From more than 100 qualified applicants each year, KenSAP selects a between twelve and fifteen students. The approach is holistic, like that of top American universities, but it starts with the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), Kenya’s national high school leaving exam. As soon as the exam results come out, KenSAP starts receiving queries from students who have met the program’s baseline requirement – a “mean grade” of “A plain,” the highest possible mark on the exam, achieved by about ½ of 1% of the more than 500,000 test takers. To broaden the program’s reach, a radio announcement solicits queries from any new high school graduates who have scored A plain. Any student who shows evidence of having met the requirement is sent a detailed application form that includes several essays. On the basis of the application and the KCSE result, KenSAP’s selection panel chooses a short-list of 60, who are invited to the program’s tryout, which consists of an interview, a diagnostic test and a 1500-meter run.
During selection, considerable weight is attached to students’ backgrounds, with preference given to those from uneducated households or otherwise disadvantaged circumstances. A majority of those selected come from peasant farming families; most are first-generation university, and many are first-generation high school.
For decades Kenya’s renowned abundance of running talent has produced a steady flow of gifted runners to American universities on athletic scholarships. Most students granted athletic scholarships have attended institutions of somewhat lesser academic distinction than those to which KenSAP students apply. However, even America’s most academically selective institutions recruit athletes – a fact of which KenSAP’s founders were well aware – and Kenya’s wealth of running talent led the founders to expect that at least a few KenSAP students, though chosen largely for their academic accomplishments, might also turn out to be runners who would interest coaches at academically selective colleges, and thereby strengthen the students’ chances of admission. For that reason, all KenSAP students participate in regular athletic training during the program’s residential sessions. So far, about 20% of the students in the program have had the support of college coaches during the admission process; several have become valuable contributors to their college teams, and one was a nine-time NCAA Division III national champion! (Peter Kosgei, at left.)