Christina Appleton studied psychology and sociology as an undergrad at Northwestern University and spent three years working at General Mills before attending Harvard Business School. Since completing her degree, Christina spent two years at Fox Sports as a marketing manager.
How did you identify schools that were of interest to you? What kind of research/outreach did you do prior to applying and during the application process?
Christina: While in undergrad [at Northwestern University], I worked at Kellogg for a professor in the marketing/organizational behavior department so had a sense for the experience there. Additionally, pretty much everyone that I worked with in brand management and finance at General Mills had their MBA, so I had a ton of people to talk to about their experiences. I was also a member of the Stanford and Kellogg recruiting teams, so I had a bit of exposure to the types of students who went to each school.
During the application process, I reached out to those colleagues I respected and had a relationship with to get their advice and feedback on how to best position myself and write the best essays. Everyone was extremely helpful in the process!
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You attended the Tuck Bridge program in between graduating from Northwestern and starting at General Mills. How did that come about?
This was actually something that was required from General Mills from those of us who were not business undergrad majors. There were six of us from my program who attended the Bridge program over the summer, and GMI was generous enough to sponsor all of us for the time there. I would say about half of the students there were sponsored by their companies, half were paying their own way.
It was a really good brush up on key subjects that you will cover in business school. A fair amount of my classmates from this program have gone on to attend top business schools, but I’m not sure if that is the chicken or the egg (students who are motivated enough to attend the program are probably in pretty good shape for applications anyway). It was a very good prep for what life at business school would be like. I think that the people who benefitted most from this program were the ones who came from the non-profit sector and had little to no exposure to business courses, work or terms.
What were the most important qualities you looked for in an MBA program? Having completed the program, do you still feel that those qualities are the most important or do you have new insight?
I really focused on top programs that had a worldwide reputation. I wanted to attend a school that had a high caliber of students and professors, but that were also fun and approachable. I wanted a program that I thought would challenge me both academically and socially and expose me to things that I had never seen before. Ultimately you are attending b-school for the alumni network, so I definitely took the alums that I knew into account.
I think that those things are still important. I am only a few years out, but the two most important things that I have gotten from my time at HBS is the network (both close friends and colleagues and the broader sense of the term) and the reputation of the HBS brand.
What did you hope to gain by obtaining your MBA?
In addition the aforementioned network, I had hoped to gain the “polish” that I saw in my colleagues at GMI that had their MBAs. They had a level of poise and confidence that I admired and I wanted to acquire those same qualities.
How did you pay for school?
I think the stat is something like 65% of HBS students get some sort of financial assistance. The thing that I found most interesting about my process was that HBS ended up being the most affordable option for me (over the other schools) given all of the great assistance that the school and donors gives to the students. I’m pretty sure that everyone who makes under a certain threshold receives some sort of assistance to pay for some or all of their tuition, which is a great help to bring in people with a diversity of backgrounds.
I was fortunate enough to receive the LeBaron-McArthur-Ellis Fellowship and appreciate the generosity of these great HBS alums (both who started the fund and those who contribute) because without this help I do not think that I would have been able to attend HBS. This covered around one-third of the overall cost of business school (a big chunk of my tuition) so I consider myself very lucky.
I think the biggest cost that applies to all MBA programs is the opportunity cost. In addition to paying for the program, you will be forgoing two years of income and work experience which can be a challenge. In terms of hard costs, there are choices that you can make to keep these down – live in the dorms on campus, don’t go on as many of the crazy trips that everyone is planning (both school-sponsored learning trips and regular vacations), don’t party as much – so I think that business school doesn’t have to cost everyone $200K.
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