While the rest of us were busy perfecting our whipped coffee recipe, memorizing every dance on Tik Tok, and binge watching Tiger King during our time home from school this Spring, junior Rhea Saggi (W’ 22) was launching a startup company from her living room.
Rhea, a Wharton student studying finance and management with a specialization in entrepreneurship and innovation, started CommonScholarshipApp in an effort to make scholarship opportunities more widely accessible for students applying to college. The website will officially launch in early November, at which time students will have access to the universal scholarship application system.
The idea was born out of Rhea’s recognition of the time–consuming and unethical nature of the current scholarship application system, and her desire to change it. “I want to make applying for scholarships so easy that even students who were never planning on looking at scholarships do so on CommonScholarshipApp, just because it’s so easy that why not do it?”
Rhea adds that the current process for finding scholarships that students are eligible for is extremely time consuming. In other words, there is no 'system.' Scholarship applications are fragmented, meaning that students can't simply take the information that they’ve just filled out for one application and transfer it to another. CommonScholarshipApp fills this need—after filling out a single profile, students will be able to one–click apply to as many scholarships as they want.
In addition, Rhea notes that she is seeking to rectify the unethical practices of current scholarship companies, many of which pedal students' information to student loan companies and other financial service companies that target people emerging into adulthood.
“I don’t think that many kids understand how valuable their data is to financial service companies and banks. Many of the students applying for scholarships will also be looking to take out a student loan, buy a car, or buy a house in the more distant future. A lot of kids don’t realize where their information is going. At the end of the day it isn’t what’s good for the students, and it’s just not ethical to me.” CommonScholarshipApp guarantees that students’ data will never be put in the hands of anyone other than the scholarship committees.
“The students always come first.”
Much of Rhea’s motivation comes from her desire for every student to be able to pursue their dreams as she has. Rhea is a first–generation American—both of her parents came to America from India. She describes the day she got into Wharton as the best day of her father’s life, as it showed him all that he was able to achieve for his children in just one generation. Rhea recognizes that many other families feel the same way.
“When you’re accepted to the college of your dreams, your family will bend over backwards and sacrifice anything in order for you to attend. If that means signing a dotted line saying that you’ll pay XYZ amount in five years, you’re going to sign.”
While other people her age spend their days catching up on the Call Her Daddy tea and stressing over how long they should wait to reply to their new hookup’s snapchat, Rhea is simultaneously juggling an Ivy League education and starting a company.
“It’s become nothing short of my entire life, trying to find a way to minimize the ramifications of student debt.”
One look at Rhea’s weekly routine makes this fact evident. Rhea spends her weekdays at her home in New Jersey working on the App; she organizes her schedule in order to be done with classes by 12 p.m. or 1 p.m., then proceeds to lead meetings with her team over Zoom until around 3:30 p.m.. After this, she works tirelessly the rest of her day completing whatever other work is necessary for the growing startup. She remarks that no two days are ever the same, and each brings a new obstacle that she has to overcome.
Through all of her hard work, Rhea is hoping to help students lead the lives that they’ve always dreamed of, without having to suffer from student debt as a result.
“I think the main thing that I want to iterate is that this has been the most humbling experience of my entire life. If I can help just one kid take on less student debt because of what I’m doing, then I’ve succeeded.”