Facebook Twitter Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

 

Going from a HBS optional to a Stanford WMM can be quite challenging -- it requires you to add personal and social context to what began as a simple achievement story.

In order to do a great job at repurposing, you must first understand the fundamental difference between the two essays.

A great HBS optional essay boldly differentiates you and establishes your credentials (and style) as a leader, while also including elements of self-discovery and personal growth.

A great What Matters Most essay focuses on self-discovery and personal growth, with leadership material seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative.

To go from a great HBS essay to a great Stanford essay, therefore (we’re assuming you already have a great HBS essay), follow these steps.

    1.    Explore the larger context.  Look beyond leadership, beyond the obvious results of the story and what they meant for you, your company, et cetera.  That was more than enough for HBS — they just wanted something ‘different’, something they didn’t already know — but Stanford wants to know what matters most to you and why, and that’s a big question.
    2.    Talk to someone who knows you.  More than any other essay in the b-school canon, the What Matters Most essay requires insight into what makes you tick.  Sometimes a close friend or a family member sees patterns in your life that you don’t.  Try to pull out patterns in your life that connect to the central HBS incident you’re describing.  Not just successes — failures matter too!
    3.    Beginning and ending.  When you’re rewriting an essay of this kind, build around the middle.  The middle, the description of the moment, is usually mostly correct, needing only minor adjustments.  But the preamble and the way you talk about the outcome often need to change completely.

Think of it this way -- WMM is about the journey, and HBS is about the destination.  If you are a naturally introspective person who thinks a lot about the choices you make in life and why you make them, you will probably find WMM easier to write.  If you are more comfortable talking about leadership, accomplishments and professional life, the HBS optional will be easier.
 
No matter which essay you are starting from, the most important thing to think about is the focus of the central story you are telling – the defining moment.  You need to find that personal evolution or leadership slant that brings the essay to life.