Palma Scholars Program

Making Impact

The Palma Scholars Program launched in the fall of 2011 and was named to honor 19-year school head Lark Palma. This unique program's goals are to bring a cadre of academically accomplished students with notable potential in leadership, athletics, and service to the Catlin Gabel Upper School while also spurring educational innovation within the school.

As Palma Scholars, students in the program belong to a cohort of high-achieving, community-minded peers under the mentorship of a master teacher. While eligible to take all courses offered at Catlin Gabel, they are enrolled annually in the dynamic Palma Seminar, an interdisciplinary course promoting real world projects, and otherwise freed from the school's graduation requirements. This affords Palma Scholars a special opportunity to customize their educational roadmap. Additional programming - described in greater detail under the Program section below - centers on leadership development, summer enrichment retreats, and community engagement initiatives.

Students selected as Palma Scholars receive financial assistance to defray the cost of attendance at Catlin Gabel and need-based aid is available for Palma Scholars who require further financial support. Recognition as a Palma Scholar and help in communicating about this program as part of the college process are also tenets of the program.

For information on applying to the Palma Scholars Program, please see the Apply section below, read our FAQ, or email

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Seeking Scholars Who Change the Game

Palma Scholars Program: Leadership


The Palma Scholar experience is distinguished in a number of ways from the already-rich experience enjoyed by all Catlin Gabel students.

This includes:

The Seminar

In addition to Catlin Gabel's highly regarded coursework, Palma Scholars are automatically enrolled in Palma Seminars for each of their first three years in the Upper School. The seminar aims to prepare leaders for the 21st century with an interdisciplinary curriculum that promotes problem-solving, dialogue, and real-world engagement, while integrating knowledge and resources from a breadth of faculty, community members, and national experts.

The topic for 2019-20 Is

Climate Change: Climate change is perhaps the defining challenge of our age. While often framed as a purely scientific matter, it is a complex problem that must be approached in an interdisciplinary manner, and this seminar will take exactly that approach. After an initial survey of the scientific foundations of climate change, the seminar will devote extensive attention to projected impacts around the globe, and potential courses of action at local, national and international scales. Students will have significant opportunities for self-designed projects that delve into areas of particular interest. Experiential learning opportunities are a critical part of this course, so students should be prepared for occasional obligations outside of school hours. This course will count for half-Science credit and half-Social Studies credit.

Past Palma Seminar titles have included

  • Revolutionaries: an activism-oriented course that built toward student-led social initiatives
  • Sports and Human Rights: a survey of the many ways that sports engages with matters of great social importance, with special emphasis on the Olympics and World Cup
  • Measuring Success: with topics ranging from education to business to sports analytics
  • Divided States of America: a close examination of politics and identity in contemporary America
  • Crime and Punishment: focused on criminal justice in America

Learn more about how the Palma seminars promote authentic experiential learning in The Caller article The Community As Classroom.

The Capstone

In their senior year, Palma Scholars have the opportunity to pursue a year-long project of their choice as one of their courses, under the guidance of the Palma Scholars Program director. The students enjoy great latitude in the nature of that project, with options ranging from intense academic research to community-oriented initiatives to hands-on endeavors. Past Palma Scholars have pursued Capstone projects that saw them interning with a state congresswoman, learning jazz piano, developing a podcast, and building a sailboat.

No Graduation Requirements

Aside from the Palma Seminar and Capstone, Palma Scholars have no graduation requirements at Catlin Gabel. This affords them the opportunity to customize their course load, pursuing a set of classes that aligns with their personal goals and cultivates their intellectual passions. While college admission requirements and course-specific pre-requisites still have a part to play in the decision-making process, this grants Palma Scholars more control over their educational journey.

Summer Retreats

Early each summer, the Palma Scholars cohort participates in a 4-to-7-day program retreat, focused on a project or initiative that relates to that year’s Palma Seminar work. The retreat is an opportunity for authentic hands-on learning, while also gifting the students and program director with quality time together. In 2019, the cohort traveled to Clarksdale, Mississippi to experience the Deep South, looking into blues, the civil rights movement, and criminal justice, while also volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. In past years, retreats have included traveling to Unity, Oregon to experience life in Eastern Oregon, living and working on a ranch, and also a week in Vancouver, BC to examine firsthand the impact of the 2012 Winter Olympics.

Leadership Development

The centerpiece of the leadership development programming for Palma Scholars is a customized diagnostic tool that breaks “leadership” down into component skills that can be identified, studied, and practiced. Built around Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work on emotional intelligence, this provides Palma Scholars with a rich and nuanced profile of their leadership skills while also establishing priorities for instructional coaching by the director, which occurs in both monthly one-on-one meetings and weekly cohort meetings.

Palma Scholars are also members of the school’s Leadership Council. Run by the Athletic Director, the Leadership Council focuses on the specific application of leadership within the realm of sports, helping to equip the school’s teams’ captains and Palma Scholars with the tools needed to excel in this setting. In addition, the Palma Scholars organize a monthly Leadership Speakers Series, in which community leaders from a wide variety of different fields share advice and insights with the cohort.

Community Engagement

Given that Service represents one of the program’s four pillars, Palma Scholars are expected to make a meaningful commitment to a project (or projects) of their choosing. In addition, the program has taken on a leading role in the coordination and facilitation of the Upper School’s Community Engagement program. Each year, the Palma Scholars help to identify meaningful opportunities for student engagement in Portland, promote student-led initiatives at the school, and spotlight significant accomplishments from their peers.


Who are Palma Scholars?

Academically accomplished, well-rounded students who are poised to lead and inspire others. Palma Scholars should embody each of the following characteristics:


Candidates need an academic record that places them at or near the top of their class with the potential to translate that achievement to Catlin Gabel's curriculum.


A critical component of a Palma Scholar is the individual's ability in, and dedication to, an athletic pursuit. The serious pursuit of athletics is an expectation of Palma Scholars because it is one major avenue that fosters the drive, commitment, dedication, and success the school hopes these young people will demonstrate for the rest of their lives. We define this pillar in part through its competitive and physical elements; as such, pursuits like ballet and chess - exceptionally rigorous and meritorious as they are - don't qualify. Students may participate in a sport Catlin Gabel offers or another high-level organized athletic activity outside of our offerings.

Community Engagement

Palma Scholars applicants must demonstrate an interest in issues and problems of the community and world with a corresponding service ethic and desire to create real, workable solutions.


Whether in the classroom or as a leader of a team, club, or activity, Palma Scholars must have the potential to serve as catalysts for other students. Their potential for leadership at Catlin Gabel could affect many aspects of school life as well as community, national, and international relationships.

Admission Criteria

Applicants should designate their interest in being considered for the Palma Scholars Program when they start their online application. Only students applying to 9th grade will be considered. Admission to the program will be based on both demonstrated achievement in, and potential for future development of, the program's four key characteristics as noted above. In keeping with the spirit of the program, no current or former Catlin Gabel students will be eligible to be a Palma Scholar as we attempt to broaden the reach of the school.

Finalist Process

About a dozen students are selected as finalists for the program and asked to return to campus for a full day of activities with current Palma Scholars, the Palma Scholars Program Director, and Catlin Gabel faculty. Finalists are often, but not always, offered admission to the school. Please contact Dave Whitson, Palma Scholars Program Director, at for more information on the finalist day and the selection process.


The intent of the Palma Scholarship is to honor the accomplishments of the students as well as their potential by providing funding towards Upper School tuition. The award amount each Scholar receives will depend on several factors including the number of scholars selected each year and the amount of funds available from the endowment.

Awards are typically around 25% of tuition and are renewed each year as long as students meet the expectations of the program. Additional need-based aid is available for students who require further financial support. Scholarship decision letters will outline the total Palma Scholarship award package for all four years and will be delivered with the admission decision.

Financial Assistance

Families interested in applying for need-based financial assistance above and beyond the Palma Scholarship amount should apply by the January 31, 2020 deadline. It is important that you submit your financial assistance application by this deadline or we cannot consider you for need-based assistance in addition to the scholarship.

Families will receive their total scholarship and need-based decisions along with their offer of admission. Although the amount of the Palma Scholarship will remain fixed for the duration of enrollment, the need-based portion of the award could change if a family's financial circumstances change in subsequent years.

Apply to Palma Scholars Program

How to Apply

The following items are required for applications to the Palma Scholars Program.

Student Visit

Visits for all applicants include attending classes with your host and participating in group assessment activities. Registration is available via the admission portal September through early February. 

Online Application

  • Student Information Form
  • Family Information Form
  • Questions for Parents/Guardians
  • Questions for Students
  • Writing Sample
  • Palma Scholars Addendum
  • Math Teacher Evaluation
  • English Teacher Evaluation
  • Coach-Instructor Evaluation
  • School Records

Admission Testing

Please visit our Admission Testing page for more information.

Application Checklist

Application Checklist (PDF)

Apply Online

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Take a Tour

We encourage you to visit campus early in your exploration process. Tours are highly recommended but not required. Students are welcome to attend with their parents/guardians. Registration is available via the admission portal September through early February.

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Character Skills Snapshot

You have the option of including the results from the Character Skills Snapshot in your application.

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Fee Waiver

To request a need-based application or admission test fee waiver, please complete the fee waiver request form.

Request A Waiver

Dec 19, 2019: Last day for the Early Eagle Application Discount - apply by Dec 19 for a $25 discount off the $75 application fee
Jan 4, 2020: Last SSAT testing date
Jan 8, 2020: Application deadline
Jan 17, 2020: Finalists notified
Jan 30, 2020: Finalist visit day
Jan 31, 2020: Financial assistance application deadline
Feb 7, 2020: Scholarship recipients notified
girls soccer game palma scholars program

Early Eagle Application Discount

Apply by December 19, 2019 for a $25 discount off the $75 application fee.


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