Kaplan wasn’t on vacation. He was giving workshops about how to attend college in the United States.
“A lot of people around the world want to study in the United States and want to learn how to pay for it,” Kaplan said in a phone interview from Santiago.
His workshops are based on his bestselling book “How to Go to College Almost for Free.” And the book is based on Kaplan’s own experience.
He thought he was going to attend college on a tennis scholarship, but a lower back injury ended those plans. Instead, he applied for 36 non-sports scholarships offered by various governmental agencies, professional associations and various other organizations.
Kaplan won two dozen of them. In dollars, they totaled $90,000. He combined that with free tuition credits earned by taking standardized tests.
He graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics four years later.
The response he received from a newspaper article he wrote on landing scholarship money triggered hundreds of emails requesting advice. He replied to them and realized they were the germ for a book.
Kaplan sent queries to publishers but none bit.
“They said there were already large books out on scholarships. I finished writing it my senior year,” he said.
After graduation, he moved back in with his parents in Eugene, Ore., and had enough money to churn out 5,000 self-published copies.
“So what do I do now with all those books in the garage?” Kaplan recalled asking himself. He did radio, TV and newspaper promotion for a workshop at a Portland, Ore., bookstore.
“I was afraid no one would show up. I prayed there would be 20 people. Five hundred turned out. I sold 350 books that night. It launched my career as a writer and a speaker,” Kaplan said.
The book has since been published by HarperCollins, a major New York house. But he’s got his own company that publishes courses and multimedia products that help people through the higher education maze.
Kaplan said being successful in writing scholarship applications is more than revealing what you’ve accomplished.
“You have to paint a portrait that shows who you are. Judges award scholarships to people, not to résumés. You have to make an emotional connection to the reader,” Kaplan said. “You have to believe in yourself,” which helps create a compelling application.
He said his hourlong workshops plus a question-and-answer session are not just for high school seniors planning to enter college but also for those now in college and for adults returning to school, or going for the first time.