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.
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The truth about open MBA interviews

Tuck’s open interview registration is live, and I am getting lots of questions about open MBA interviews. Is it really necessary to initiate an on campus interview at schools that allow applicants to do so? The brief answer: Yes, especially if you are a domestic candidate.

If you don’t take advantage of this opportunity, someone else will.

People fly to interview at Tuck (and other schools) from around the globe – Australia, Asia, the Middle East. If you are a domestic applicant and don’t bother to come to campus you risk telegraphing disinterest. (There are obvious exceptions, like if you are active duty military or can’t travel for medical reasons. If this is the case, please say so in your optional essay, so that the school understands why you didn’t initiate an on campus interview.)

Despite what they say, the schools DO hold it against you.

Look, I know that the official answer is that you don’t need to initiate an on campus MBA interview in order to be competitive. In reality, if you live in Boston and don’t travel to Tuck they aren’t going to take you as seriously as a candidate. At the very least, you suffer in comparison to applicants who are doing absolutely everything that they can to shine.

It’s much harder to sell your interest in a school if you haven’t been.

Credible school specific essays are already hard to write, even more so if all of your content comes from the website. The applicant who can talk about their affinity for the community after having lunch with students and professors and sitting in on a class will be much more persuasive than the candidate who regurgitates published data about student/faculty ratio.

Don’t you want to dazzle […]

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Mentoring First Generation College Applicants

Hello North Star blog readers! Today I am happy to share Kyron’s blog about mentoring first generation college applicants, which is inspirational on many levels. In addition to being proud to know Kyron, I am also proud to support Walter by donating my help with his essays. Thanks again to Kyron for blogging throughout your MBA application process.


Thank you to everyone who took time out to read the first blog! I wanted to starting writing blogs on Karen’s site to share my story and my journey with other current and future hopefuls. There’s really no name for this particular blog series, but as a future Brand Manager/Brand Strategist, you can continue to follow my journey on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #Everyday2MBA.

On Tuesday, July 14, I turned 24 years old. Ever since I could remember, birthdays were the only day when excessive attention was accepted and celebrated without any judgment.

But my 24th Birthday was unlike any prior celebration. I was inspired to redirect the attention and celebration elsewhere, onto someone I believed my network and friends should know.

Back in June, I met a rising High School Senior named Walter at an event. He wore a white collared shirt, a red tie, blazer and suit pants. We spoke briefly about his background and he effortlessly articulated his vision and the goals that he aggressively set out to accomplish. Walter made a great 1st impression and before we both realized it he sold me on his dream and I brought in. We wrapped up the conversation with him inquiring about shadowing someone in the Mayor’s office for a day and about possible talk with the Mayor. I happily agreed and gave him my card.

Well, that very […]

By |July 29th, 2015|Uncategorized|
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A Business School Re-Applicant Shares His Story

I am happy to introduce you to SY, another North Star client who has generously offered to share his experience. As a business school re-applicant, and also as an international student and a first generation college graduate, SY has a tremendously valuable perspective. I know that you will benefit from his insights. Thank you, SY!

My name is SY. I am an international re-applicant. I have been working at Citi since graduating from college, where I have been fortunate to experience job rotations across a broad spectrum of banking businesses and functions over the past four years.

My parents are retired blue-collar workers. They started working early in life and never had the opportunity to attend college. Their experiences shaped them into fervent believers in the value of education, and making sure their children received a college education was always a priority. I can fondly recall how exhilarated Mum was when I graduated from college.

I dream of working at the well of banking knowledge: Wall Street. At the same time, I know that I can benefit from enhancing my leadership skills, increasing my international exposure and building my network. Pursuing an MBA in the United States will allow me to achieve both development and career goals.

In formulating my school strategy last season, I made the mistake of relying only on rankings and recruiting statistics to decide where to apply, discounting fit entirely. My applications also lacked focus and did not sufficiently showcase my strengths, skills or experience. In retrospect, it was no surprise that out of my five school applications, I was rejected without an interview at three, and waitlisted at two.

Reeling from a string of disappointments, I decided to seek professional admissions advice. I arranged free […]

By |July 29th, 2015|Business School Admissions, General Admissions|
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Sample College or MBA Application Essays: A Really Bad Idea

I firmly believe that reading other people’s essays before writing your own is a huge, detrimental mistake. Here are three reasons why I never give my clients templates or sample college or MBA application essays:

You need to find your own voice.

The essays are literally your only guaranteed opportunity to present your case, in your own words, and to stand out in the pool. Modeling your narrative after someone else’s story is an enormous waste of this opportunity. It also leads to generic, homogeneous essays that are totally forgettable, which will not get you in. Furthermore, it’s way too easy to subliminally copy someone else’s cadence, structure or phraseology, which can lead schools to suspect plagiarism.

You are reading the essays out of context.

When you read one of the many books about “successful” application essays you are reading them completely out of context. You have no idea if that applicant was a professional athlete, had special interest connections, a terrible GPA or work history, was applying to schools where she was significantly above the average or if she was admitted DESPITE her essays, not because of them. The bottom line is that you need to choose your topics and anecdotes strategically, in light of your whole candidacy. Just because these other candidates chose a certain topic or style does not mean that it is the optimal decision for you.

Formulas are dangerous.

I understand that it is very tempting to think that there is a magic formula that will get you into college or business school, and that this formula extends to the essays. Nevertheless, mimicking other people’s essays leads to less than genuine responses, and is an extremely dangerous way to approach your applications. Instead of telling the […]

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What It’s Really Like To Apply To Business School

 Hello North Star blog readers. I am delighted to introduce you to Kyron Banks. Kyron is a current member of my Sirius program, which is a group consulting program designed to help first generation college graduates get into business school. Kyron has very graciously agreed to blog about his experience applying to school this year. I know that this will be incredibly useful and inspirational for many of you, and I greatly appreciate his candor and time as he tells us what it’s really like to apply to business school. I am also excited for you to get to know Kyron – he is truly impressive and very personable, and I can’t wait to see where he goes!

Hi, my name is Kyron Banks, 23 years old and more importantly, born and raised in New Jersey. My early childhood was spent with a lot of activities, family time and being told that I can do better than my young parents by graduating from college. My mother was 21 and my father was 17 when I was born and any dreams to pursue a college degree were placed on hold and passed onto me to become a first generation college student.

My mother never let me forget that her dream was to see me graduate from high school and then college. She never had the chance to see her baby boy graduate from either high school or college – she passed away from lung cancer at the tender age of 31, when I was 11 years old. Even before the wonderful and awkward stages of puberty, mentally I was already an adult and ready to accomplish not only my dreams, but my mother’s as well.

I graduated from high […]

Are you ready for the 2015 Common Application?

Although the common application doesn’t open until August 1st, we already know that there will be changes, both logistically and in terms of content. Here is what rising seniors need to know about the 2015 common application:

There are new essay prompts. (New language appears in italics.)

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

By the way, it’s ideal if you can complete your common application essay before returning to school in the fall.

Some schools will not require you to submit your main essay, and some schools won’t ask for recommendations.

Apparently, some schools will not require you to submit the common application essay, which is a big change. In general, it’s still a good idea to submit the essay, even if one of your target schools doesn’t mandate it. In addition, certain schools are eliminating the need to submit […]

By |May 28th, 2015|College Admissions, General Admissions, Uncategorized|
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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 […]