Penelope Trunk Is Advising MBA Applicants Not To Go To B-School. Why She’s Dead Wrong

Career advice blogger Penelope Trunk (left) thinks you should withdraw your MBA application to business school

Penelope Trunk is at it again. With round two deadlines at most business schools just days away, the career blogger and MBA naysayer is advising candidates to withdraw their applications.

“You should not go to business school,” writes Trunk. “If you want to start a company, you should start a company. And if you want to climb the corporate ladder you should do that. An MBA does not help you with either of those goals.

“An MBA gets you into middle management. If you’re a strong performer you get into middle management faster by working than you can by taking two years off of work to get an MBA…In most cases the people who go to business school are essentially announcing they are failing in their work.”

This is familiar clickbait territory for Trunk, who lives on a farm in Wisconsin and homeschools her sons. Seven years ago, she wrote a provocative essay entitled “Why an MBA Is a Waste of Time and Money.” In it, she outlined how the MBA has grown pointless and limiting, compounding debt, inhibiting entrepreneurship, and putting off an inevitable slog back to the real world (see Penelope Trunk: Why B-Schools Attracts People Who Are Lost).

This time, in a post the day after Christmas on Dec. 26th, Trunk cites what she calls five types of underperformers who go to business school.

‘PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH MORONS’

There are, she contends, the people who work with morons. “Did you ever hear the expression ‘A players work with A players?’,” she asks. “The other truism is that A players don’t encourage other A players to get MBAs. If you are a high performer then no boss would encourage you to leave and get an MBA. Because they want to keep working with you. So they’d promote you instead – without the MBA.”

Of course, that’s true. But it is also beside the point because an MBA education makes it far more likely that you will be a high performer at work. It provides the tools, the skills and the practice (yes, practice) to make you a far more effective leader.

A players, in fact, are often MBA players. All the evidence suggests this is true, despite Trunk’s claims to the contrary. Higher education pays and the highest ranked business schools pay the most. A PayScale report done for Poets&Quants a few years ago proves it. The median cash compensation over a 20-year period for people with bachelor’s degrees is $1.3 million. For those with MBAs, the comp is roughly a third more at $1.8 million

But if you have an MBA from a top 50 business school, your cash comp rises to $2.3 million. If it’s from a Top 10 school, it jumps to $2.8 million. And from a top three school? Your 20-year median comp exceeds $3 million (see The Most Lucrative Seven-Figure MBA Degrees).

More important than income, however, may be getting the job that is more meaningful to you and more professionally fulfilling. While there are no guarantees in life, people with MBA degrees from leading schools are far more likely to have careers—not jobs—that give their lives impact and meaning. Surveys consistently show that well over 90% of MBA grads rate the value of the degree highly and 95% say they would recommend their MBA program to others. Over 80% of MBAs report having a high degree of job satisfaction (see Infographic: How Much Is An MBA Degree Worth?)

Who’s the moron here? Trunk should be farming in Wisconsin, not pretending to know what an MBA degree can and cannot do for the people who get one.

‘PEOPLE WHO CAN’T COUNT TO TEN’

Then, Trunk repeats a common myth that it’s only worth going to business school if you can get into a top ten MBA program.

“The only real reason to go to business school is for networking,” she contends. “And the only networking opportunities that could possibly be worth the price of an MBA are the top ten programs.

“These programs are tough to get into because they are sifting. They take only the people who get high GMAT scores and have a work history that displays diligence and strategic focus. So you not only have good people to network with at these schools, but you get a seal of approval that you are likely to continue performing well at work.

“So absolutely do not get an MBA from a second-tier school. Look only at the top ten. Maybe there is disagreement about which MBA programs are in the top ten. But if a school is never on any top ten list then it is not top ten. And just because a school is top ten for online sales or whatever crazy irrelevant specialty they have, does not mean it’s a top ten school.”

That is utter nonsense. Unlike law schools, where employment rates after graduation plunge to disastrously low rates once you get out of the top ten, business schools do an exceptional job of helping career-minded professionals successfully reinvent themselves.

You don’t have to go to a top ten MBA program to use the degree to transition into a new industry, a new discipline or a new locale. And you don’t need a top ten MBA on your resume to land a six-figure job at one of the world’s most admired companies, whether it’s McKinsey, Citigroup, Amazon or Procter & Gamble (see Duke MBA Grads Enjoy Impressive Pay Hike).

Just look at the most recent employment rates for schools that are not in the top ten. At No. 20-ranked Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, 94% of this year’s MBA grads had job offers within three months of graduation with median total comp of nearly $145,000 a year. The top five employers? E&Y, Amazon, PwC, Deloitte, Citigroup, and Georgia Pacific. At Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management, with an MBA ranked 33rd, the numbers were equally impressive: A 93% job offer rate, with salary and bonus of $131,000 to start. The major recruiters at Owen this year were Amazon, Deloitte, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, and North Highland.

At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, with an MBA program ranked 31st, 96% of this year’s graduates had job offers within three months of graduation at median pay well into the six-figures at $122,400. Carlson’s leading MBA employers in 2017 included 3M, Deloitte, Ecolab, Land O’Lakes, and Microsoft. And none of this is hardly unusual. At the 99th ranked program, Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business more than 91% of the MBA grads were already employed or chose to continue their education three months after commencement this year.

In short, you don’t have to go to a top ten school to reap the benefits of an MBA education and that’s measuring it only on immediate job prospects—not what you learned or who you met and how that will benefit you over an entire career.

‘PEOPLE WHO RUIN A GOOD STORY’

Trunk also maintains that a resume is a story. “The best resume writers can rewrite a resume to make it look like you are ready for your dream job,” she writes. “This works because the job that best suits you will naturally arise from your work history even if you have a weird work history.

“The story is inextricably ruined if you go to business school to avoid the real world. So, for example, if you take time off to raise kids, you are better off saying that then trying to hide it by saying you took time to get an MBA. Because your career choices do not require an MBA so why would you take time off to get one? You look like a poor decision maker. Whereas there is a logical, respectable reason to take time off to start a family, so you look like an effective planner.

“If you get an MBA to make your job hunt easier, you will likely find yourself qualified for the same jobs you were qualified for before the MBA. Which means your resume will show the story of you interrupting your career to get an MBA that did not make a difference in your career. You look like you don’t understand how the business world works.”

  • C. Taylor

    🙂 Nicely balanced editorial.

    Most people who would move up swiftly regardless of an MBA already know that.

    Vanderbilt grads access very solid careers.

  • Too often, people evaluate MBA degrees on just income immediately after graduation. The real value of the degree is what you’ve learned. The body of knowledge exposed to students in a quality MBA program alters one’s perspective forever and allows you to become a far more effective business person. That value extends to every career option, not merely consulting or investment banking.

  • OG

    So Trunk is still out there? I remember discovering her blog a decade ago. It was interesting for a minute, but then after a while you figure out that she’s just a nicely made up, well-written, troll. I remember her snarky advice about marriage (often targeting women), followed by her spectacular divorce, which she helpfully detailed on her website, in case you were still seeking life advice from Sensei Trunk.

    Her job 100% rests on getting people riled up, throwing out straw men, and somehow convincing people she is an expert at something she actually isn’t an expert on. And if I’m not mistaken, her stock has dropped over the years – I can’t remember the last time I read a website link to something she has written. And I read blogs a lot. So I’m kind of surprised to read a Dec 26 2017 post about business schools. All that is to say, her thoughts about MBAs are interesting in the way a hedgehog butting a basketball might be interesting. It deserves a “huh.”

    The thing is, business school is not like law school (no jobs awaiting you) or medical school (long years waiting for the pay off). And unlike med school and law school, people don’t go to business school for a small set of reasons. Some people go because they want to switch from nonprofit work to marketing in the business world. Others go because they want to live in a different country. Few go to business school to be entrepreneurs (if they are being honest – they only cite entrepreneurship to sound sexy). Many go to move ahead in corporate life, others go to make a lateral switch to a completely different sector. Unless Trunk actually speaks to a hundred current MBA students and MBA grads about why they went to business school (which I strongly doubt she would ever do), she will have no idea what the experience actually means to people and what they get out of it.

  • UNIVERSAL FREE CITIZEN

    Another smart ass-smartypant shallow individual.
    She knows everything!

  • Waste of Time

    Man, this article was almost a waste of time to read. Is this blogger Penelope widely read? To me this is just giving her more attention than is deserved, I read her blog post in earnest to try to understand her opinion, thinking there might be more substance there that the P&Q article omitted. Unfortunately there’s zero data cited to back up her claims and is just a bunch of opinion-spouting. John, ignore the noise and if you’re going to post an article around someone who has a low opinion of MBAs at least find one with data to back up the claims and makes for a thoughtful and interesting read.

  • cooper87

    Why are people who don’t have MBAs always telling people they shouldn’t get MBAs? It’s like they’re so miserable in their mediocrity they gotta spread it to the rest of the world too. Preposterous!

  • Sam

    Love this!

  • halo

    I apologize, “out of necessity. Not “because out of”

  • halo

    John,

    Is it true or not, you don’t have to have an MBA to “practice” business?

    Is it true or not, if consulting shops were to say bye-bye to hiring those with MBAs, most MBA programs wouldn’t exist, or programs would be drastically reduced?

    Professional degrees such as JD, and MD exist because out of necessity. One can’t be a lawyer, or a doctor without first graduating from these programs.

    I’d say that Trunk’s argument against an MBA is closer to truth than your case for it. MBA is not an academically rigorous degree, there isn’t a research component to it, and it serves as a feeder degree to mostly consulting and banking meat houses.

    Therefore, I’d say MBA is ONLY useful if one wants to crack into consulting, or investment banking.