The Top 5 Characteristics of Admitted Applicants

Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting

Since 2012, North Star clients have been admitted to the world’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Sloan, Haas, Columbia, Dartmouth, Kellogg, Darden, Yale, Cornell, LBS and more, with over 8.7 million dollars in scholarships. I am very grateful to have been part of the process, and would like to share my observations about what these clients did to gain admission to their dream schools.  Here are the top 5 characteristics of admitted applicants:

1. They understood that the entire application matters. There is a lot of mystery and misinformation swirling around the admissions process. One of the biggest fallacies, which people believe to their detriment, is that the admissions committee only cares about grades and test scores. While the numbers obviously matter, schools are looking to admit well-rounded people with strong interpersonal skills – and a real desire to attend their particular school. Ignoring the importance of your resume, recommendations, extracurricular activities and essays means that you will be rejected from schools that you thought were likely targets. In addition, deciding not to apply to schools that you think are out of your reach, based solely on test scores or grades, means that you risk preemptively taking yourself out of the running at more selective schools that might have been really interested in your candidacy.

2. They highlighted strengths while addressing weaknesses head on. In order to showcase your best assets and minimize concerns, you need to know what the admissions committee is looking for. For example, having international experience, being bilingual or bi-cultural, being the first person in your family to go to college and working to pay for your education are all exceptionally important assets that enhance your candidacy, and you should share them with the committee. In addition, if you have some shaky grades or test scores you should address this fact directly. Instead of just stating that you know that you can handle the work, or ignoring the blemish completely, acknowledge that the committee may have concerns and specifically explain – with evidence -why you know that you can excel.

3. They paid attention to the essays. The essays matter. In many cases, essays offer the only opportunity for you to make your case for admission in your own voice. Take the time to really consider what material you should use to answer the questions. Make sure that you are truly responding to the question asked, and not just trying to use one or two essays for all of the schools, even if the topics are slightly different. And take the time to go through multiple drafts, so that the essays are comprehensive and polished.

4. They talked about what they would contribute. It is critical to demonstrate that you will have an impact on the community, and to tell the school exactly how you will participate. Research your target schools; talk to students, read blogs, visit. This enables you to say that you want to be part of the health care club, and would love to help organize their annual conference – not just that you will join stuff and make new friends. You want the schools to picture you on campus, actively contributing, not simply going to class. The most successful candidates talk as much about what they hope to give back to the program as they do about what they hope to gain.

5. They were genuine. All of North Star’s clients are different, and I encourage them to embrace what makes them unique and what truly matters to them. My clients tell the schools exactly what they want to do, in their own voices. They don’t present a sanitized but inauthentic story, even if it seemed like the schools might want to hear a more familiar tale.

This honesty and depth is the single most consistent factor that I can point to when explaining why my clients are admitted, even if their numbers fall well below the school’s averages. Share the experiences that have shaped you – and the right school will know how lucky they are to have you as part of their community.

Karen Marks has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and 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, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Wellesley, and more. Over the last three years, clients have been awarded more than $8.5 million in scholarships, and more than 90% have gotten into one of their top-choice schools.