Raelyn Apfel

Hard truth: Following your dream doesn’t always lead to the presumed destination. And depending on the dream, one might say that following dreams rarely does this. Conversely, choosing to defer your dream by a few years can lead to really interesting results.

Enter Raelyn Apfel. Her dream was to attend the U of M’s Carlson School of Management and go on to become a powerful businesswoman doing important business-y things. She applied to the school and was accepted. But instead of advancing through the steps to begin her freshman year, Apfel was suddenly faced with the burden of unexpected opportunity.

Her employer at the time, Caribou Coffee, offered her a promotion to become a store manager at one of its airport locations. It must be noted here that in the history of Caribou Coffee promotions, Apfel was destined to become the youngest-ever person to advance to such a high position.

“I couldn’t pass it up,” Apfel says. “I took the promotion and delayed my dream.”

Returning with Real-Life Experience

In the three years that Apfel spent working as store manager at Caribou and later as a general manager for Noodles and Company, a transformation happened. Her career goals became more defined, and she found that she could better articulate what she liked and didn’t like about business and management. The challenges she faced on the job—from employee retention to workplace engagement and sales—taught her lessons that no classroom adequately could. So in 2016, when she decided she was ready to revisit that deferred dream, both she and it were different.



“While I still wasn’t 100-percent certain about what I wanted to do, I liked the idea of getting a degree that was a little more diversified,” she says.

An advisor recommended that Apfel check out the Inter-College Program (ICP), stating that with this self-designed degree, students can choose courses from the buffet of offerings at the U of M, creating the degree that best suits their professional goals.

“From my time at Caribou, I realized that my favorite parts about being a general manager had to do with human resources,” Apfel says. “I loved staffing, employee development, and finding new ways for people to work better together.”

She declared ICP as her major and worked with her advisor to braid together business and HR courses, many of which were taught through Carlson. To augment these focuses, Apfel selected psychology and sociology classes as well. The customization of her degree suits Apfel’s new ambition to one day become an HR consultant.

“Now that I’ve had some time out of school, I approach my coursework differently,” Apfel says. “I don’t want to take classes that don’t contribute to my growth. And in the classes I’m currently taking, I’m learning the textbook definitions of things I’ve already encountered in the real world, which is cool.”

Today Apfel is a full-time student, poised to graduate in 2019. Every once in a while as she’s walking around campus, she will notice a student wearing an ICP T-shirt. On the back, it reads, “I did it my way.” She can’t help but smile and identify with those words.

Raelyn Apfel is a recipient of the Karin L. Larson Interdisciplinary Education Scholarship.