Student who earned $90K in scholarships to share story, offer tips

By Alastair
Lee Bitsoi Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 14, 2012

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Ben Kaplan, 34, knows how to play the scholarship game and is offering his strategies and tips on how students of all ages could win thousands of dollars in scholarships to pay for their college education.

Next week, Kaplan will visit New Mexico, namely the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Sept. 18 and 19, to talk about his experience of winning more than two-dozen scholarships worth over $90,000 – enough to attend Harvard for free.

"It's my passion to talk about my experiences and to help people," Kaplan said in a phone interview with the Navajo Times on Wednesday afternoon.

Instead of waiting for scholarships and opportunities to knock on one's door, Kaplan said it's the opposite. "You have to go knock on their door."

That's what he did to win the $90,000, which helped him pay for his dream school, Harvard, where he studied economics.

His story became national news when he wrote a column in the New York Times about going to Harvard for free. His column eventually led to the publishing of his book, "How I went to college almost for free," and a program called, "10 Days to Scholarship Success."

"There are lots of students who have used my courses and material," Kaplan said, adding that every week he has students emailing him about their success stories. "We've helped tens of thousands of families save half a billion dollars in the last 12 years."

At his workshops on Tuesday at Capital High School in Santa Fe and Wednesday at Sandia High School in Albuquerque, Kaplan will go into detail about his experience.

He will also talk about scholarships for current high school students, college students, adult non-traditional students and even kids under age 14.

The workshops, which are free to both students and parents, begin from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

"We'll help you organize a process," he said. "I try to help with maximum efficiency and effectiveness."

Kaplan said he encourages all students and parents to attend one of these workshops, including those students and families living on the Navajo reservation.

He said there are a myriad of scholarships out there, besides tribal scholarships, that Native American students could win.

"When you're invested in the process, you generally do better in school," he said of developing a suite of reusable material for other scholarships. "You make the most of it and you don't waste time. The goal is to recycle, reuse and bridge multiple applications with every sentence you write."

Two tips important to winning scholarships, Kaplan said, are applying for the small ones (chapter scholarships, for example) and consider reviewing winning essays and applications from the last scholarship cycle.

"One big one is don't neglect the small local scholarship," he said.

"When you win little ones, they help you win the bigger ones and help you with a future application."

The other tip is looking at past winning essay and applications, he said.

"About 97 percent of applicants don't look at past winners and essays," Kaplan said. "In my opinion, if you look at a winning essay and application, you increase your chances of winning because you know what they're looking for."

Kaplan also recommends searching for scholarships through database systems such as for more scholarship opportunities.

"Winning scholarship is a game and the best way to master the scholarship game is to learn from those who play it well," Kaplan said. "The goal of my workshops and ten days of scholarship course is that you don't' have to reinvent the wheel. Look at works and do that too." Kaplan has appeared on 2,000 TV and radio shows, including interviews with Oprah, Good Morning America, Nightline, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox News, NPR, and the BBC.

Among other awards, Kaplan was selected the "Top Student Leader in America" by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

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