Greg Kaplan Teaches Effective College Application Strategies

Greg Kaplan at an ‘Earning Admission’ book talk held recently at Carmel Valley (San Diego). – Courtesy photo

By May S. Ruiz

Right about now, high school seniors across the United States are getting their acceptance (or dreaded rejection) letters from the universities to which they applied.

As many of these students have found out, getting into one’s their dream college has gotten increasingly difficult.  The admissions process has become a cause of much angst among stressed-out twelfth graders and their equally weary parents.  But with careful planning and well-thought out approach, you and your child will come out of it with your sanity intact.

Greg Kaplan, an admissions strategist, has written a book called ‘Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting Into Highly Selective Colleges’ to give tips to parents as they, in turn, guide their children through this daunting process.  It is an excellent resource for students to stand out in a sea of equally academically strong applicants.

Working as an independent counselor in Southern California for the past year and a half (and informally while he was in law school at UC Irvine), Kaplan has helped over 85 students and their families.  But his strategy doesn’t cover merely getting into college.  When he meets with students he begins the conversation by asking where they want to be in ten years.

“It allows them to understand that college is where it fits in – it’s not the end-all be all, but a means to achieving something greater than just a degree,” Kaplan explains .  “I want them to see that there’s a life beyond college or beyond a name.”

Kaplan meets with his students in L.A. and Orange County in person at least once a week.  He supplements that with conversations via phone or Skype; emails with families when planning activities during the course of high school; and uses Google Docs to help them with essays.

The most important guidance he offers is assembling a really compelling application using a strong theme, picking what classes to take, figuring when and how to prepare for the ACT or SAT, planning extra-curricular activities.  During the application process he works hand-in-hand with his students in creating a personal statement that demonstrates perspective, maturity, and shows personality and assets.

It greatly helps students to work with Kaplan beginning in ninth grade because they’re growing up through the process.  It’s good for them to know what they’re working for and to orient all the hard work that comes in high school to the college application process and beyond.  They have a more persuasive application if it’s planned.

Kaplan, himself, had been through this not too long ago which makes him a relatable counselor, and his book more effective as he recounts examples from personal experience.  His language is relatable and counsel realistic.

“I draw a lot of experience from attending a very competitive high school in Southern California, similar to Arcadia and San Marino,” states Kaplan.  “My book and workshop are most relevant to students in these high-achieving areas where people feel the most loss.  They’re competing with peers who have outstanding GPAs and perfect test scores so they want to know how to separate themselves from all the excellent students.”

“After I gained admission to the University of Pennsylvania back in 2005, people started asking me what I did to get accepted to multiple Ivy League universities,” Kaplan continues.  “From there I gave a lot of advice and it turned into an informal, casual business where I helped mostly family friends and children of colleagues at a private equity firm where I worked while I was going to law school.”

“My in-depth research culminated in me writing ‘Earning Admission’ because I wanted to provide families a blueprint and the material to make informed decisions.  I didn’t like seeing students who are stressed out and engaged in a million different activities, taking six to eight AP classes in sophomore and junior year.  That’s not necessarily the winning formula to achieve the goals that we want our children to go for when it comes to higher education.  This book is my response to all the anxiety I see.  It is my desire to give back to the community for the opportunity to come from a great public school in California, which I wanted to share with people,” Kaplan expounds.

‘Earning Admission’ is divided into three parts, the first of which discusses the high school transcript and the ACT or SAT scores – the two most important components of your children’s application.  These objective elements will give a university admissions officer the reason to read the rest of the submission.

The second part of Kaplan’s book delves into the subjective pieces of the college application.  He divides this into eight chapters: application theme; personal statement; extracurricular activities; responses to the application form questions; letters of recommendation; and admissions interview.  Throughout these chapters, he offers guidelines on how to use all the elements in marketing your child as a compelling applicant.

The last part touches on the application strategy – where and when to apply; scholarships and financial aid; and getting admitted from the waitlist.

A very useful appendix shows the college admissions timeline, which has tables on what activities your child should be involved in starting from the summer before ninth grade.  The high school timeline is divided by months and covers tests your children should be taking; researching and finding test prep courses; planning their summer internships, community service, school and college course enrolment, and international experience.

Kaplan engages his readers as he talks about his experience applying to college.  While he went to a terrific public school, he also was in a large class and the counselor didn’t have too much time to spend creating a specific plan to market each student.  His counselor told him to go to a community college.

“I was at the top of my class, got good SAT test scores, was very involved in the community, and had extra-curricular activities that showcased my leadership abilities.  That was definitely not the best support from my guidance counselor,” Kaplan quips.

A funny anecdote Kaplan includes towards the end of his book is about visiting colleges on the east coast with his mom.  As he relates it, he and his mom were in Philadelphia and were hoping to see the University of Pennsylvania.  But they couldn’t find it on their map and decided to go to the mall instead; he essentially blew off his future alma mater.

Kaplan also shares with his readers some of the things he did and later regretted:  he applied to so many schools that, in hindsight, he shouldn’t have since he had no intention of matriculating even if he were accepted; he also needlessly went on more than one college tour for which his parents paid thousands of dollars – money which would have been better spent on test prep courses.

An important message Kaplan wishes to impart is that life teaches lessons and it’s up to students to make the most of them, “I didn’t want to go to Penn when I was accepted.  I couldn’t even find Penn when I tried to visit it.  However, at Penn I learned first-hand that anything was possible if I set my mind to it.  My college experience, at a college I almost did not apply to, shaped the person I am today.”

“Your child’s college experience will also shape her into the person she is destined to be.  Whether it is at Penn or Penn State, your child will learn that anything is possible for her if she has the will and vision to achieve it.  Even if your child does not have the outcome she envisions with the college application process, she will succeed in college and beyond,” Kaplan concludes.

Kaplan will be holding two free book talks and workshops in the San Gabriel Valley on Saturday, April 15 at 11:30 a.m. at the San Marino Public Library, and Saturday, May 20, at 2 p.m. at the San Gabriel Public Library.

Parents and students who are interested in getting college counseling from Kaplan can contact him at; or his cell phone (858) 204-6553.  His website is  The first meeting when they create the admission plan is free.

April 12, 2017

About Author

May S. Ruiz May S. Ruiz was born in the Philippines. Her mother, a school teacher, and her father, the press liaison officer for the American Embassy in Manila, instilled in their children the importance of a good education. Appreciation for books and the arts, and experiencing various cultures have been her lifelong pursuits. After college she immigrated to the U.S., where she met her husband. Their daughter has the same passion for learning and literature, and being a responsible global citizen.

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