Financial aid, sacrifices launch career path

More UNC students than ever qualify for need-based aid. One is Prutha Lavani, who is traveling on a career path, thanks in part to family sacrifices. Read their stories.

Prutha’s mom grew up in India, so Prutha and her mother only had a vague idea about the American college application process when she was attending Panther Creek High School in Cary.

Urged on by a high school friend who “aimed for the Ivys,” Lavani said, she signed up for SAT and AP tests and enrolled in classes in the college prep track. “While I looked up on Google about how to apply for college, my mom was on the other side trying to figure out how to pay for it,” said Lavani, now a rising sophomore at Carolina.


Her mom, Ranjan Dhanani, is a technician in the LED lighting manufacturing division of Cree Inc. in Research Triangle Park. Divorced since Lavani was age 7, she reared her daughter and son, Mrugesh Lavani, now 15, as a single parent.

“It’s been rough. Mom is always working,” Lavani said. While her friends headed off to summer camps or special programs, Lavani took on babysitting jobs in high school and worked her senior year as a waitress. “We have to make sacrifices.”

Fortunately, her college education was not one of those sacrifices. Lavani’s UNC financial aid package of grants, student loans and work study covered her college expenses for her first year and even gave her a foot in the door for her chosen career. Her work-study assignment was as a clerical assistant at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “I am thinking about applying to pharmacy school. I am interested in the patient care aspect,” she said.

This summer, she further explored pharmacy as a career through the Carolina Pharmacy Leadership, Excellence and Development (LEAD) program. Geared toward underserved and underrepresented students who are interested in exploring a career in pharmacy, the no-cost program provides opportunities for students to meet and build relationships with leaders in the profession and to prepare for admission to pharmacy school. She will continue that preparation throughout her sophomore year with a doctor of pharmacy student mentor through the LEADership Academy Mentoring Program.

Lavani has come a long way from Googling to find out how to apply to college. This summer she took Organic Chemistry II and will take the Pharmacy College Admission Test before finding a position as pharmacy technician to gain valuable experience. It’s all part of the savvy sophomore’s strategy to apply to pharmacy school as an undergraduate instead of waiting to earn her bachelor’s degree. (Students without a baccalaureate degree may apply, but they must complete general education requirements as well as certain math and science prerequisites.)

“At LEAD, they told us that only 12 percent of the applicants accepted at the pharmacy school don’t have a four-year degree,” she said. “But if I did get accepted, that would save two years of tuition money.”

Read about other great UNC students who needed financial aid.

Published August 6, 2012.