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The Tuesday Q&A: ‘What Matters Most and Why’

July 05, 2011 :: Admissionado Team

Got a question about those MBA applications? Stuck on an essay? Need a little clarity? Chances are, you’re not the only one.

Thankfully, Admissionado founder and Harvard MBA Jon Frank has an answer… for everything admissions-related. And he’s going to share all of his answers with you, right here, every Tuesday.

So let’s do this….

This week’s question is all about Stanford and their infamous ‘What Matters Most and Why’ essay….
Perhaps you can relate:


I have read lots of advice about how different Stanford’s “What matters to you most and why” essay should be from other essays. I am struggling with that. My three greatest accomplishments (Ref: Harvard Essay #1) are in areas of my life that I care most about. Am I missing something here?

For context, I am a public servant. My work accomplishments result in something other than fat bonuses.


This is actually a great question (and one we get more than a couple times a year).

The big picture is that you are correct. If you are doing exactly what you want to be doing at work, then both essays could be quite similar. But that’s not always the case. If you are currently working towards a goal–perhaps at a VC shop because one day you want to run your own start up etc.–there you might approach the essays differently. What matters most and why are not what you’re doing now or have done already, they’re what you want to be doing later. You’d describe that, the difference between the two, and why. Hope that makes sense.

In general, Stanford is looking for a bit of a soul-searching event. You have 3 accomplishments from your HBS essay. Fine. For Stanford though, you will have more time and space (and pressure) to develop exactly WHY you are doing what you are doing. For HBS, you describe the three events that you’re the most proud of, and perhaps allude to why they are important for you. For Stanford, it is almost the same concepts turned inside-out. Who are you, and what do you want to do when you grow up? WHY? From there, you talk about your past accomplishments in terms of the big picture. In terms of what REALLY matters to you. Same topic, but from general to specific.

Without seeing your essays it’s tough to be any more specific than that. But for Stanford they really want to understand what drives you. Not just what you do/have done, but why.

For a full analysis on Stanford’s ‘What Matters Most and Why’, click here.

Hope this helps man, and good luck.
— Jon

Does this help you? Got a question of your own?
If you want Jon to weigh in on a topic, any topic, email us at info@admissionado.com.