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What matters to me stanford essay help

Mar 23, 2018

“Mommy, where are you? Daddy, where is mommy?” My three-year-old self is frantically running around the apartment from room to room looking for her mommy; I cannot find her anywhere. Daddy walks over and gently lifts me up, telling me everything will be all right. Time blurs together and suddenly, we have arrived at the hospital.

“Look at her. She’s your baby sister.” I curiously walk over to the crib on the right of my mommy’s bed and stare down at this so-called “sister.” Suddenly, her mouth twitches as she chews on a strange object.

Memories. My first was of March 2nd, 1998, the day my sister was born. Remembering the fear of not knowing where my mother was and the smell of the hospital, I can only now fully appreciate what I have witnessed and felt. The moments I have shared with my family and friends and the memories that have consequently formed are what I treasure the most. From good memories to bad memories, long distances and goodbyes do not have the power to rob me of those experiences. As my parents have made a photo album of me growing up, I, too, have started my own, of pets, friends, and family. Looking at my pictures, I can relive each moment.

Memories. They teach and advise me, never letting me forget what I have done wrong to help me improve. Thinking back to when I played tag on the road, I realize the risk I had taken. My parents said I had put myself “in jeopardy,” but at that time, I did not understand how. Through my experiences, I have learned how to react in situations similar to those in the past. While the game of tag may seem insignificant, it is still a memory that has taught me the basic rules of safety. My memories, my guardian angels, not only provide a path away from harm, but also allow moments of my life that have made me happy to be replayed.

Memories. They create the person I am today and lead me to become an even better individual. Like an old Chinese saying, “the remembrance of the past is the teacher of the future.”

Do one thing every day that scares you. Eleanor Roosevelt

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business’ celebrated What Matters Most essay(herein WMM) has both stumped and challenged applicants over the years. This question is the furthest thing from a ‘traditional’ B-school question (though trends, including HBS’ question, are slowly following suit).

This essay requires deep levels of introspection and sincerity, often leading candidates to compare it to a psychology session. Applicants often ask: “What does the adcom want to hear?”

This unique question represents an opportunity for GSB to learn more about the values that guide a candidate’s life choices. In my experience, an effective WMM essay will reveal not only something intimate about the candidate but will also point to his/her potential as a future leader that will achieve impact.


So how do we achieve that effective WMM essay?

Let’s start from the beginning. Tell a story—and tell a story that only you can tell.

This essay should be descriptive and told in a straightforward and sincere way. This probably sounds strange, since this essay is for business school, but the adcom doesn’t expect to hear your business experience in this essay (though, of course, you are free to write about whatever you would like).

Your task in this first essay is to connect the people, situations, and events in your life with the values you adhere to and the choices you have made. This essay gives you a terrific opportunity to learn about yourself.


Many candidates make the mistake of not relating to both parts of this question; the ‘why’ here is instrumental. While the ‘good’ essays describe the “what,” the ‘great’ essays move to the next order and describe how and why this “what” has influenced your life.

So for your second task, be careful not to underestimate the value of describing how and why guiding forces have shaped your behavior, attitudes and objectives in your personal and professional life. Admittedly this is much harder, but it will also make for a stronger essay.

Consulting with GSB alumni, one once indicated to me that, “A great WMM essay will make me cry.” While I’ve helped candidates gain acceptance to GSB with essays that didn’t make me cry, I will agree that WMM necessitates a level of sensitivity and intimacy that is rare for most other B-schools applications.


When you find yourself ready to answer this question, I have found the following approach to be very effective. First, identify a value or philosophy. Then, start with a sort of “personal story,” something from childhood, an anecdote, something that has guided you or helped sow the seed, or even solidify, WMM to you.

Next, develop two to three “stories” that serve to highlight the point you are trying to make. These “stories” should not be a grocery list of your achievements, they don’t even necessarily have to be something noted in your CV; in fact, in most cases, there will be no reference of this trait or story in your CV and this is okay.

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Allow the following elements to guide your writing:

1) Sincerity – While it runs the risk of being too emotional or cliché-ridden, your essay needs to be personal, intimate, while at the same time logical. The story has to “fit” – fit your personality, fit your stories, fit your other essays. It has to “make sense” and be convincing. The flow from one “story” to another has to be smooth, with each story sliding nicely into the next. Another great way to show sincerity could be to talk about personal/private moments, or about moments of weakness.

2) Community – Stanford’s commitment to social activism and contributing to one’s community is unquestionable. If possible, try to have at least one community service story, or at least some kind of community angle.

3) People – At the end of the day, regardless of what you chose as “What Matters Most“, the most effective essays of this kind are often about people – interacting with people, caring about people, making an impact on others.

Stanford “What Matters To Me” Supplement (50 followers benchmark)

I am afflicted with the curse of caring. I was born with it - the unfortunate combination of curiosity and sensitivity that leads to knowing too much and caring about even more. I have long come to terms with my disposition, but it makes answering this question difficult. To state what matters to me is to cram the whole world onto a list; the equivalent of asking me to find a way to pour my heart out, my entire being, and fit it into a measly little vial.

My family matters to me. My band matters to me. My council matters to me. Starving kids in Africa, stray dogs, people who don’t have shoes. Writing, learning, teaching, school, the inky black of 4 a.m. My nail polish collection, TV shows, gay rights, floral dresses, history, politics, and my mom’s atonal singing in the kitchen. Repealing No Child Left Behind, reforming the terrible education system in Nevada, the heavy scent of moth-eaten libraries, Harry Potter, and changing the world. My heart is scattered amongst a million little causes, amongst thousands of people. I care with reckless abandon because that is the only way I know how.

I love too fiercely, dedicate myself too fully, and speak too passionately. I feel deeply about many things, and at times, it leaves me wrung out and exhausted. I am the product of my surroundings: the good, the bad, the shallow, the deep, and everything in between. All these little things have to matter to me because they shape my life; they are tied up in the fibers of who I am and who I am still becoming, from bottles of nail polish to governmental reform.

The first thing I would like to say is There’s no such thing as good writing. There’s only good rewriting. Jazlyn is a fabulous writer, but I hope you find comfort in knowing that she didn’t just type this up one night and say, “Okay Stanford! Here ya go!" 

When Jazlyn first shared this essay with me on Google Docs, it wasn’t complete and it was over the word count. The general idea of the essay was good, but the second paragraph was too list-y. And by list-y, I mean when you read it, it felt like you were drowning in bullet points rather than briefly experiencing the world through Jazlyn’s eyes. 

To refine the essay, I played around with the lengths of each item Jazlyn cares about. Rather than, "Stray dogs, TV shows, gay rights, floral dresses, nail polish, Harry Potter, libraries, education reform, politics, etc.,” I had Jazlyn break up her list into shorter sentences, lengthen the descriptions of certain items, and combine shorter descriptions with long ones to help the flow. I tried to think of it as a puzzle, so I kept reading it aloud until the paragraph had this gravitational pull. 

I think the reason this essay was successful (aside from Jazlyn’s excellent writing abillities) was because it fleshed out Jazlyn. She went beyond saying she likes learning and books and playing in the band. She included the seemingly trivial aspects of her life that, in all reality, make her Jazlyn. 

My best piece of advice is to not be afraid of showing who you really are, even if you think certain characteristics are unimportant or irrelevant. During the college application process (and even up to now), I would ask Jazlyn “Who should I be? Who am I? I don’t know who I am!” And Jazlyn was always that voice saying, “Be you! Be Victoria!”  After that, writing my essays sort of became fun because I was writing about a topic I’m somewhat of an expert on: myself. 

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