He was the valedictorian of his class, was crowned homecoming king, and even shook President George W. Bush's hand in 2007 as a White House Presidential Scholar, a program that recognizes two academically gifted students from each state.
He also scored a perfect 2400 on his SAT.
And yet, every Ivy League school that he applied to rejected him: Harvard, Princeton, and a special medical program at Brown. Patel also received a rejection from Stanford.
Rather than allowing these rejections to discourage him, Patel used them as motivation and parlayed his perfect SAT score into a thriving SAT test-prep company, Prep Expert, elevated in large part because of his appearance on "Shark Tank" in January 2016.
"'Shark Tank' was definitely the catalyst behind a lot of our growth at Prep Expert," Patel told Business Insider in October. "To have the exposure to 10 million people in a weekend really made a difference in our company."
While Patel founded the company in 2011, he won the backing of billionaire investor Mark Cuban on the show. The two have now partnered to bring the SAT and ACT prep course to classrooms and online. Patel received $250,000 from Cuban for a 20% stake in his company.
Before Patel went on the show, the company achieved some moderate success, doing about $1 million in sales a year. When Patel went on "Shark Tank," however, sales exploded. Since his episode aired about 10 months ago, the company has achieved $6 million in sales.
"We're doing almost 10 times the sales we used to do," Patel said. "I really believe 'Shark Tank' is the most powerful marketing engine in the world."
Now Prep Expert offers classroom instruction in 20 states across the US and online programming.
Patel's success in business wasn't always guaranteed, though. He spent his formative years in the Sky Ranch Motel, a self-proclaimed budget motel in Las Vegas that his family owned and operated as well as called their home.
"At a young age I saw, like, drug deals and prostitutes," Patel told Business Insider last year.
The motel is a source of embarrassment for his mother, he said, but Patel embraces it and doesn't try to downplay its existence in his life.
Ivy League rejections
When Patel applied to colleges, he had high hopes for acceptance into the Ivy League. But soon the rejections started to pile up.
"I do think that Asian-Americans have a disadvantage applying to college," Patel said.
Patel, who is Indian-American, was referring to both his own rejections as well as recent news stories about Asian-Americans who say they face discrimination in college applications. In fact, some admissions officers acknowledge that Asian-American applicants may have a harder time getting into top schools, as they may fall into a group of peers with relatively high test scores.
Not one to dwell on disappointments, Patel took a spot at the University of Southern California on a full scholarship.
At USC, he pursued a joint bachelor of arts/doctor of medicine program that had always piqued his interest. In high school, Patel's volunteering in the emergency department of a hospital developed into a passion for medicine and the desire to become a doctor.
The joint-degree program at USC offered a way into medical school and ensured he'd be able to realize his dream of becoming a practicing physician.
More disappointment before finding success
Patel has always been the type of person who embraces having a full plate.
"I like being busy," he said.
But "busy" seems to be a bit of an understatement.
After finishing his undergraduate studies and nearing the start of his first year in medical school, Patel wrote an SAT prep book to help students prepare for the exam using the same methods he did. But his attempts to find a publisher were unsuccessful.
One editor even went as far as to give him the brutal feedback that he didn't have an engaging personality and wasn't a great writer no matter how well he scored on the SAT.
Undaunted, Patel used the last of his scholarship money — $900 — to launch his SAT prep website, then called 2400 Expert. He advertised the SAT prep course as the only one taught by a student who earned a perfect score in high school.
The initial course ran during the summer before Patel started medical school and grew exponentially from there. He had only a handful of instructors at the time, but word caught on after his pilot course showed an average improvement per student of 376 points.
Now that the test is scored on a 1600-point scale, the average improvement for students after taking Patel's course is 210 points. That kind of improvement is unheard of in the test-prep industry, according to Patel.
After that first summer, Patel trained qualified instructors and managed the company remotely from California. And more satisfying, McGraw-Hill, one of the education publishing giants, saw the momentum 2400 Expert was gaining and offered Patel a book deal.
Patel's book "SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps" was published in July 2012.
More college aspirations
While juggling a growing SAT prep business, Patel was also studying for medical licensing board exams and taking on 36-hour surgical rotation shifts at the hospital. He still loved the medical profession, but was also highly interested in learning how to scale and grow his business.
In 2014, he decided to take a two-year leave of absence from USC to pursue business school at Yale's School of Management. He credits business school as a major reason for his current success.
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Patel said. "If I wasn't in business school, I wouldn't have made that hour-and-a-half trip from Yale to New York to go to that 'Shark Tank' audition."
Patel earned his MBA from Yale in May and has reenrolled in the fourth year of his medical program at USC. Still, his sights are set on continuing to grow Prep Expert, the name his company took on in 2016. He aims to make Prep Expert one of the largest test prep providers in the country.
Those are lofty goals for someone currently applying for a residency programs — in his case, a dermatology residency. Patel, however, has no plans of slowing down, and is currently writing a book with Cuban that teaches kids how to start their own business.
"We want to foster entrepreneurship in kids," Patel said.
Shaan Patel on Shark Tank (Disney/ABC Television Group)
The newly redesigned SAT is nearly upon us, with the first administration set for March 5. There are major changes to the exam, which goes from three parts to two (math and a combined language and writing with an optional essay), is 45 minutes shorter and has shifted its focus from an emphasis on general reasoning skills to knowledge and skills.
Here are some tips for taking the new SAT from a test prep expert named Shaan Patel, who is the founder of Prep Expert Test Prep (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep book author and an MD/MBA student at Yale and the University of Southern California. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class. He recently went on ABC’s Shark Tank and secured a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban for $250,000 in exchange for 20 percent equity in Prep Expert in order to expand the company’s SAT and ACT prep classes to 20 cities and online.
The College Board, which owns the SAT, insisted for years that the college entrance exam was not coachable, or that if it was, improvements were never better than slight. But now the organization has gotten itself in the test prep business itself, entering into a partnership with the online Khan Academy for free SAT help.
[Something you should know about the new SAT]
By Shaan Patel
Many students are taking the redesigned New SAT that comes out on March 5th. For the first time in over a decade, the College Board is making some major changes to the SAT, including going back to a 1600-point scale (instead of 2400). Here are some last-minute prep tips for this new test:
(1) SAT General Strategy: Don’t Flip Back & Forth — Most students approach standardized tests by circling the correct answer in the test booklet, flipping to the answer sheet and bubbling in the answer, and then returning to the test booklet to tackle the next question. This is not the most efficient approach because it wastes time and interrupts the flow of the test. To save time and decrease interruptions, only flip to the answer sheet after you have answered an entire page of questions in your test booklet. For example, if there are five SAT questions on one page of the test booklet, don’t flip to the answer sheet to bubble-in answers until you’ve circled the correct answer to those five questions on that page of the test booklet first. In addition, answering an entire page of SAT questions will increase your confidence to tackle the next page of SAT questions.
(2) SAT Math Strategy: SAP — Substitute Answers in Problem — You can avoid algebra altogether on the SAT Math section when there are variables in the question and numbers in the answer choices. Simply plug in the numbers from the answer choices back into the original algebraic equation to see if the problem works out fine. This strategy is especially effective on the new radioactive decay and exponential growth problems on the New SAT.
(3) SAT Reading Strategy: BOSS — Build (Your) Own Simple Solution — This is the key to unlocking the SAT Reading section. Create your own answer before looking at the answer choices. In order to avoid peeking, cover answer choices with your hand. BOSS solves the biggest problem associated with the SAT section: selecting enticing, but incorrect answer choices. Imagine going on a treasure hunt without knowing what the treasure looks like. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then it’s hard to find the right item. Similarly, reading through answer choices without knowing what you’re looking for can make it hard to find the right answer. BOSS is like having a picture of the treasure!
(4) SAT Writing Strategy: COP — Cross Out Prepositions — Grammar errors are almost never in prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases only distract you from grammar errors. You can remember many prepositions by thinking of anything a squirrel can do to a log (ex. in, on, out, under, etc.). To quickly identify writing errors, cross out prepositions. By focusing on the simplified sentence that does not contain prepositional phrases, you will be able to identify grammatical writing errors more easily. For example, let’s examine the following sentence:
“Until it is managed by a new, more effective, and more understanding administration, the teachers will continue to strike.”
The pronoun mismatch error between “it” and “teachers” becomes much more apparent when you ignore the prepositional phrase “by a new, more effective and more understanding administration.”
“Until it is managed, the teachers will continue to strike.”
(5) SAT Essay Strategy: Essay Templates — Although the essay section is technically optional, many competitive colleges will require students to submit their New SAT score with the essay. The New SAT requires students to write an analysis essay based on an argumentative passage that they read. To have a competitive advantage over other students, develop a pre-formed essay template that will work for almost any argumentative passage you read on test day. Templates will not only help you write unbelievably powerful essays, but also save you a lot of time other students would waste on test day. SAT graders can’t score your essay lower even if they know you’re using a template because the SAT is a standardized test. Because the SAT is a standardized test, essay graders must give standardized scores. This means that if you write an essay that is very similar to a perfect-score essay, then you too must get a perfect score. Otherwise, the scores would no longer be comparable, which would ruin the whole point of a standardized exam.
Here is the template for the introduction paragraph that we teach at Prep Expert:
“In [Article Title], [Author Name] synthesizes a compelling dissertation that [Passage’s Key Point]. Although some detractors may believe [What Detractors Believe], the arguments set forth in the article dismiss such romantic critics as excessively dogmatic in their provincial ideology. One of the broader notions presented in the essay is that [Major Idea in Article]. [Author’s Last Name] deftly delivers a cogent argument to sway his/her readers by [3 CREW SAID Tools].”
Here’s how a student could use our introduction essay template when analyzing a passage about the humanities.
In “The Enduring Value of a Humanities Education,” Jane Smith synthesizes a compelling dissertation that knowledge relating to the humanities is indispensable to the progress of society. Although some detractors may believe the advancement of education strictly focused on technology is key to national development, the arguments set forth in the article dismiss such romantic critics as excessively dogmatic in their provincial ideology. One of the broader notions presented in the essay is that an education in the humanities magnifies a person’s versatility to be a productive member of society. Smith deftly delivers a cogent argument to sway her readers by citing prominent authorities, implying broad repercussions, and using stark contrast.
The above represents just five of the 100 strategies that we teach in our New SAT courses at Prep Expert (formerly 2400 Expert).