guestbook Project. With a passion for writing, Peter has tutored students and looks forward to helping college-bound students with their admission essays.