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Stanford continues to have one of the toughest essays in all of MBA admissions.  Here are our tips on how to attack it. 

What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)

  • The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.
  • They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.
  • They do not focus merely on what you've done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.
  • They are written from the heart and address not only a person, situation, or event, but also how that person, situation, or event has influenced your life. 

My favorite responses to Stanford’s What Matters Most question are always the ones where the candidate really digs down deep and reveals a personal journey that he or she went on—one that created change in his or her life and the lives of those around them. 

The setting? On or off the job—it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the personal always affects the professional and the professional always affects the personal. They are inextricably linked and anyone who says otherwise has simply never been what I like to call “a 24-7 leader”—and that’s what Stanford GSB, or any top business school, is looking for.

Leadership is a way of being, something you come to through a challenging experience that you take on despite your fears or even because of them. And that’s how you zero in on what to write about for Stanford’s prompt:  What Matters Most to You and Why?

Search for SPECFIC moments in your life wherein you had to:

1)   Step Up—formally or informally, elected, chosen or volunteered.

2)   Stay the course -- despite everything falling apart around you or working against you.

3)   Race against the clock—be it three months, three weeks, three days.

4)   Organize and motivate a group—not just something you did all by yourself, because managing others is key.

5)   Leave something behind -- Change the way things go from now on with that circumstance. 

Out of these comes what matters most to you.  (Don’t forget to write “what matters most to me is…” You’d be surprised by how many people leave this crucial line out. Even if it’s obvious, writing these words in your response says “I respect the admissions committee enough to be clear and to the point.”) 

In short, my favorite—and most successful—“What Matters Most To You and Why?” responses are always based on a defining moment in your past that changed the way you think about yourself and the world. Then the essay pivots from that story to how the insight you gained from that defining moment has driven some recent accomplishment—personally or professionally.

Why Stanford?  (350 words)

  • Please explain why Stanford is your first choice of MBA program, and how you will make use of the unique opportunities it provides.

This is a classic 'why our school' prompt -- check out our previous blog on how to answer these questions concisely and effectively.