Seems like we’re writing a lot about Stanford just lately. (Even those posts weren’t explicitly about Stanford — yeah, they’re about Stanford.) It’s because the Stanford essays are so hard! If you’re trying for Stanford, then first step is to pick up our Stanford Essay Guide. Because we go into a lot more stuff there than we do in a single post here, and while using the blahg in conjunction with the essay guides makes for a smart BSer indeed, the essay guides are more targeted, and therefore more efficient, when you’re trying to figure out how to tackle a specific question that a specific school asks you to write about.
However today we have a Pro Tip – a simple test you can use on your Stanford Essay A answer: “What matters most?”
This is what you do.
When you’ve got your essay all built out and you’re satisfied that you’ve answered the question — both the “what” and also the “why” parts — then print it out. Put it aside. Leave it be for a few days.
Then, one morning a few days later, carve out 5 minutes for yourself.
Pick up that printed-out essay, and go into the bathroom.
(At this stage it helps if you have one of those bad-lighting bathrooms with the pulsing fluorescent light that would make Kate Upton look crappy.)
Stand in front of your bathroom mirror.
Take a deep breath.
Now read the sentence in your essay that says what matters most to you.
(If you’ve read the Stanford essay guide, then you know that you need a direct answer to the question and you also know that we suggest that this answer come in the first paragraph of the essay — if you have to hunt for where you said your matters-most thing, then you have work to do on the draft!)
“What matters most to me is….”
Can you do it with a straight face?
Can you do it without a squirmy feeling of discomfort?
Can you do it without any type of niggle inside?
If you can tell YOURSELF that “What matters most to me is X” and you don’t feel uncomfortable or ill at ease, then you’re onto something with the topic you’ve written about.
Or if you:
A. Cannot find the sentence where you answered the question
B. Wrote multiple answers to the question
C. Cannot say your answer to yourself in the mirror without smirking, frowning or scoffing
Then you know you have a problem!
Having a clearly-defined answer is not necessarily the first step of writing this essay. Often, it requires lots and lots of go-rounds with possible answers before the “real” answer surfaces — and, usually, those go-rounds are not about trying different answers. They’re about trying different supporting material which is where the “why?” part of the prompt is addressed.
For most people, it’s difficult to just hone in on a “matters most” answer straightaway. Most people have simply not given this type of question much thought — and thinking about this question is difficult. You’d think it would be easy. Because c’mon, how could it be open to so much debate?
But the “why” is where things of depth and meaning are revealed.
So, usually, the process works like this:
- Coming up with an answer you think sounds good
- Writing 23 different drafts trying to make that answer work
- Feeling mildly disgusted and majorly frustrated by Draft #11, but plugging away fruitlessly onwards because it seems like that’s got to be the right answer to use
- Finally getting some flash of insight or revelation (some call it The Muse, EssaySnark just calls it the result of hard work and lots of effort in revision) where a light appears that illuminates what a REAL answer actually might be
- Scrapping everything else and writing a new draft revolving around that answer alone
- Specific stories and previous ideas that you’d kept trying to force-fit into the non-working drafts now nominating themselves out of the rubbish heap and finally falling into place in support of that answer
Many people stop somewhere around Draft #4 and think that they’re done.
If that’s where you’re at, pull out your essay and do the Mirror Test with it.
If you can with a straight face and full conviction say, “Yes, that’s true. That’s what matters most to me.” then bravo. Your work is at least 10% done!
Now comes the test that all the content you’re using to support that answer must match up and actually support it. (Our Essay Decimator can help you if you’re not sure!)
But the most well-written essays with the most interesting stories in the world won’t help you if the answer to the question is smarmy and saccharine. (Or they might help you. But the essay still won’t be what it could be if your answer is not really saying something about your own values or revealing your person.)
Stanford’s essays are HARD — and the hardest part may be how easy it is to fool yourself that you’ve written a good one. That you’ve answered the question appropriately.
What’s significant for Stanford most of all is, this is not a test. It’s not about coming up with the “right” answer.
It’s about coming up with what is true.
Oh yeah. That whole authenticity thing.