UPDATE: There is a new version of this prompt for the 2019-20 cycle. Check out our updated guide!
The University of Colorado Boulder (AKA CU Boulder) is committed to diversity and inclusion. With its writing supplement, CU Boulder wants not only to see what unique worldview you’d bring into the mix, but also to make sure that you’re on board with their commitment to open-mindedness.
Let’s take a look at the prompt for the University of Colorado Boulder essay.
As a vibrant community of learners dedicated to inclusive excellence, the students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado Boulder seek to be open and respectful of contrasting beliefs and opinions. Every student has a unique life experience and a set of circumstances by which they are shaped and influenced. Your background may have been shaped by family history, cultural traditions, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, income, ideology, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Reflect on your unique background and tell us about a time when you had to relate to someone whose life experience was very different from your own. How did you approach the difference? If put in a similar situation again today, would you respond differently? If so, how? (650 words max)
First, you need to choose a topic. In contrast with the “Background” prompt for the Common App personal statement, this CU Boulder prompt asks you to frame your background story within a very specific context: how you interact with people from different backgrounds. So how do you choose which interaction to write about?
- Try brainstorming lots of words and phrases about your own background. Think of unique traits you have, values and beliefs you hold, formative experiences you’ve had. Be specific, but don’t worry about using full sentences; the idea here is to collect concrete details about your background.
- Next, looking over what you wrote, think about situations when these traits, values, beliefs, or experiences came to the forefront. Perhaps a time you felt bullied or excluded because someone couldn’t accept who you are, or perhaps a time you were able to help someone out by offering a unique perspective. Who were you interacting with? You might try writing a list of details about their background, too. Also, consider this question: How did you know what their background was? (For example, did they tell you about it? Did they speak a different language from you? Did you make an assumption based on how they looked or talked?)
When you go to write your University of Colorado Boulder essay, tell a story that explores these contrasting background details. How did these contrasts affect your thoughts and emotions in the moment? How do you think the other person felt? This way you’ll show readers that you’re able to put yourself in others’ shoes and empathize with their experiences (even if you weren’t able to do so at the time). This could be especially difficult if the other person wasn’t treating you with respect, but it could make for a compelling essay; you might surprise both the admissions reader and yourself!
You’ll want to end your University of Colorado Boulder essay by showing how you grew and what you learned from the encounter. Notice that the prompt asks if you would handle the situation differently today. If you don’t think you’d really do anything differently, it’s possible the encounter didn’t make a significant impact on you; you might want to go back to your brainstormed background details and springboard to other interactions that centered around these characteristics. Remember, an experience doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be significant; sometimes we learn the most from the smallest moments.