At Scholarship America, we’re committed to helping students start and finish their postsecondary education. Programs like the Scholarship America Dream Award provide impactful, renewable awards that keep students on track to complete their degrees. And our national Dollars for Scholars network brings together more than 500 affiliates that support local students through hometown awards, financial aid training and other opportunities. It’s these efforts – and more – that make a tangible difference for students, now and in their future ambitions.Take Shaan Patel. As one of many students who benefited from Scholarship America awards, Shaan parlayed his own dedication to students into a successful SAT test prep company, Prep Expert. You may have seen Shaan featured on the hit reality show Shark Tank, where he secured the investment of “shark” Mark Cuban to expand Prep Expert (formerly 2400 Expert) across the U.S.
Today, Shaan is pursuing his dual interests in medicine and business as an MD candidate at the University of Southern California and an MBA candidate at Yale’s School of Management. His inspiring story – from growing up in a Las Vegas motel to thriving as an entrepreneur – has been chronicled by a variety of national publications. Shark Tank may have provided a big boost to Prep Expert’s visibility, but Shaan’s hard work started long before then – including lessons learned from applying to scholarships.
“Back in high school, I was applying to both college and scholarships,” Shaan said. “I knew I wanted to become a physician, and, specifically, to apply to medical school. But I also knew that college and medical school would be very expensive.” According to Shaan, scholarships would play a critical role in taking care of his tuition as an undergrad, so that med school could be a reality in the future. In total, Shaan applied to about 100 scholarships and received nearly two dozen of them, ranging from local awards to prestigious national ones, including the Coca-Cola Scholars Program and USA Today All-USA High School Academic Team.
Throughout this time, Shaan learned an important tip. “One thing I realized after doing the whole scholarship application process was this secret: to apply for local scholarships, meaning those in my city and state. I primarily won those open in my area. That was very helpful to know. I think that would’ve saved a lot of time,” he said, instead of focusing so heavily on national programs.
Doing research on programs, taking time to craft top essays, staying involved as a student – these are all principles that helped Shaan in business, too. Applying to scholarships, he said, “has been very insightful and informative in how we run business today. When I was in high school applying for scholarships, you really had to sell yourself on paper. In the same way, in business, it’s what I’m doing today: selling courses, doing all that an entrepreneur has to do. That idea – communicating in the best way possible to get your message across – is still very relevant.”
All the work of securing scholarships paid off and shaped the trajectory of Shaan’s future. With his undergraduate education paid for, the decision to pursue medical school and entrepreneurship was much easier. “Scholarships helped me a lot,” he said. “They allowed me to focus on studies and entrepreneurial endeavors. I would’ve had to reconsider my entire career if it weren’t for scholarships.” Instead, Shaan was able to eventually secure an SAT prep book deal and build his own course around it – the beginnings of Prep Expert.
For Shaan, having a successful start-up didn’t deter his motivations for attending college. In fact, the experience was beneficial for a variety of reasons: college provided a place to incubate new ideas, engage with peers and learn more about himself in the process. The opportunity to explore was a huge help to him. “I think college is very, very important as an entrepreneur or otherwise,” he said. “It lets you figure out what you need to do. It lets you explore a lot of different classes. Those are very important in your own career. I’d say to any student entrepreneur: Go to college. You can always work on your entrepreneurial endeavor as a student. That way, you’re not risking not getting a college degree while working on a business that may not work out.”
It’s advice that Shaan has shared with students he meets, especially through Prep Expert. He recognizes that his opportunities have been rare, and not to be taken for granted, so his giving back continues – allowing other students to pursue their dreams as well.