How Denisha Kuhlor Created a Platform to Eliminate Application Fees for College Students
By: Courtney Connley
Applying to college is an exciting time of year for high school students, but for many making that transition from senior to freshman, options are limited due to the rising cost of application fees required before even stepping foot on campus. That’s why 20-year-old Denisha Kuhlor is making it her mission to help reduce the cost of the college application process with her online platform Plucked.
“I naturally just don’t like to spend money and I didn’t see why it had to be different when applying to college,” she says.
With the average application fee being $41, and sometimes even as high as $90 for elite-ranked schools like Stanford, Kuhlor knew there had to be a way for potential college students to save money before entering the world of student loan debt.
After receiving letters from multiple schools about filling out a free application, Kuhlor conducted an experiment on herself during her senior year of high school to see just how many college application fees she could get waived. After applying to 40 schools and paying a total of $35, the New York native came up with a solution to also help her peers save money during their college process.
In May 2015, she officially launched Plucked as a solution to help eliminate the financial barriers that stop some students from applying to the college of their choice. The way it works is schools sign up for a one-year subscription to gain access to a larger pool of students who otherwise might not apply to their institution. Meanwhile, the students have access to apply to these schools free of charge.
With over 10,000 students having used the platform so far, Kuhlor continues to revolutionize the college application experience with a relaunch of the platform in January 2017 and the launch of a new mobile app called Almafind.
“What I found was that a lot of students were using Plucked to apply to schools but weren’t actually serious about enrolling in them,” says Kuhlor. “So to get more engagement, we launched a college fair [last year] via Snapchat. I talked to some students who had Plucked accounts and they said even if they applied to schools, they weren’t always going to pay the money to actually tour the school if it’s far out.”
Realizing that the financial burden extends beyond application fees for some students, Almafind serves as a crowd-sourcing tool where potential college students can hear insight from current college students on dorming, overall campus life at a specific university and more. This way, prospect students are able to get a closer glimpse of whether or not they think a school will be a great fit for them without having to pay the traveling cost of an actual visit.
With the goal to improve the overall college experience for students, Kuhlor says the name Almafind plays on the idea of helping young people find their perfect alma mater.
Now, as a nursing and communications major at Mount Saint Vincent College in New York, this young entrepreneur is working to find the balance between being a CEO and student.
“Being a college student and running a business, it can get really easy to prioritize the wrong thing,” she explains. “My biggest failures have almost always come as a result of not being able to prioritize correctly.”
Crediting mentors like Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Hyman with helping her to prioritize the early stages of her business, Kuhlor says Hyman also sat her down in her office and forced her to think about all of the things that could potentially go wrong with Almafind before she launched it.
Recognizing that her road to entrepreneurial success has come with its fair share of challenges, Kuhlor advises young entrepreneurs to have a clear end goal in mind and to make sure their company is built on a solid foundation so that they are equipped to run things on a larger scale when needed.
“There were so many times when we wanted to implement on a bigger scale and couldn’t because we didn’t have the proper foundation,” says Kuhlor, while adding that young entrepreneurs should also not be afraid to change the name and direction of their business in the early stages.
Now, as she finishes out her junior year of college, Kuhlor’s biggest goal after graduation is to be able to bring in enough revenue to hire herself and focus on Plucked and Almafind full-time.
To stay up to date with Kuhlor and the latest happenings with Plucked and Almafind, be sure to follow her on social media @DenishaKuhlor.
Writer: Courtney Connley is a writer, editor and digital journalist with a sweet spot for storytelling and helping millennials win in the workplace and in life. She considers brunching to be a full-time hobby and enjoys anything that involves avocado or a good book. You can stay up-to-date with her latest work at courtneyconnley.com and follow her latest happenings on social media @classicalycourt.