Stanford. The famous essay.
This question is awesome. Because it really tees you up to flex several important muscles all at once:
1. Your Soul. That’s the most important one. This question wants to know what matters to you? what makes a difference? if you were to take this one thing away, what would happen, and why is that bad, according to you? — It reveals something very inner-core. While all your essays–everywhere–should address this issue in some way (usually indirectly) this one just ask you, straight up.
2. Your Intellectual Might. At some point, you’re going to need to wax-philosophical. The question wants to know not only what matters to you, but why that’s the case. This couldn’t be a better example of WHAT you say matters less than HOW you say it. You could write your essay on how what matters most is that people pick up after themselves, period. Pretty uncompelling on its own, yes? But, if the WAY your mind goes from A to B to C is interesting and fascinating and it becomes clear that your reasons are genuine, it could be a homerun. Anything can be a homerun. But it’s the deep ruminations this question demands — the intellectual rigor — that are KEY to unearth. Probably you’ll need to spend more time THINKING about this one than any other.
3. There Are Dimensions To You Other Than Business-ness. I know, the temptation is almost unbearable to somehow rope it all into how the thing that matters most to you will make for a more efficient operation. Or yield the highest profits. Or help save humanity, blah blah blah. Rest easy. This is a tremendous opportunity to not even ALLUDE to things-business. Sure, the things that you’re talking about can affect all that, but it should at BEST be implied. This question is far more philosophical in nature than most others. They wanna know what’s important to you? When you strip the world of all the unessential things, what’s the really essential stuff you simply can’t do without? Why? Do not rope business into this, unless it’s central to your theme.