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GMAT (710-740), GPA 4.0
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GMAT 740, GPA 3.80
Stanford GSB | Mr. Future VC
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Chicago Booth | Mr. Consulting Hopeful
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GRE 327, GPA 3.733
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Kellogg | Mr. Cancer Engineer
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Chicago Booth | Mr. Financial Analyst
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Penelope Trunk Is Advising MBA Applicants Not To Go To B-School. Why She’s Dead Wrong

Penelope Trunk smiling and drinking a cappuccino.

Career blogger Penelope Trunk


Seriously? All the evidence suggests the opposite is true. An MBA on a resume is a signal to an employer that you are both smart and ambitious, that your career is so important to you that you made the great sacrifice to get the degree and are better for it.

The bumps in pay prove this again and again. If you got an MBA to get into consulting, your pre-MBA median salary would have been $85,000. With your first job out of school, your salary would jump to $140,000 (see What Industries Give MBAs The Big Pay Bump). If you used your MBA to land a job in tech, your pre-MBA salary would have been $83,000 and your immediate post-MBA pay would have been $120,000.

And by the way,  the salary figures grossly underestimate the rewards of the degree because most MBA grads receive signing bonuses and many also get other guaranteed comp and perks unavailable to those without an MBA. In tech, for example, post-MBA total compensation in year one was $178,250, up from $97,675 before the degree.

Overall, MBA graduates who switch careers typically get a $55,000 increase over their pre-MBA pay. The compensation numbers–for alumni three years out of an MBA program–are even more impressive.

MBA alumni who were 24 or under when they started their degree reported that their salary increased by nearly $69,000, up 145% over their pre-MBA pay. Alums who entered their MBA programs when they were 27 and 28 reported salary increases of $67,000, roughly doubling their pre-MBA pay (see Still More Evidence Of The MBA’s Value).

No company pays people that much more dough to take the same job they had before going to business school.


Trunk is equally dismissive of MBA education when it comes to one’s ability to sell. “In adult life,” she notes, “we are all in sales. You have to sell yourself to get a date. You have to sell yourself to get an apartment. You have to sell yourself to get a job.

“Think of it this way: If you can’t stand trying to convince someone to give you a lease do you go back to school for the grad school housing? If you can’t stand dating do you go back to school and hope there’s a visiting professor who dates students?


“So why would you go to grad school because you hate job hunting? It’ll be the same when you graduate. You’ll still have to sell yourself. The school won’t sell you – you’ll still have to sell yourself. Nothing changes except that you are older and you have more school loans.”

Okay. Well, first off, business schools have become exceptional places to learn persuasive skills. Tremendous focus is now put on soft skills, including how to motivate and convince others, how to do a highly polished and effective presentation, and how to build on your inherent strengths and diminish or eliminate your weak spots.

In virtually all business school classrooms, where class participation is often half your grade, students gain invaluable practice selling their perspectives and opinions on core business challenges. Two years of practive among some of the smartest and most ambitious people you will ever meet is the best possible preparation to close a deal.

As for Trunk’s expressed concerns about student loans, yes many people who graduate from business school carry with them the burden of additional loans. But there is so much scholarship aid now available that only a minority of students pay the sticker price on an MBA degree. And the post-graduate rewards make it relatively easy to pay down what debt you need to borrow to earn an MBA. In fact, a third of MBA graduates report that they recouped their investment over their first year of work, while 100% recouped their costs four years after graduation.


Finally, Trunk contends that the only people who get MBAs are essentially uncoachable. “No one with success in business will tell you that you need to get an MBA,” she claims. “If you are competent at work then during the two years of school you can move up in ranks to wherever you’d have theoretically been after graduation.

“Coachable people listen to other top performers. Uncoachable people cannot get a top performer to talk with them, so they sort through bad advice. The advice you read online about business schools is from sites that have business schools advertising…Getting to the top in a career is a race, and you probably don’t have time to screw around in am MBA program. If you want a shortcut to getting ahead, skip the MBA and just go to Graduate Monkey to learn how to ace the aptitude tests that employers most often give.”

Oh please. There’s hardly an MBA program left that doesn’t provide one-on-one coaching to MBA students who generally have had little to no executive coaching before going to business school.

Besides, easy access to top performers in business greatly improves to students in MBA programs. Top executives are always coming to campus to engage with students. They welcome follow-up calls and visits. Alumni of the schools, often well placed at both large and small companies and startups, are accessible to students for advice and counsel. In truth, an MBA opens the door to conversations with people you would never get to speak with or meet if you weren’t in business school.

MBA students are not wasting their time. They are not ‘screwing around’ in an academic program. At the best schools, they are getting a truly transformative experience that will serve them well throughout their professional lives.

Penelope Trunk, you are dead wrong about the MBA.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.