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Adversity Statements

Some schools ask narrow questions about race or ethnicity. Others ask very broad ones, allowing you to explain almost any disadvantage or difference you've faced.

For instance, look at this statement from Southern Cal (USC)'s application:

USC Law is firmly committed to a policy against discrimination based upon ethnicity, national origin, disability, race, religion, political beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or age. The primary goal of the admissions process is to enroll students who demonstrate outstanding academic and professional promise and whose background and experience will enhance the diversity of the student body or the profession, or will enrich USC Law's educational environment. USC Law's admissions process is guided by the view that a student body which reflects the broad and rich diversity of our society provides a superior educational environment for all law students.

An applicant will be regarded as potentially contributing to student diversity if his or her background or experience would not ordinarily be well-represented in the student body or the profession. Examples of applicants' background or experience which may be considered for diversity purposes include (but are not limited to) the following: an applicant who has struggled against prejudice, economic disadvantage, family or personal adversity, or other social hardships (perhaps as a result of disability, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation); an applicant who has lived in a foreign country or who spoke a language other than English at home; an applicant who possesses unusual career goals, employment history (perhaps military or law enforcement experience), or educational background (including graduate study); or an applicant who demonstrates unusual extracurricular achievement (including school or community service).

An applicant who believes that his or her background or experience can contribute to USC Law's goal of diversity and educational enrichment—and who wishes to have this considered in the admissions process—should provide written detailed information about his or her background or experience as part of the application. Providing such information is voluntary.

I lifted that statement verbatim from the Fall 2009 application, but I know it's been there in some form for a dozen years or more.

What counts as overcoming obstacles or explaining differences? I hate this question! I don't know you. I don't know what you've overcome. The only thing I can do is offer some examples. So here are a few you might want to look at.

Adversity Sample # 1 is from a young man who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a town of 500 people.

Adversity Sample # 2 is from a gay man whose poverty and lack of self-esteem combined to hold him back -- but not forever.

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