This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Chris Alexander, a student at NYU Stern’s Langone Part-Time MBA program.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold any other degrees?
Chris: There’s a growing subset of the New York population who become affected, deeply and emotionally, when they hear the words “In-N-Out Burger.” They’re called Californians, and I’m one of them.
I grew up in Camarillo, a city in Southern California known for its legendary outlet mall. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz where I studied Studio Art with an emphasis on metal sculpture. Many nights I would work late in the metal studio and emerge when the sun came up, exhausted and dreary-eyed with dozens of burns from running a MIG welder all night. You’re supposed to suffer for your art, right? Bronze and steel were my favorite mediums, and were a huge source of inspiration for me because I knew that the result of my work would be a piece of art that could last thousands of years.
I moved to New York City in 2008 for graduate school and got my Master of Arts in Graphic Communications Management and Technology from the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. It was great to be surrounded by other craftspeople (designers, illustrators and photographers) that were all in the program for the same reason: to develop the vital skills needed to translate your art into real-world value with a dollar amount behind it.
After graduating with my M.A., I partnered with a current MBA student to enter the New Venture Competition at the NYU Stern School of Business. We had an idea to create a location-based craft beer bar discovery app (Think: Yelp + Pandora for craft beer enthusiasts). The competition itself was an intense experience and much more than just a pitch-off. It was months of marketing, finance and legal workshops, and exclusive unfiltered advice from some heavy-hitter VCs. We got eliminated about halfway into the competition, but in the end it was a truly priceless experience.
As I was not an MBA student at the time, this was a key moment that taught me two things: 1) My understanding of accounting, data analysis and start-up law was embarrassing, and 2) I absolutely needed to acquire those skills in order to be content with my professional self.
So I applied to the NYU Stern Langone Part-Time MBA and began in Fall 2012.
Accepted: What is your favorite non-school book?
Chris: I’ve grown the most from books that teeter on the edge between biography and business – the stories of people who have taken strategic risks, overcome adversity and held tightly – sometimes stubbornly – to the chance of seeing their dreams manifest in a very real way. Some of my favorites are Nothing is Impossible by Christopher Reeves, Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson, Onward by Howard Schultz and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. They’re all very inspiring stories with awesome life and business lessons.
Accepted: What year are you in at NYU Stern’s Langone Part-Time MBA program?
Chris: I’ll be heading into my third year in the program starting Fall 2014.
Accepted: Why did you decide to go part-time at Stern? What are the advantages and disadvantages of going this route?
Chris: The main reason I chose the part-time program was that, as an employee of New York University, I get a very generous tuition remission benefit. So from a financial and strategic perspective, this was simply the choice that made sense for me.
The biggest advantage of a part-time program is the opportunity to develop your academic knowledge in parallel with your professional skills. I know it sounds like a cliché sound byte from a recruitment video (I know because I worked in college admissions for seven years!) but I would actually learn new techniques in a Monday night class that I could pitch to my boss and begin implementing at work later that same week. This not only equipped me with fresh ideas at work, but it also helped me develop a keen sense of which lessons would be professionally applicable in the immediate term and which lessons were more suited for my long term development.
The very real disadvantage is that part-time programs simply take longer to complete. (I suppose there’s a hidden silver lining because one has more time to absorb the b-school experience.) But part-time programs require a real commitment to stay motivated for 3 or 4 years, despite all of the curveballs that work and personal life throws at you.
Accepted: What’s your favorite class so far?
Chris: Digital Marketing with Professor Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) was the most professionally applicable class for me thus far. Galloway leads the business intelligence agency L2 Think Tank, and brought a wealth of cutting edge industry insights and fantastic guest speakers to the class.
Accepted: Why did you choose Stern? What’s your favorite thing about the program? Least favorite thing?
Chris: The primary reason I chose NYU Stern was because it’s very highly ranked among part-time MBA programs (#4 according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 ranking, surpassed only by Haas, Booth and Kellogg).
My favorite aspect of the program is having a community of smart, driven working professionals as classmates. There’s a shared understanding of how much everyone is sacrificing to be in this program, and a real respect for each other’s time. We don’t have the luxury of spending excess time on non-critical activities. People really cut the fluff and get down to business, and I like that.
My least favorite aspect of the program is that I wish there was a bit more representation from folks who are laser-focused on digital marketing and entrepreneurship. Finance is just such a dominant force at NYU Stern – as it should be given the location – but at times I struggled to fit in with a classroom full of investment bankers and stock traders. Though once I start taking more higher-level electives I’m sure that dynamic will change.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What do you wish you would’ve known just before entering?
Chris: Definitely! Here are three nuggets of wisdom I wish I had known before starting the program:
1. Get to know what campus resources are available to you before getting swamped by readings, case studies and group projects. Once the semester starts, the pace and workload ramps up and doesn’t slow down. Even basic things were super helpful to know such as the location of printers, how to reserve study rooms or where to find coffee at odd hours.
2. Research professors ahead of time. Your class experience can range from mediocre to life-changing depending on the professor’s passion, background and teaching style. I constantly ask other students about their favorite professors, and keep a Google Doc with a running list for future reference.
3. Know what YOU want to get out of the MBA experience. In a part-time program, time is definitely your most limited resource, so have a real strategy going in. Academically, what do you want your skill-set to look like upon graduating? Personally, what kinds of relationships do you want to make and what types of people do you need in your network?
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the MBA admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Chris: The most challenging part of the NYU Stern admissions process was the “personal expression” essay that prompts you to “describe yourself to your MBA classmates.” There are virtually zero constraints on the actual medium of the essay. Some applicants submit audio recordings, paintings, digital creations and everything in between.
But every challenge is an opportunity in disguise, or at least that’s how I approached it. This was my chance to differentiate myself and show them something unique. I consider myself to be a talented visual communicator, so I designed a huge infographic poster displaying key moments of my personal and professional development. Each moment became a node in a web of experiences that were color-coded, categorized and charted across the years of my life.
Accepted; Can you tell us about your resume writing email course?
Chris: As a personal project, I’ve been working on designing an online resource to help college students and recent grads beef up their resumes in preparation for finding a job. It’s called the Kickass Resume Course and it’s a free self-guided email course that walks students through a range of lessons from basic visual design principles to crafting a narrative around your work experience to quantifying your achievements.
In my eight years of working in higher education I’ve reviewed hundreds of student resumes and have interviewed many students for various jobs. I’ve met some super-sharp, ambitious students who didn’t get hired because they came in with lackluster resumes and zero interviewing skills. So I’ve packaged everything I’ve learned and observed over the years into this email course. It’s a way for me to give back and help other students get a boost during their first job interviews.
Students can sign up at www.kickassresumecourse.com. It’s always free and (hopefully) always awesome!
For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages. For specific advice on how to create the best application for NYU Stern, check out our NYU Stern 2015 MBA Essay Tips.
Thank you Chris for sharing your story with us!