Akhil Chopra completed an MS in strategic management and design with 70% scholarship over 2 years. Akhil is a co founder and creative director of Bored Markers, a visual communication design firm
How did you choose Design? Did you always want to enter this field?
I first wanted to enter BBA and missed the exam. I come from a business family and it was the natural choice to enter that. Ended up in a Mass Communication course and enjoyed that. During my under graduation, we had subjects like graphic design and advertising, that’s where the interest started and I knew at the end of the course I wanted to do design.
Did you always want to go to Parsons?
I wanted to go to School of Visual Arts in New York, which is more focused on visual design programs. Parsons I always thought was more into fashion. Parsons, Pratt, California institute of arts and School of Visual Arts are the ones I applied to. School of Visual Arts was always my aim but I also wanted something that had to business and the functionality of design.
California college of arts has an MBA attached to it which was more enticing because I was keen to get into a Business orientation course. Get the best of both worlds, since I had a talent for design and an inclination towards business.
What’s your favorite thing about Parsons?
The faculty: professors were designers and businessmen. We had a professor, Sean Nelson- founder of Lovesac– recently had an initial public offering that raised $56 million. Both theoretical designers and businessmen were part of the faculty. We were in the middle of New York allowing many guest speakers like Anthony Bourdain, P Diddy and other influential people came to give talks at Parsons. (The New School)
We had a lot of exposure to companies since my program was Business oriented. We visited Companies like Doblin, Frog Design and Gensler and tried to get an understanding of how things work in actual companies. We also had partnerships with Nike, Planned Parenthood among many others, including startups and got to design for them. Part of our project was to try to find problem areas and identify solutions for them. They gave us real world challenges, lots of practical, hands on exposure. In our third semester, we had to do individual research and make a business model. It had to be a viable business model, a couple of people actually started their business at Parsons. A friend of mine, his app is actually featured in IOS as one of the top apps – Unfold. A-list celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez use his templates and designs on Instagram. There is just always so much action around you which was exciting.
They have incredible Infrastructure, amazing facilities – anything you do need would be provided, If I needed a camera for an assignment, I could rent it. Actual graphic design printers, projectors could be rented.
What’s your least favorite thing about Parsons?
In my program there were too many people- because the program had lesser credits than other programs we had around 100 people on campus and another 100 people doing the course online. Although the class sizes are 14, there wasn’t much of a community feel. There were a lot of people that I think did not belong there, as they did not seem very interested which affected me in group assignments. I feel the vetting process could’ve been stronger.
How did you manage a scholarship at Parsons?
Honestly while I was writing my essays, my best essays were for Parsons. I was not sure that I will get admitted to all the universities I was applying to but I was quite sure Parsons would accept me as I spent a lot of time researching their values and tried aligning my essays with those. I ultimately got in everywhere but I did a lot of research trying to understand what was happening in design in the world and tried to frame my essay around that. Researching the university would definitely be the key when writing essays.
Did you do Internships as part of your course?
I came home in the holidays, but people
interned during the holidays. In second year, you can work part time along with
the course, 40 hours is allowed. My program was a more part time program,
wasn’t very heavy in terms of the course load. 3 classes a week. I worked on
campus for 2 years and pro bono work for an NGO (non-profit) called TapRoot. I freelanced once my course was
However, there are many job fairs that keep happening, resume sessions, classes on making a standout cover letter, how to enhance LinkedIn. If you want to work alongside your course, these are very helpful.
Is Design not a very financially lucrative field?
Not when you start, it’s thankless job at the beginning, involves a lot of hustle.
What’s your take on the Design field in India?
I’d say it’s booming right now. If your basics are correct, carve out a niche for yourself then you can get ahead. There is a massive volume of designers at the moment. There are many jobs available for designers. A digital designer would fetch more money than an architect at the moment so it also depends on the field of design that you are in (this is something that I have seen in my experience, not sure if it is the case everywhere). If you are multi-disciplinary, it would work in your favour. If you can add Motion and Digital Design to your skills, then you cannot get obsolete.
What about jobs post your course Parsons? Can you stay in the US?
This course did not have a STEM
certification at my time, from this year onwards they are STEM approved. So now
you get 3 years for OPT. There is a lot of ambiguity in terms of what you can
do later with this course as you can become a UX designer, brand strategist,
brand researcher, design researcher among other things.
For an international student, you need to be amazing in your work as companies would have to pay higher to hire an international student. You’d need to work extra hard. Indians did get jobs- one was a visual designer and got a job at IMG- talent management (Endeavor Global Marketing, part of IMG).
In general, if you’re a trained graphic designer, the likelihood of getting a job is higher. This course was more towards management and it did not have a specialization. Within design as a field, one needs to stand out to be able to get a job.
I applied to many jobs, I did not get them, initially only for strategy jobs but my portfolio did not align. I then searched for Visual Design jobs- for which I was sometimes either overqualified and underqualified. I worked as a freelancer for a year before coming back to India.
What would you advise to younger people wanting to enter the Design?
Never stop learning, this field would become obsolete eventually as machine learning would take over. Keep experimenting, keep learning. Initially I did know anything about design, I started exploring photoshop which got me hooked. I was always creative though- used to write poetry, play the guitar, doodle here and there. You have to have a thirst for knowledge in this field. The market may be saturated but you can always carve out a niche for yourself.
Richa Dwivedi Saklani is a certified coach from UCLA and is an accredited MBTI trainer who has worked with over 10,000 people across career planning and as a behavioral trainer in companies. She is the CEO & Founder of Inomi Learning and author of “The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers”.