Karen Marks

/Karen Marks

About Karen Marks

Karen has more than 10 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Georgetown, Duke, UNC, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Wellesley, Emory, the University of Pennsylvania and more. Her clients have gotten more than 3.5 million dollars in scholarships over the last two years.
  • Outdoor portrait of a smiling student

What Business Schools Really Think When You Ask For A Deferral

The dust is settling, and the 2014-2015 MBA application cycle is winding down. For some of you, despite having been admitted to one or more schools, you may not feel sure that are ready to matriculate – at least not to those programs. If this sounds familiar, you might be considering asking for a deferral. Here is insight into what business schools really think when you ask for a deferral:

They assume that you are planning to reapply to your first choice, which presumably isn’t their school.

Even if you tell the admissions committee that you want to defer for personal or professional reasons they will suspect that you are going to reapply to another program.

If you cite finances, they think that you don’t have your act together.

Admissions Committees expect you to understand your finances before you apply, and to assume responsibility for paying for school. Although they get that business school is a giant investment, there are many equally qualified candidates who can afford it, so asking for an extra year to set aside more money isn’t very compelling.

They know that there is a good chance that you aren’t ever going to matriculate, and they become less invested in yielding you.

Statistically, there is a pretty high attrition rate for deferred candidates. Schools understand that you are less likely to ever attend if you ask for a deferral, and they aren’t prone to incentivize you to matriculate with scholarships, preferred housing, etc.

They may be personally disappointed.

Admissions officers have likely gotten to know you throughout the application process, and may have even advocated for you to get in over other candidates. As a result, they may feel let down that your plans have changed. It’s helpful to know […]

By |May 21st, 2015|Uncategorized|
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Should You Retake The SAT?

Scores were released today for the May SAT, and many students are wondering whether to retake the exam. The SAT is changing next year and there are only a few more opportunities to take this version of the test, so it is in your best interest to make a decision now. Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to determine whether or not you should retake the SAT:

Was this your first time taking the test?

Most people take the SAT more than once, in part because it can be easier to achieve a score that reflects your potential when you are more comfortable with the exam’s logistics. In most cases, it makes sense to try the test at least twice, especially since many schools will allow you to “superscore” and count the highest section scores across multiple exams.

How does your score compare to your practice tests?

Was your score significantly higher or lower than your practice exams? If it was much lower, either in one section or overall, you should consider retaking the test. However, if this was your best performance you should think carefully before signing up again.

Was one section much lower than the others?

Speaking of individual sections, many schools like to see a relatively balanced testing profile. So, if your reading score was much higher than your math score, for instance, and you think that you are capable of raising the math, it might be worth a retake.

Was your score in the 95% percentile or above?

On the other hand, the higher your score the more likely you are to see your score decrease with subsequent sittings. This is not a clear reason not to retake the SAT, and does not hold true for […]

By |May 21st, 2015|College Admissions, General Admissions, Uncategorized|

Three Crucial Questions to Ask BEFORE Hiring an Admissions Consultant

Are you considering working with an admissions consultant? If so, you are probably discovering that there are significant differences between firms, and wondering how to choose the best match for you. Here are three crucial questions to ask before hiring an admissions consultant.

Do you have admissions experience?

As a former Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck and a former member of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Admissions Committee, I adjudicated thousands of applications and had significant input into the application process and class composition. Many consulting firms employ people who have gone to great schools, but who have never sat on an admissions committee. These consultants may not even know WHY they were admitted – it may be in spite of their essays, for instance, not because of them!

I suggest asking whether the consultant that you will be working with has actually reviewed applications, and made admissions and scholarship decisions. Were they involved in drafting the essay, interview and recommendation questions, and do they understand what the admissions landscape looks like across schools? If not, how are they going to be able to help you develop a nuanced and effective strategy?

What makes a client a good fit for your company?

I absolutely turn away clients who are not a good fit, but perhaps not for the reasons that you might think. Specifically, I am happy to work with candidates who aren’t “perfect” from a profile perspective. I do not reject potential clients because of low test scores or grades, or non-traditional experience. Despite this fact, 96% of my clients have gotten into at least one of their first choice schools, and they have been offered more than 4.9 million dollars in scholarships.

In part, this is because I do screen for […]

How to Negotiate for MBA Scholarships

You have done everything right, and are weighing offers of admission and comparing scholarships. Is it possible to negotiate with business schools, and to leverage scholarships to increase funding from other programs? The short answer is yes, it is possible to negotiate for MBA scholarships, but there are no guarantees, and it’s crucial to handle the conversation appropriately.

Based on my years making scholarship and admissions decisions for Tuck, and my experience helping my clients earn and negotiate for more than 5 million dollars in scholarships over the past two years, here is my advice:

Have a clear strategy.

Organize your thoughts and have a clear sense of your priorities before approaching any schools. Understand where you really want to go, so that you are entering the negotiation with a well-actualized plan.

Be humble and respectful.

You are not entitled to admission or to a scholarship. There are many, many people who would be thrilled just to have been admitted, with or without funding. Please keep this in mind, and also consider the fact that the admissions officer you are talking to has most likely advocated for you, and is on your side. Also, if they tell you that they can’t negotiate, or that there simply isn’t any scholarship money available, please believe them.

Follow the school’s protocol.

Some schools require you to put all requests in writing, and to answer specific questions. Please follow their rules – again, the school is doing you a favor by even considering you for additional scholarships, and you want to make it as easy for them as possible.

Be discreet.

When I was at Tuck, I was very fortunate to have open lines of communication with current students and alums. This meant that I would often hear about […]

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Best Summer Programs for High School Students

I am frequently asked about the best summer programs for high school students. There are many great options, and while there are different factors to consider, including resources, here are recommendations to point you in the right direction.

Sports Camps 

If your child enjoys a particular sport, you might consider sending them to a sports camp at a college of interest. Campers usually live in the dorms, eat in the dining halls and get a taste of campus life while also receiving instruction from college coaches and players. Princeton, Cornell and Dartmouth offer or host reputable camps in a wide variety of sports, and you can find comparable options at many schools.

Language Immersion/ Adventure Travel/Service Trips

For pure language immersion, sometimes combined with travel, I really like the Rassias programs. In addition, some of the trips run by adventure travel groups have language components.  My favorite adventure and service travel companies are Rustic Pathways and Where There Be Dragons, and both of those groups have options that offer the opportunity to work with underprivileged kids. If your child has been going to a favorite summer camp for years but has aged out of the traditional curriculum, check to see if the camp offers a service trip, like this one offered by Camp Coniston in New Hampshire.

College Academic Programs

Another way to experience life on campus at a school of interest, while also demonstrating academic aptitude, is to enroll in summer classes in a program that is either geared to or incorporates high school students. Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Barnard, Berkeley, Georgetown and Emory have good programs, as do many other schools.

Prep School Academic Programs

Prep schools also run academic summer programs, including Andover, Exeter and St. Paul’s.

The best programs fill early, so it’s important to start […]

By |February 23rd, 2015|College Admissions, General Admissions, Uncategorized|


The graduate or business school you want to attend accepts both GMAT and GRE. Which one should you take? Well, if we assume that either test is equally acceptable to the programs to which you plan on applying, then it really comes down to your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker. This article, written by Richard Carriero of Next Step Test Prep, will take a look at the major differences between tests and what you should consider in deciding whether to take the GMAT or GRE.

Math Struggles?

If you have a harder time with math, you’ll find the GRE to be the easier test. Both the GRE and GMAT test the same math concepts (though in somewhat different proportions) but the format of the GRE is much friendlier. First, the GRE has an onscreen calculator that you can use for tougher computations. Despite this addition to the test in 2011, however, the math has not gotten any harder and you could still do the entire GRE by hand if you had to. You can also skip around within a GRE quantitative section, unlike the GMAT, which adapts by question and only allows you to do one question at a time—a facet of the test that can pose major timing challenges. Both tests have multiple choice questions with no wrong answer penalty but a significant difference is that the GRE contains quantitative comparison questions while the GMAT has data sufficiency. The former requires you to recognize which of two quantities is larger while the latter tasks you with finding what combination of two pieces of data is needed to solve a problem. Data sufficiency weakness is one of the most common complaints of GMAT prep students while GRE […]

By |February 19th, 2015|Business School Admissions, General Admissions|
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The Truth About Special Interest Candidates

You may have heard the rumors – even at the most elite schools, some students were allegedly admitted because of their affiliation, not on merit. Is this true? And should you use “connections” if you have them? If so, how? Here is what the admissions committee REALLY thinks about special interest candidates.

Connections can absolutely help.

First of all, it is absolutely true that candidates benefit from affiliation with influential alums, donors, famous people, etc. Virtually all schools have special interest categories, and if you are in the highest special interest category you stand a greatly enhanced chance of being admitted, even if your profile isn’t competitive for that school. I was very interested in this recent article about the President of UT Austin drawing criticism for his use of the special interest system. As he says, there isn’t a school out there that doesn’t have a comparable policy. No question, at most schools there are at least a few weak special interest students who are admitted just because of their connections.

Leverage your influence correctly.

Even if you have these connections, there are more and less strategic ways to leverage them. The most influential donors and alums already have relationships with the school’s top administrators, and they know how to get your application in the special interest pool. For the most part, this involves the person with influence calling up the President, Dean, Director of Admissions – whoever they know best– and saying that their child, nephew, or colleague’s friend is applying, can you please keep an eye out for their application? That’s really all it takes – if the person calling has enough clout, the candidate’s file is then marked as special interest and they are reviewed […]

Are European MBA Programs a Good Fit for You?

Are you applying to business school in 2015? If so, are you including European MBA programs on your target list? Here are three reasons to consider applying to European programs:

If you don’t want to spend two years out of the workforce.

Most European MBA programs run for 12-18 months, as opposed to the classic two-year full time American MBA. The condensed European format means that you spend less time out of the workforce. This can be advantageous financially, both because there is a diminished opportunity cost, and also because the European programs are less expensive in an absolute sense.

If you want a truly international career.

While both domestic and European programs draw students from all over the world, the top European programs have an eclectic, diversified student body. (At Tuck, for instance, around 33% of the class is international, while at London Business School the average is 89%.) Students in European programs benefit from learning and building relationships in a truly global community. Schools like London Business School, INSEAD, HEC and IESE also have global brand recognition, which can help graduates find employment both domestically and abroad after graduation.

If your GMAT or GRE is somewhat low.

The average GMAT at Harvard Business School is 730, while the average GMAT at INSEAD is 702. At London Business School, it’s 700. While these are still impressive numbers, European programs tend to place less emphasis on test scores, and have historically accepted strong American candidates with test scores that don’t reflect their potential. Nevertheless, the caliber of student and of instruction is exceptionally high at the best European programs, and graduates receive an education that is comparable to the top American programs.

I definitely encourage my clients to consider applying to European […]

By |February 10th, 2015|Business School Admissions, General Admissions, Uncategorized|

What the Admissions Committee REALLY Thinks About Your Application

Do you wish that your best friend worked in admissions, and could just tell you what the admissions committee really thinks when they read your application?

Starting today, I will answer your admissions questions, giving you the same honest, informed advice that I offer my clients when they raise these issues. Please check back frequently to learn the truth about what really goes on behind the scenes.

First up, what a school really thinks about your lack of extracurricular activities:

Schools don’t like to admit candidates who don’t do anything other than study or work. They worry that you won’t be able to balance everything in school, and also that they are missing the opportunity to admit someone (better!) who will have more of a positive influence on campus and beyond.

Perfect grades and test scores are not usually enough to help you get in. Also, it’s not even like schools need to sacrifice strong numbers in order to find candidates who are super involved, with the demonstrated ability to make an impact in the community. There are plenty of applicants with pristine profiles and great extracurricular activities!

So, the bottom line is that in order to be as competitive as possible, you do need to be involved in your community. However, please know that lots of activities “count” and will enhance your profile. You don’t need to volunteer – schools also appreciate sports, clubs, hobbies – anything that shows sustained commitment and diversified interests.

Would you like an honest answer to your admissions question? Please email me at karen@northstaradmissions.com. As the former Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck, a former member of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Admissions Committee and the Founder and President of North Star Admissions Consulting, I am happy […]

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Top 5 MBA Application Mistakes

I have written previously about unusual MBA application mistakes, as well as interview and essay errors. However, it’s worth pointing out these common pitfalls, which are easy to avoid with the right planning.

Leaving your testing until the last minute.

Every year, I see promising candidates procrastinate when it comes to testing, severely damaging their chances of admission. It is virtually impossible to shape a coherent application strategy, and to pick the right mix of target schools, if you don’t know what your test scores are going to look like. Plus, most people take the GMAT or GRE at least twice, and some decide to take both. Get the testing out of the way early, it can mean the difference between success and failure.

Underestimating your marketability.

If you don’t apply to top schools you won’t get in. That is not to say that you should irrationally reach for programs that are clearly not a fit. However, I strongly encourage you to identify your strengths, understand what makes you unusual in the pool and leverage those qualities to apply to at least a few reach schools that are looking for what you have to offer.

Overestimating your marketability.

On the other hand, please don’t get overconfident. People with 4.0’s and perfect test scores are regularly rejected. I have worked with many re-applicants who were initially certain that their connections, grades, scores or diversity status would guarantee admission, and who sought help after they were surprised to learn that they still needed outstanding essays, recommendations and interview skills to get in. Please submit the best possible applications, no matter what else you bring to the table – this is a very competitive process.

Crowdsourcing your application strategy. 

The fastest way to dilute your candidacy […]

By |February 3rd, 2015|Business School Admissions, General Admissions, Uncategorized|