What’s Your Diversity Quotient?

Thanks to the U.S.’s contentious relationship with affirmative action, most Americans equate college admissions diversity with race. These days, however, diversity actually means so much more than you think.

Did you know that your nationality, religious beliefs, gender identity, learning difference, geographic location, major choice, or socioeconomic background could gain you an admissions edge? If not, read further.

Determining diversity is all about creating a class of students with unique perspectives and experiences to bring to the table. Colleges want to fill holes in areas they feel they lack. While you can’t always easily determine where these holes lie, you can become a diversity candidate by defying stereotypes and differentiating yourself from the world you come from.

So what are some great examples of “diversity” candidates? Let’s take a look at some.

Kyle is from rural South Carolina. He loves NASCAR and Monster Truck rallies, but he also really gets excited when he analyzes Petrarch’s and Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sounds unusual, right? He’s certainly not whom you’d expect to be sitting next to at the Indy 500 or in a literature seminar, and that’s what makes him diverse. Plus, as a heterosexual male in a female-dominated field, he adds a whole new perspective to any literary conversation.

Now let’s consider Nina. Both of Nina’s parents immigrated to the U.S. before she was born, but neither could afford to go to college. While her parents have encouraged her to apply every day of her life, there is a lot that is unknown about the system. Nina is not only a first-generation American, but she is also a first-generation college student. For her to make it to college takes immeasurable determination, on everyone’s part, and that’s what makes her diverse.

But let’s not forget Melanie. Melanie attends a Humanities-focused high school in New Mexico, but she actually dreams of becoming an engineer. In her free time, she builds model rockets, studies for the AMC 10 Math Competition, and attends Massive Open Online Courses, or M.O.O.C.s, offered by M.I.T. As a woman in a male-dominated field from a state where a small percentage of students think of applying to selective universities, she’ll be adding much desired diversity to a college, especially along the East Coast.

Finally, let’s examine Noah. Noah spent two months living in a wheelchair after breaking both legs in a skiing accident. While healing, he got a very clear picture of the types of physical and educational obstacles disabled people face. On top of that, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia in the middle of tenth grade. Once his counselor and teachers realized what was going on, he received the accommodations he needed and his grades soared. One of those circumstances alone would make him a diversity candidate, but together, he’ll be teaching his classmates a lot about what educational access means.

So my advice to you is this:

Don’t hide learning differences in your college application, despite any perceived social stigma that accompanies them. You may not want your classmates to know about your A.D.H.D. or history of depression, but you should definitely show colleges how you have both suffered from, and overcome, such challenges.

Apply to colleges where many people from your school or region don’t apply. If you’re a strong student in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s almost expected that you’ll focus on East Coast and California schools. So what if you looked at academic gems like Rice University in Houston, TX; Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA; or Reed College in Portland, OR? If you think they could be great fits, check them out.

Indicate major interests that counter societal expectations. If you’re a boy, consider a Humanities degree, like Art History or Classics. If you’re a girl, consider a STEM-degree, like Physics or Chemical Engineering. Additionally, look at small and new programs at schools that reflect your interests. Colleges are desperate to fill them in order to justify keeping those departments in existence.

Analyze the world you live in and simultaneously seek what you both love and hate. What you love is likely related your passion; what you hate indicates how you don’t fit in, how you’re diverse, and that is really valuable to know.

Posted on April 12, 2016 at 9:31 am

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