Success Story – KAREN

Familiarity breeds success – how we took the time to get to know Karen.

When we start working with a student we don’t just sit down with them for an hour, develop a theme and then wham! they get into the school of their choice.

These things take time. Our process is all about getting to know each and every student until we, and they, understand what they want from life. To be able to support the student to a high standard we have to truly know who they are. To help a student stand out from all the other brilliant students applying to the Ivies, you have to be on their team and understand what they are all about.

An example of our level of support in action was Karen. We met her at one of our seminars about creating a compelling theme. She was there with her mom who was intent on Karen applying to the top schools. While her mom talked, Karen stood shyly in the background and didn’t say a word. So we asked if we could speak to Karen on her own.

In this meeting we asked Karen about her dreams, goals and aspirations. She became animated about her intended major, bioengineering, and how she loved to learn through discussion rather than formal education (there and then we decided Princeton, with its small class sizes, would be a better fit for her over Duke). We talked about her fears, stress points and pressures. Karen really did want to go to a top Ivy, it wasn’t just her mom’s dream, but we had to find that out for ourselves.

Alleviating Pressure

Stellar students like Karen put a lot of pressure on themselves. As well as getting to know a student, here at IvyZen we always have a positive perspective on their achievements. Karen was worried about her test scores. Until we told her, she hadn’t realised that four SAT II 750s were good enough, that she didn’t need to take any more SAT IIs and that her 2260 SAT I score was what she needed. She jumped out her chair with relief when we told her. After a couple of hours chatting, we agreed to exchange emails over the next few weeks to get to know each other much better. Over the course of 3 weeks, we spoke with Karen almost every other day. During those three weeks we got to know Karen and because we understood everything about her, we were better equipped to help her. We started to develop Karen’s theme. She had an intense passion for biology research (she was a research intern at Korea University). She was also head of her Amnesty International Club and was passionate about humanitarian issues. So we decided on Humanitarian Pre Med as her theme.

Karen was involved a vast range of extracurricular activities, so our first job was to pick the best and dump the rest. As a general guide, students aiming for the top Ivies should be doing 30 hours of extracurriculars per week. Karen was doing about 40 hours but they were all over the place and she was exhausted. So we stopped orchestra, band, her school newspaper and many other activities, paving the way for her to really concentrate on her theme. She increased her Amnesty International activities, her hours as a research intern and was invited to participate in a project that would lead to a research paper. Even though Karen didn’t participate in many competitions or receive any prestigious awards, her research work was special enough to make her application stand out.

After a year of hard work, Karen’s theme was sharper and stronger. When it came time to write our applications, it was easy to pick the schools, major, activities and essay topics. Karen sent in her applications about 3 weeks early and applied to Princeton early.

In the middle of December, we got a call from her. “I got accepted to Princeton.” We were the first people she told which was a great honor. Through our work with Karen we had become friends and we really felt the pride parents do when we found out about her success.

Our students are not just customers. Every single student means something to us.

Karen’s Humanitarian Pre Med Theme Summary



Took the SAT subject test in Biology and scored above 750.

Challenged herself by taking difficult courses related to her theme: AP Bio, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus AB.


Extracurriculars – Leadership

Founder/President – Amnesty International Club, where she focused on human rights issues related to medicine.

Founding Editor – A WordPress site that discussed her passion for bringing first world medical technology to third world countries.

Extracurriculars – Scholarship

Research intern at a local university, where she learned about academic research and was involved in a project/research paper that was eventually published in an academic journal.

Competitions and Achievements

Co-author of a published research paper

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