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 Alex Dea, second-year student at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What was your most recent pre-MBA job?
Alex: I was born and raised in Rochester, New York, and went to Boston College in Chestnut Hill, to study business and theology. Upon graduation from BC, I joined Deloitte Consulting and spent three years in the Boston office. At Deloitte, I advised clients on how to use digital technology to transform their business strategy and operations. After three years at Deloitte, I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in August 2013 to attend the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler).
Accepted: Why did you choose UNC Kenan-Flagler? How would you say it was the best fit program for you? Which other schools had you considered?
Alex: First and foremost, it was the people and the culture. I visited UNC and spoke to a handful of students, faculty and administrators and walked away feeling like these were the people I would want to work with and support. Furthermore, they seemed like people who wanted and were willing to support me. People at UNC Kenan-Flagler understand that a “rising tide lifts all boats,” and when someone achieves success it can be good for everyone.
Secondly, it was the leadership opportunities. I came to business school because I wanted to accelerate my development in becoming the leader I thought I was capable of becoming and was very impressed on the leadership development opportunities at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Lastly, it was the curriculum. UNC has a robust core curriculum that I knew would allow me to hone some development areas in my business toolkit while allowing me to get depth in some of my areas of interest, such as Entrepreneurship and Marketing.
One of the things that was most important to me was finding a school where students both own and invest in the community. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always taken pride in the communities and organizations I’ve associated myself with and have invested time and energy into those communities and I wanted to go somewhere that empowered people to do just that.
As such, I really looked at schools that seemed to have strong student-driven and community-like feel. This attracted me to UNC Kenan-Flagler, UC Berkeley (Haas) and Duke University (Fuqua). All of the programs I applied to are top-notch programs with great people. While I’m very happy at UNC, I have nothing but respect and admiration with all of these schools to the point where I still stay in touch with many of the individuals I met at those respective schools. This has come in handy, especially for some of my recruiting efforts and business school activities and pursuits. You never know when a connection you make can come in handy!
Accepted: If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Alex: I think very highly of my fellow classmates, administrators, faculty and staff at UNC Kenan-Flagler. I think we can do a better job of sharing the talents, skills and gifts that we collectively possess with the outside world.
One of the nice things about being at Kenan-Flagler is it’s a very feedback-driven environment. I’ve shared some of these insights with some administrators within the program and they’ve been very receptive to my ideas and even shared some of the things they were doing to improve upon this. Sure enough, there were initiatives underway to work on this and even found opportunities for me assist in the process.
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 early on in your first year?
Alex: I think two critical concepts to business school are developing priorities and understanding opportunity cost. Business school can feel like an endless “all you can eat buffet.” There are so many great opportunities and experiences at top MBA programs – it really is overwhelming!
Developing your priorities will help you figure out which opportunities to pursue and which to ignore. You can’t do everything, but you can do a lot. Secondly, understanding opportunity cost will help you make those tough decisions. Inevitably, you’ll be given the choice to do either X or Y, both being really great options. Understanding what you give up in return for what you get is critical to evaluating opportunities that come your way, and can help you make those tough decisions. (Note: this is an ongoing process throughout your two years!)
Accepted: Where did you intern this past summer? What role did UNC play in helping you secure that position?
Alex: This past summer I interned at Salesforce.com out in San Francisco, CA. I worked on a Product Marketing team for the Salesforce1 Platform and enjoyed learning the ins and outs of life as a Product Marketer and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to work at the world’s most innovative company (as deemed by Forbes).
While I went off-campus to recruit for this position, I got some help from a UNC Kenan-Flagler Alum who worked at Salesforce and was able to give me great insight into the people, culture and business of Salesforce. Furthermore, I relied on the Alumni network at UNC Kenan-Flagler for almost every company I applied to during the recruiting process. Whether it was getting insight into the company culture, understanding what interviewers were looking for or getting honest insights about career decisions the Kenan-Flagler Alumni network played a huge role in the process.
Furthermore, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Career Management Center (CMC) was instrumental in my recruiting process. Since I did not go through the traditional on-campus recruiting channels the CMC was very helpful in connecting me to Alums but also providing me coaching and feedback as to how to handle particular situations that occurred in the recruiting process. For instance, I had the fortunate problem of getting multiple offers with quickly expiring deadlines while I was still interviewing for a role that I wanted. The CMC staff was provided great guidance in how I needed to handle that situation while maintaining professional and positive relationships with all the companies and recruiters that were involved.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the MBA admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Alex: My biggest challenge was that I was initially waitlisted at every school that I applied to. This was a tough pill to swallow, but after recognizing that I didn’t have time to sit idle I needed to take action and I needed help doing so. I was very fortunate in that I have a great network of current and former MBA students who were very familiar with the admissions process.
I’m someone who is comfortable networking and building relationships with others so I reached out to a handful of people who I thought could provide thoughtful guidance. These people were really helpful in being supportive about my situation while providing me with actionable insight on what I could do to move from the waitlist pile to the accept pile. In certain cases, they were able to directly connect me to admissions officers who gave me honest and direct guidance on what I could do to improve my odds of admission.
In the end things ended up working out, and while it was stressful it was a reminder that it’s not always but what happens, but rather, how you respond to what happens. Despite facing an uphill and daunting battle, I managed to get off the waitlist and attend a Top MBA Program of my choice.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn?
Alex: Over the years, people have given me feedback that I give great guidance and advice and communicate effectively. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write but thought I wasn’t a real “writer” so I shied away from doing anything.
Business school is about taking risks and stretching yourself, as such, I decided to take this feedback and run with it by creating a blog to share my thoughts and experiences on my MBA experience. I’ve met some incredible people and built great relationships through this experience. These people, have not only helped me learn, but have made a difference in my career. I wanted to combine all of this and share all of the knowledge, stories, experiences and thoughts so that others could learn and benefit from what I’ve gained.
So far, it’s been a very positive experience and something that I’ve enjoyed. Not only have I met great people, but I’ve also been able to reconnect with old colleagues/friends who have seen some of my work. Overall, it’s been a great learning experience and something I’ve truly enjoyed.
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You can read more about Alex’s journey by checking out his blog, A Digital Mentor. Thank you Alex for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!
• What is Business School Really Like?, interviews with current students
• Which MBA Program is Right for Me? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an MBA Program
• Waitlisted? How to Turn Your “Maybe” into a “Yes”