May 6, 2022

How to Tackle Diversity and Cross-Cultural Essays

As you begin preparing for fall MBA applications, Admitify decided to offer a few tips for diversity and cross-cultural essay prompts.  Business schools are increasingly emphasizing essays that explicitly involve diversity topics, but broader value and background reflection essays are also excellent opportunities to showcase your diversity experiences.


A few recent MBA essay prompts:


  • “The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome.”  (Columbia Business School)
  • “Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.” (Stanford)
  • “Share a time when you learned something related to diversity, equity or inclusion that was previously unknown to you? How did this experience impact your perspective?” (UVA Darden)
  • “Share a time when you advocated for a perspective, identity or community different from your own. How did this experience impact your worldview?” (UVA Darden)
  • “Tuck students are encouraging, collaborative and empathetic, even when it is not convenient or easy. Describe a meaningful experience in which you exemplified one or more of these attributes.”  (Dartmouth Tuck)
  • “Fuqua prides itself on cultivating a culture of engagement. Our students enjoy a wide range of student-led organizations that provide opportunities for leadership development and personal fulfillment, as well as an outlet for contributing to society. Our student-led government, clubs, centers, and events are an integral part of the student culture and to the development of leaders. Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, what are 3 ways you expect to contribute at Fuqua?” (Duke Fuqua)


These essay prompts go deeper than just sharing your background – many want you to describe how your diversity or unique background will contribute to the MBA community.  Although diversity initially sparks thoughts about ethnicity and a focus on U.S. underrepresented minorities, the diversity of MBA class profiles goes much more beyond ethnicity.  Stanford, for example, defines ‘background’ (which it has also described as ‘identity’) quite broadly: “such as your work, education, skills, interests, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, where/how you grew up, and/or other factors had an impact on your recent actions and choices.”

But it remains true that for many applicants, their ethnicity or nationality will be the most obvious differentiator to build a diversity essay around. Most of the top U.S. business schools boast more than 30% international students, while many European schools are more than 80% and as high as 95%.  But never forget that diversity is a broadly defined term that shouldn’t disadvantage any applicant, regardless of background.  Just be sure to emphasize how your diversity will add value to the business school community over your MBA journey.


Here are some things to avoid when writing the diversity essay:

  • Assume a narrow view of the definition of diversity as only about underrepresented minorities
  • Highlight a unique contribution which is too generic – being a mother, a varsity basketball team member, dog owner
  • Cramming too many diverse examples and explaining none of them in depth
  • Filling up essay space defining diversity or promoting diversity as a general value without focusing on your own
  • Focusing on inappropriate or unethical uniqueness factors


For expert guidance on writing your diversity essays, contact Admitify today!