Charlotte Steel, a former political science major at Brown, was inspired to become a teacher after taking a “Politics of Education” class at her alma mater.  When applying to business school, Charlotte had concerns about whether she had the appropriate background to become an MBA student. Her fears were quickly allayed when she visited HBS for a class visit – and she discovered that the student admissions rep who picked her up was a former TFA teacher. 

She soon came to find that HBS is a place that brings together people from all different backgrounds, and that there’s plenty of support in place for those without a finance background. Charlotte just finished up her first semester at HBS, so we decided to see what advice she could offer to applicants with similar concerns. 

What advice would you have for people without a finance/business background as they think about applying to HBS? 

First off, apply – go for it! It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. If you do decide to apply and go to business school, I would also consider doing something totally different career wise, such as an externship, for 3-4 months, if you can. The unique experience will give you an even broader perspective and skill set coming in. Lastly, have confidence in your ability to contribute to the HBS (or any) community. People at HBS have as much to learn from you as you do from them! 

How did HBS help prepare you to come here? 

HBS does a great job of supporting its students even before we get to campus. One example of this is that they put tools in place to identify incoming students who will benefit from completing certain pre-requisite work. As one of these students, I completed CORe (online coursework) over the summer and CORe Live (a two-day in-person classroom culmination) on campus just before school started. HBX CORe is an online course of three subjects (Economics, Business Analytics, and Accounting) designed to better prepare you for the Required Curriculum (first year courses) at HBS. 

This new digital learning initiative is awesome – not only was it a good refresher on interesting topics such as statistics, Excel functions, price discrimination, etc., but it’s incredibly interactive and well-designed, and taught by HBS professors! Having experience as a teacher and at an Ed Tech startup, I really benefited from the 10-week course. I would encourage anyone, even if you’re not required, to take one or all three CORe courses before getting to campus! 

I also engaged in local events and Facebook groups ahead of time to get a lay of the land! I took time to start reading the Economist and followed HBS on different social media channels to get excited.

HBS does a great job of staggering all items on the pre-matriculation admit checklist, but it’s important to stay on top of them and not leave things till the last minute! I also made sure to arrive to campus several days before school start to get settled, because once school starts, there’s no slowing down! 

Is it difficult to learn finance through the case method? 

This was definitely one of my concerns before I got to HBS, but it quickly diminished. You’ll be amazed at how willing your peers in your discussion group and section are to help you learn some of the more concrete foundational skills in subject areas like FIN (Finance) and FRC (Financial Reporting & Control, which includes Accounting). They are more than happy to walk through a model together and break it down step by step. 

Furthermore, both of these courses are consistently supplemented by optional problem sets, textbook and online exercises, and review sessions to engage you further in building your skill set and your confidence. Lastly, SAS (Student & Academic Services) supports students by providing up to five hours of free tutoring (with EC students) in each subject. This is a win-win! EC tutors are nice, supportive, and eager to help you work through tricky topics.  

Is there anything you wish you’d known about HBS?

In terms of my application process, I would have tried to have had even more conversations with alums and people who had gone through the experience. Once you are a student, I would say start taking advantage of the support networks available to you ASAP… your first semester is going to fly by and the sooner you can ask for help, the more you help yourself! On that note, remember to take time for yourself, and that it’s OKAY to say no to things. We all need to stay healthy and sane!

What’s your favorite HBS memory so far? 

My favorite academic memories to date would be the Deflategate case in TOM (Technology and Operations Management). The case was just written this year (by our Professor!) following the Patriots vs. Colts playoff scandal. The statistics behind proving Tom Brady and the team’s innocence/guilt was fascinating. Furthermore, our FIELD professor (a huge Pats fan) crashed our class…footballs were flying, jerseys were worn, and we learned a ton!