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Creating Future Leaders: Spotlight on the Kaplan Leadership Program

The Kaplan Leadership Program helps community college students successfully transfer, earn four-year degrees, and become great leaders. Learn more here!

Effective leadership skills are essential for success in today’s educational and professional landscape—but good leaders are not born; they are developed through a combination of experience, education, and mentorship. Recognizing this, the Kaplan Leadership Program was designed to remove barriers and cultivate the next generation of leaders who will navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world. Learn more about this impactful program and the types of students who are recruited to participate. You or somebody you know may be the ideal candidate for next year’s cohort!

About the Kaplan Leadership Program

Established in 2006, the Kaplan Leadership Program helps high-potential, low-income, overlooked, and underserved community college students from the New York City/New Jersey/Westchester area complete their associate degrees and successfully transfer to some of the nation's most highly selective four-year colleges and universities. The program also provides stipends for living expenses, tutoring, academic advisement services, leadership and career training, and other support to help them expand their personal goals and eventually attain leadership roles in their communities and chosen professions.

Nolvia Delgado

“The diverse and resilient talent the nation needs to fuel the economy can be found in our community colleges,” says Kaplan Educational Foundation Executive Director Nolvia Delgado.“In this post–affirmative action landscape, it's critical to remove barriers and provide greater access to higher education for our newest cohort of talented, motivated individuals." This year’s group of Scholars includes non-traditional students, recent immigrants, first-generation students, English language learners, and others looking to become future leaders in the fields of education, STEM, computer science, medicine, law, and more.

Related: 8 Leadership Qualities All Students Should Have

The applicant recruitment process

The Kaplan Educational Foundation recruits promising young students at community colleges with the help of vice presidents, deans, directors, and coordinators—what Delgado calls “champions” within each college. “We look for applicants who are top-performing students [with] the drive, talent, and academic potential to succeed at highly selective institutions, if not for lack of resources,” she says. Champions at each community college actively assist in recruitment efforts and help identify students “with the potential to affect systemic change in the longer term.” According to Delgado, the program receives hundreds of applications each year, with roughly a dozen or more students selected for each cohort.

Spotlight on current Kaplan Scholars

This year’s cohort of Kaplan Scholars includes Paula Mayorga from Hudson County Community College and Vaughn Robinson from Westchester Community College. Robinson heard about the opportunity from his transfer advisor. “She mentioned it would be an uplifting program that could help not only financially but with the process of transferring from community college to a desired four-year institution,” he says. Mayorga heard about the program through a friend: “I had expressed my desire to extend my college opportunities out of state, and he started talking about KLP.” She says hearing her friend’s outlook on the program made her feel “excited and capable,” but she only had two weeks to complete her application. “I felt behind,” she says. “At some point, I thought I was late. I convinced myself not to apply, but [my friend] Christian insisted.”

Vaughn Robinson Paula Mayorga
Vaughn Robinson and Paula Mayorga

The application process

Applying to be a Kaplan Scholar is a three-step process consisting of a written application, a group interview, and an individual interview. The written application asks about your career goals, academic and personal barriers, family, community, and how an applicant would navigate their time during the program. “The application required time, letters of recommendation, and essays—overall, it demanded persistence,” according to Mayorga. Those accepted as semifinalists go on to the interviews. Robinson says the group interview allowed potential Scholars to bond and express themselves in a group setting, while the individual interview focused more on the written application and gave applicants time to discuss whether the program would be a good fit. “I felt they really wanted to get to know me and give [me] a platform where I could express who I was and where I wanted to end up,” he says.

Even if the clock is ticking and it’s down to the wire, applying is worth it and could lead to a life-changing experience. Mayorga submitted her application on the day of the deadline at 11:59 pm. “Days later, I nearly had a heart attack when I read the email for the semi-finalist interview,” she says. “I can assure you they read all the applications, even the ones submitted last minute, because that was mine!”

Benefits of the program

After Scholars are selected, they receive individualized academic advising, transfer counseling, college tour and summer study opportunities, mentoring from corporate leaders, and other targeted assistance and resources designed to remove potential obstacles on the road to completing a four-year degree. The program also provides up to $500 per month to each Scholar while they work on their college transfer, additional scholarships to put toward their associate degree, writing and transfer coaches, and fee waivers to apply to up to 10 four-year schools. The support continues after transferring as well, with transportation to and from home while they’re enrolled at their four-year institution; career counseling and job placement support; guidance for graduate and professional program admission; and mentoring by KLP alumni and staff.

“The professional development has been a great help, especially in areas like time management,” says Mayorga. “As student leaders, we often have a lot on our plates, so learning to prioritize and balance our lives has been invaluable.” She also appreciates all the guidance from the KEF team when it comes to choosing a four-year institution in which to transfer. “They helped me [consider] aspects of a university that never crossed my mind before,” such as class size, meal plans, and campus activities, she says. “I'm confident I'll make a wise choice thanks to my KEF team. I feel genuinely heard and supported.”

Success of Kaplan Scholars

According to the Foundation, more than 90% of Kaplan Scholars who transfer to a four-year institution earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average of less than 48% bachelor’s attainment for transfer students. KLP alumni have graduated from some of the most competitive universities in the country, including Brown, Stanford, and Yale. Robinson hopes to earn his Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Harvard University then pursue a career in private equity. Mayorga says she’s keeping her options open, but “thanks to the support from KEF, I am confident that I will earn my four-year degree at a prestigious and promising university.” She plans to pursue International Relations with a minority concentration in Latino Studies. “After that, my next goal is to apply to law school and become a 'Lawtina Lawyer!'”

The community college foundation

A successful future starts at community college for every Kaplan Scholar. “SUNY Westchester Community College has prepared me more than I could ever imagine [for the Kaplan Leadership Program],” Robinson says. Various leadership roles on campus, connections with peers and professors, and an internship opportunity “have given me the maturity and mindset to continue on with confidence and integrity.” Mayorga is just as involved at Hudson County Community College, where she’s a peer leader in the Office of Student Life & Leadership and secretary of the Latin Society. Getting involved on campus has opened doors for her and helped strengthen her English-language skills after she moved to the US from Ecuador four years ago. “The first two years were challenging, as I struggled to make significant improvements in my English-learning process,” Mayorga explains. But she feels more confident than ever as she prepares to transfer to a four-year institution; she was even a speaker at the annual Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities conference last year.

Related: Top 10 Reasons to Study at a Community College

Like many college-bound students, Robinson and Mayorga are excited for their academic futures. But they’ll be prepared for whatever comes next thanks to the skill-building, scholarship, and networking resources offered through the Kaplan Leadership Program. To other students looking for opportunities like this or applying to college in general, Robinson advises you to just be yourself and display your unique qualities through your applications. “Everyone is special in their own way, and it would be better to display your natural self rather than someone you think the particular school wants.” Another key takeaway for students: “Get involved,” Mayorga says. “Join clubs and groups that align with your interests. Meet new people and enjoy your time outside of classes. It's in these experiences that you will find happiness, make friends, and discover your place.”

Are you a student looking for transfer-friendly institutions? Check out our featured transfer school profiles and request information with just a few clicks! You can also learn more about the Kaplan Leadership Program for community college students on the Kaplan Educational Foundation website.

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