My Path to Business School: Reflections from an MBA1

 Lee Axelrod is an MBA1 who will be interning in brand management at Bazooka Candy Brands this summer. Lee serves as the co-president of Stern Cellar and the VP of Knowledge Management for the Gradate Marketing Association. She is specializing in Marketing and Strategy. 

 

 

 

As my first year at Stern is coming to a close, it feels like a good time to reflect on my experience and how I got here. During my initial weeks on campus, I would often pause in astonishment as I realized that I was actually in an MBA program. Until a few years ago, it had never occurred to me that I could go to business school, so occasionally I would be amazed that I’m really here. However, as the weeks passed and I got more accustomed to my new lifestyle, I acclimated to the experience of being an MBA student and started taking for granted all of the incredible opportunities that I have at Stern. So now I want to take a step back and focus on why I’m here and how grateful I am that I ended up in business school.

Growing up, I was always passionate about reading and art, so it’s not surprising that I chose to major in English and Studio Art in college. I went to Stanford for undergrad and while I valued the opportunity to take classes in a variety of disciplines, I mostly stuck to the arts and humanities during my time there. I became so enthralled with literature that I even decided to apply for a master’s program in English at Stanford, which I completed in one year after finishing my bachelor’s degree. At the time, I was considering getting a Ph.D and going into academia, so pursuing a master’s seemed like a good way to determine if a Ph.D would actually be the right fit for me. I quickly realized that academia was not where I belonged. While I still loved reading, analyzing texts, and writing papers, I hated sitting alone in my apartment all day. I craved human interaction and I really wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. After I finished my degree, I eagerly left academia and sought real-world employment.

When I left school, I was determined to work in an industry that I was passionate about. After searching for a while, I finally landed a job at a small publishing company in San Francisco as a sales and marketing assistant. The publishing world seemed like a great fit for me: it was full of smart, intellectual people who also loved books. I learned a lot in my first role and wanted to broaden my publishing experience, so after a year I moved to Wiley, a large academic publishing company. I started in their San Francisco office as a Sales Support Coordinator, working with our textbook sales reps. 

While I was at Wiley, I discovered that I enjoyed corporate life a lot more than I expected. I performed well in my first job, and within a year I was promoted to manage the team as a Sales Support Supervisor. I moved from the San Francisco office to the Hoboken, New Jersey headquarters for the position. Becoming a manager introduced many new challenges, but I loved being able to make important decisions and lead my team on key projects. In my first year as a manager, it occurred to me that I might appreciate having more senior roles in the future, and that one way to advance my career would be to get an MBA.

Although MBAs are common in many industries, they are quite rare in publishing. I only knew one or two colleagues who had gone to business school, so I had very few role models to look up to when considering this new career path. However, I did have several friends from Stanford who had since gone to business school, so I reached out to them to ask about their experience. I was concerned that an MBA program wouldn’t be a good fit for me; after all, I had avoided taking math and econ classes in college and I knew nothing about finance or accounting. I also didn’t know many people who had worked in banking or consulting and I felt that I might not fit in well with hundreds of students who had a vastly different professional experience from mine. I also thought that business students would be competitive, aggressive, elitist, or just bro-y. 

However, my Stanford friends assured me that their business school classmates did not fit the stereotype that I had envisioned. In fact, they told me that MBA students were a lot like Stanford students: smart, ambitious, and eager to work hard and play hard. Above all, they emphasized that MBA students weren’t elitist—they were just regular people hoping to advance their careers. And they said that business school wasn’t as competitive as I was imagining, and that business students did look out for each other and support one another. 

After thinking over all of this for a year or so, I finally decided to take the GMAT and apply to business school. I was still pretty hesitant about whether this plan would work out. For one thing, I wasn’t sure if I would get into any business schools—maybe they wouldn’t think I was a good fit. Once I started applying to business schools, I felt better about my prospects, but several early visits to MBA programs left me questioning my choice again as I wondered about the student community. Some schools still felt too competitive for me, and while I was eager to advance my career, I questioned whether I would make any friends in the process. However, the community at Stern felt different than my other on-campus visits—students seemed really supportive of each other, and I met other students from non-traditional backgrounds who were thriving. So when I got accepted to Stern and later decided to attend, I still had a few doubts but overall was fairly confident in my choice. 

I can now say that business school has been even better than I expected in all possible ways. First, the career opportunities and recruiting process have hugely exceeded my expectations. Stern provides so much support throughout the process, both from the Office of Career Development and from the professional clubs. I feel completely guided in my recruiting journey, rather than left to fend for myself. Second, the core classes in my first semester were more interesting and relevant than I’d anticipated, and I didn’t struggle with the quantitative courses as I had feared I would. The professors and TAs are really helpful, but beyond that, my fellow classmates are unbelievably supportive. When working on a group project or just a homework assignment, they have always helped me if I didn’t understand something—which happened less often than I thought it would.

Lastly and most importantly, the community at Stern is truly amazing. My classmates aren’t competitive—they’re really collaborative, both in the classroom and in the recruiting process. Best of all, I have met many incredible people at Stern and have made real friendships here. I never thought that I would connect deeply to so many people in a business school, but I do feel that I have meaningful relationships with many Stern classmates. There are a lot of other people here from non-traditional backgrounds, but even those coming from finance or consulting are friendly, caring, and fun to hang out with. Contrary to my expectations, they aren’t aggressive or elitist—they’re just regular people trying to advance their career and learn about business, like I am. Ultimately, I’ve realized that we all have a lot in common and we’re all working together to achieve our goals, which is what makes the Stern community so incredible. 

How Sternies “Pay It Forward”

Jeff Battipaglia is a current MBA2 who spent his summer internship working on the Strategy team at BNY Mellon. Jeff is a Co-President of Stern’s Military Veterans Club and VP of Community Services within Student Government. He is specializing in finance and strategy.

 

 

 

In the spring of 2017, I first stepped foot on NYU Stern’s Washington Square Park campus. My close friend’s cousin, Joe Deane (Stern ‘17), had been communicating with me for several months about the program and his career ambitions after graduation. I am pretty good friends with Joe, and so I was not in the least bit surprised to hear him speak highly of Stern and emphasize how much of a great learning (and fun) experience he was having while at school. At the time, I was transitioning out of the Marine Corps, and so Joe was quick to introduce me to a few military veteran friends of his on campus. My fortuitous connection to Joe, and subsequently  Ian Merry (‘17) and Kris Kesting (‘17), were major factors in my decision to attend business school here and join the collegial, supportive and community-focused student body at NYU Stern. 

When I arrived for my visit, I was immediately struck by how friendly classmates were to each other and to visitors as they shuffled about KMC during their busy days of classes and recruiting. I soon realized that this excitement about Stern exhibited by Joe, Ian and Kris was ubiquitous all over campus, and it resonated with me in terms of a school fit. Joe was extremely knowledgeable and helpful in explaining the recruiting process, particularly in the finance/banking arena, and its role in selecting an MBA program to attend. Ian and Kris provided great insight and personal lessons learned during their respective transitions out of the military and how the Military Veterans Club at Stern is unique compared to other schools’ veterans clubs. Their unsolicited friendship and enthusiasm for Stern was not lost on me, and after that visit, I knew that 44 W. 4th St. was where I wanted to be for the next two years. 

After matriculating in the summer of 2018, I knew that my responsibilities as a Sternie would extend beyond the classroom and career corporate presentations. I desired to be an ambassador for the school and an advocate for applicants, much like the gentlemen described above were to me. The notion of “paying it forward” was never explicitly mentioned to me, but rather became a sort of innate feeling once enrolled at Stern. Although much of my first year was focused on academics and internship/career opportunities, those prioritized efforts have afforded me time and resources during my second year to pursue activities that support Stern and the greater community. I currently serve as a co-president for the Military Veterans Club, and also as a Student Government vice president with the Community Service team. Additionally, I work in the admissions office as a “graduate ambassador,” connecting with prospective students and helping describe Stern, its mission, and the application process.

Attending NYU Stern has afforded me the opportunity to earn a world-class business school education, to make new life-long friendships, and to pursue my career ambitions with conviction and confidence. Like Joe, Ian and Kris, paying it forward to future Sternies is easy to me. Promoting and supporting this school is simple when one’s passion and purpose are aligned into the bigger picture of what Stern is all about. 

 

Block 2, I Love You

When you first start business school, you can’t necessarily comprehend the extent to which you will bond with your classmates and your blockmates in particular. It has now been five months since I first met this astonishingly diverse group of people, and I am reluctant to imagine what my life would have been like had Stern not brought us together in this one place at this one time.

Before school started, there were some self-organized gatherings. The air was warm, the days were still long, and the trees in nearby Washington Square Park were lush and green. Around the corner from Stern, 10 to 20 of us would meet up for Happy Hour and talk about what had become our pasts—where we grew up, where we last lived, what job we just quit (or still needed to quit).

I’m a born-and-raised New Yorker but was returning home from a three-year stint in Los Angeles, where I worked as a script reader, screenwriter, and director’s assistant. Many people had been living and working in the city in various occupations. Some grew up in the States, yet others were from places as far away as Taiwan and New Delhi—one had gotten off the plane just a day before, and his wife had yet to join him!

It wasn’t until LAUNCH when I met my block (Block 2!) in its entirety, all 67 of us. I was pleasantly surprised at how genuinely kind and down-to-earth everyone was (Stern definitely has the IQ+EQ thing down pat), but at that point, I still had no idea to what lengths we would go to befriend and support one another.

01-01---Starbucks

On an average night.

Fast forward past midterms, during which my blockmates and I took over the Starbucks Lounge even more so than we usually do (see above) to study together. Fast forward past a brutal recruiting season, during which we’d check in on each other and post silly things in the group messenger app to keep morale up. Fast forward to “Blocksgiving,” when a random bunch of us (and a few partners) came together before the weekend was over, on the eve of dozens of summer internship application deadlines, to share a homemade meal with each other.

01-02---Blocksgiving

At Stern no less.

Skip ahead to the last day of classes, when half of us celebrated by running down the street from Stern to our unofficial block watering hole and catching up with each other into the night. Then jump ahead one day, when we rallied together the next morning in a last-minute push to donate to Stern’s Toys for Tots Drive. I’m proud to say the effort was especially rewarding, for in addition to doing good, as the block with the highest participation we were awarded enough block points to clinch the Block Points Championship for the semester.

At this point I’m bragging, but how could I not? And don’t get me wrong—there are amazing people in the other five blocks too. But as I recall from Blocksgiving, sitting in a room at Stern with good company, laughing and trying not to choke on apple crumble and coconut cream pie, I thought to myself what I was thankful for, and my current situation came to mind.

I am thankful for Stern, for giving me the chance to challenge myself and to be among people who are brilliant in both heart and mind. I am thankful for my block for being the best block so thoughtful, supportive, fun, and hilarious, truly (I could go on about our beer receivables and sock puppies but I don’t think you’d get it, sorry!). And I am thankful for these moments, now memories, shared by the lot of us, a wonderful group that would have had little reason to ever come together had we not been given the opportunity that we have now.

And as we come back from break, we hope you had the:

01-03---Holidays-redact

Hello, My Name is…

Hey everyone,

My name is Jon, and I am a second-year full-time MBA student here at NYU Stern, and I am excited to begin blogging for you! I look forward to sharing my experiences as you continue to determine which MBA journey you want to pursue, as well as continually giving you insight into what it’s like to be Sternie.

First, a brief introduction! I am originally from Jamaica, but was raised in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. I decided to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go Heels!), where I studied marketing. After graduating from UNC, I worked at a leading consumer packaged goods company for five years in their sales division as part of a management rotational program. Although I gained invaluable experience over those years, I knew my true passion was to pursue the function I studied in college. I also knew that I wanted to pair this functional interest with my lifelong passion for sports – I grew up as a competitive soccer player, and am genuinely intrigued with the business of sports.

So this brought me to Stern! Why? For a couple of reasons:

  1. I mainly targeted b-schools that had programs which touched the sports & entertainment fields, and NYU Stern has one of the leading Entertainment MBA programs in the country. Seeing as how sports typically falls into the “entertainment bucket”, I believed this would be a great opportunity for me to take advantage of a curriculum that was tailored to my interests.
  2. I knew that in order to break into sports, I also had to be in a city that afforded me ample networking opportunities. New York City is the central hub for this industry (as for many other industries), and attending an MBA program in such a location would open many doors for me. I have already had the chance to set up coffee chats with industry professionals at major sports leagues (at their World HQ), as well as conduct a student consulting project for Whistle Sports Network.  Opportunities like these would not be possible at other leading business schools, simply because of their locations.
  3. I also wanted to attend a school where I saw myself fitting into the culture. I targeted schools with small to medium class sizes, and atmospheres that fostered collaboration rather than intense competitiveness. I wanted to immerse myself in a community where students were genuinely interested in learning about their classmates and their life stories, as opposed to only what careers they’re seeking. I visited Stern and interacted with alumni a number of times before applying, and each time this sort of culture transcended through all touch points.

Now I am in my second year, with only one more semester left to go….noooo!!!! That said, I am in a very fortunate position in that I have already accepted a full-time offer to begin working for PepsiCo as an Associate Marketing Manager. I interned with PepsiCo last summer as a MBA Marketing Intern on the Gatorade brand. It was an amazing opportunity to work at the intersection of brand and sport – thus addressing exactly why I came back to pursue an MBA in the first place. So far, things are falling into place perfectly.

I can’t wait to continue sharing my experiences with you as I wrap up my “senior year”! Until my next post, I hope everyone enjoys the Thanksgiving holiday next week!

Signing off,

Jon

Personal Life Meets Stern

While many of my classmates spent their spring breaks in far off exotic locations, I decided to take a more localized, educational approach to my week off. As I may have mentioned in an earlier blog, I am in a distance relationship. Aside from my personal desire to remain as debt-free as possible (and not spend money on a vacation), I preferred to spend time with my boyfriend over the break and visit with some college friends in Washington, DC. As we toured the monuments and museums, I reflected on my choice to have a quieter spring break than many of my classmates. While I was admittedly somewhat jealous of their travels, I knew I’d made the right decision for myself – one my fellow Sternies had even encouraged me when I grappled with the choice. Again, my friends here serve as more than just classroom comrades. They are advisors and confidants.

One of the things that struck me most when I began at Stern was the number of people in committed relationships. We instantly found common ground and were able to openly share about the challenges of balancing our new lives in business school with our loved one. Make no mistake, it is challenging. There are tradeoffs for sure, but I have seen the way the Stern community is willing to adopt partners. I was concerned that my desire to sometimes spend time with my boyfriend over my classmates would cause a social stigma. Instead, I find that they encourage me to do so. My cohorts understand that business school, even without classes on Fridays, does not make it easy for my boyfriend and I to spend time together. As I agonized over how to spend my spring break, my friends listened and sympathized with my dilemma.

I know there are many horror stories about relationships going awry in business school, and trust me, some do. But if there is one thing that surprised me about Stern, it’s that my classmates, single or otherwise, support me far beyond the classroom and workspace. Given the big transition that business school is for any couple, I must say that Stern has made my relationship more manageable than I anticipated. Even the career counselors helped me determine my recruiting timeline so that I could plan our anniversary. Not to be sappy, but the support of the Stern community for my relationship warms my heart.

Inside the Stern Community

As the application process is just about winding down, we have had the opportunity to meet and talk with so many prospective students over the past few months.  I thought I would use this blog post to answer one of the most popular questions I have received from many of you and give you another peak into what makes NYU Stern such an awesome place to be.

Something that stands out about Stern and has made this experience truly incredible, surpassing all of my expectations of business school, is the Stern community. I can honestly say I have never met such a diverse group of brilliant, talented, friendly people! Shout out to my fellow classmates – YOU. GUYS.  ARE. AWESOME.

Everyone here at Stern is extremely collaborative, whether we are working together on a project for the Stern Consulting Corps, coming up with a new business idea for our Digital Strategy class project or studying together for a much dreaded accounting midterm.  Each day I continue to be impressed with my classmates’ desire to help one another out.  I have never once felt in competition with my classmates or that anyone was looking out for anything other than my very best interest. I have made friendships that I know will last a lifetime, expanded my network to an incredible group of people and really feel like Stern is a community that I will always be able to call home.

During the month of January while I was a first year I participated in Mock Madness, a recruiting even hosted by the GMA {Graduate Marketing Association}. Mock madness was a full week where my fellow classmates and I prepped each other for interviews, spending countless hours mock interviewing each other, sharing feedback and helping each other present their absolute best selves for their interviews. This is a shining example of how the Stern community truly pulls together in an “us against the world” mentality. Despite the fact that we were all interviewing for some of the same companies and the same internships, it never once felt like a competition.

This speaks not just to my fellow students but to the professors and faculty here at Stern as well. I have found that all of my professors are extremely accessible and their door is always open (as long as you can find their office) to help with questions about the class, share advice on projects or just generally chat about interesting issues. It is a rare thing to be in the presence of so many brilliant minds and I have made sure to take full advantage of the opportunity.

If you haven’t already, I would encourage all of you to come and visit us for a tour, class visit or just a casual chat with our Graduate Ambassadors as you will get a great feel for what the Stern community is really all about!

Until next time,

Kristin