When you’re applying to college, schools want to know more about you than just your grades and test scores. They want to know you as a person, and many schools make a point of seeking out extra information to learn even more specific details about you. That’s why, in addition to the large essay you’ll be writing, many schools offer a secondary essay focused specifically on your background and student diversity.

This is a place, sometimes called a background statement and sometimes called a diversity essay, where students of a racial or ethnic minority, LGBT students, first-generation college applicants, and more can write about their background, and how it’s impacted them up to this point. It’s often an optional portion of your application, but it can be a vital one should you choose to complete it. While this can be a very important and even personally fulfilling essay for many students, it can also be a challenging one — in part because it’s asking for information that requires a lot of intimate reflection. So how do you approach the diversity essay/background statement portion of your application? Let’s have a look:

Be Concise and Specific

You likely will have only 250 to 750 words or so for the diversity essay portion of your application. That’s not a lot of space for such a crucial part of your identity! This is why it can be a good idea to pick a specific example of your background’s impact on you, and articulate it thoroughly, rather than try to cram the whole story into such a small space. A concise example that illustrates a larger point is more valuable to the admissions officers than a vague, overarching statement.

Make It Personal

While it can be tempting to discuss global issues facing people of your background, it’s better to stick to the personal. You don’t speak for every single person like you; you only speak for yourself. This is another reason why a specific story or an important event from your life is a good topic idea — it gives the admissions officers something they can’t get from any other essay, which is a look into your own personal experiences.

Be Honest

Don’t just tell the admissions officers what you think they want to hear—tell the truth. If your background has impacted you in ways people might not expect, don’t shy away from that — say so! Having an unexpected story to tell can only help you, while parroting ideas you don’t really mean will be obvious and not something anyone wants to read. Remember, colleges don’t want to know what a generic student with your background might be like — they want to know you.

Be Kind to Yourself

This is an important and often difficult thing to remember. For many students, particularly those from historically marginalized groups, writing about their background can be difficult, and it may even bring up some painful memories. While writing a good essay is important, your mental health is more important, and should always come first. You don’t need the background essay to be a time for revisiting your worst memories, no matter how relevant you might think they are. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time and emotional space if this essay is particularly challenging for you. You deserve a great college application, but you also deserve peace of mind. And learning how to balance the responsibilities of school with treating yourself well and being attuned to your mental health is an important skill — one that will see you through well in college!

Remember, if you’re struggling with your essay, or any other part of your college application, you can always ask for help, from a friend, a teacher, or a coach like our team at A-List. We’re always there for you, and we want to show your college what makes you great!