You cannot rely on uniqueness to outweigh a mediocre academic record, but it can often give you an edge. Admissions officers are interested in assembling a diverse class of unique perspectives, so you should highlight rather than downplay your differences. To an extent, all types of diversity will help, but you should aim to focus on how unique aspects of your background will enable you to contribute to the academic community.
The purpose of this lesson is to show you examples of how other people capitalized on their unique qualities. When it comes to your own essay, only you can identify the optimal strategy for making yourself stand out. One way to start is to look over your answers to the brainstorming questions and try to find aspects of your background that separate you from your peers. Ultimately, however, what will make the difference is your ability to assess yourself honestly and thoughtfully.
The examples that follow are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, they represent the efforts of particular individuals to recognize the unique elements of their background and use them to their advantage. You should notice that these unique elements are often directly related to their academic interests, but can still be tied effectively to the applicants' goals or integrated with their character and background.
This applicant starts by noting the diversity of his ethnic and religious background. When mentioning such points, you should not assume that such diversity is an end in itself. Rather, you should show how your background and culture have shaped your perspective and given you something unique to offer. This applicant does a good job of noting how Zoroastrianism has given him guiding principles, but he never follows through to discuss concrete examples. This essay would have benefited from more details to show his diversity in more tangible terms.
This applicant's story is fascinating, at times harrowing, and ultimately triumphant. From committed social activism to drug and alcohol addiction to a reengagement with the world, the author pulls no punches in telling his unique tale. While he does not whitewash his experience with drugs and alcohol, notice how he situates it in a larger context, showing both how it made him oblivious to the things he really cared about (Third World injustices) and how his reintroduction to those things helped him pull himself out of his downward spiral. In doing so, he demonstrates both a strong social conscience and a dedication to his beliefs. Additionally, his story makes him very hard for an admissions committee to forget. Just be careful that any discussion of past mistakes or difficulties leads to an indubitably positive conclusion.