Wharton Lauder: An MBA/MA that Prepares You for Global Business

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Let’s learn about Wharton Lauder, and its joint MA/MBA and MA/JD programs for people who are passionate about international business.

Today’s guest is Kara Keenan Sweeney, Director of Admissions Marketing and Communications at the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Penn Law School. Kara has an extensive background in graduate admissions, starting with her masters in higher ed administration at Columbia and moving on to admissions positions at INSEAD, U Penn, Penn State, and now at the Lauder Institute. Welcome!

Can you give us an overview of UPenn’s Lauder program? [1:25]

The Lauder Institute was founded by the family of Estee Lauder back in 1983. We had our first graduating class two years later. The institute offers a joint degree in International Studies with Wharton and Penn Law – Lauder students earn a MA in International Studies along with either an MBA or JD.

Each year we admit 70-75 students. The program starts in May. The majority of our students are MBA/MA students.

For Wharton Lauder students, how does it work? Do they take additional coursework? [2:55]

Yes – on average, they take two additional courses through Lauder each semester. If you’re doing Wharton Lauder, Lauder generally takes up most of your electives. There’s some research work as well.

But it’s not a double course load – generally about two extra courses a semester.

What’s new at Lauder? [4:20]

We adapted the curriculum to the changing landscape of business and international studies over the last decade or so. We moved the structure to a more regional focus instead of a language focus. We have six programs of concentration – five are regionally focused (the sixth is global). Students choose one of these areas of concentration and then choose a language (for example if you’re in the Latin America track you can choose Spanish or Portuguese).

We used to ask students for fluency in two languages other than English – now we ask for one language.

We’ve added a new core course on intercultural communication, for students to improve their communication skills in an international leadership context.

And there are now two required intercultural venture trips: these are one-week trips where students focus on a specific topic in a specific country. It’s a stretch experience for the students.

Do you find students focus on their home region? [9:00]

It depends. We have some students who plan to work in their home region, but choose a different language so they can work in other countries in the region (for example, a student from Brazil who wants to be able to work across Latin America).

We have heritage speakers in the program. We have students who grew up speaking English. There’s no typical profile, other than an international orientation.

Where do most Lauder alumni get jobs? [10:50]

We see a variety. Last year our students went to over 20 countries after graduation (the class was around 75 students). Most have international career objectives – for some, “international” means working in the US, since a lot of our students are from overseas.

Because our students are also MBA students, they also follow a typical MBA path – though that’s evolving itself. A lot of people are interested in entrepreneurship, social impact, microfinance.

Can you describe the critical elements of the Wharton Lauder or UPenn Lauder application? [12:55]

You need to have advanced proficiency in a second language when you apply. We determine that by a language proficiency exam – the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI). Over the course of the program, you’ll increase your proficiency to a “superior” level.

The language courses at Lauder are taught within a business context.

You should test in the language you’re pursuing in the program.

Can you describe the critical elements of the Lauder application? [15:20]

If you’re applying to Wharton and Lauder, we make it a seamless process – the Lauder application is built into the Wharton application.

You check off that you’re applying for Lauder and then provide the additional materials we require: the OPI exam; a description of your international experience; and an essay. In the essay, we want you to tell us why you’re applying to Lauder, why the program is a fit for your goals.

The application is considered as a joint application for both programs – we work in collaboration with the Wharton team. Each year there are a handful of applicants who are admitted to Wharton but don’t meet

Lauder’s requirements – so they are admitted just to Wharton but not to the joint degree program.

Is it the same application process for the JD/MA joint degree program? [17:25]

It’s actually separate. You apply to Penn Law, then contact Lauder for the supplement (the language exam, essay, etc). You must be admitted to Penn Law first to be considered.

Students who do the JD-Lauder start Lauder after the first year of the JD program.

Is it possible to apply during the first year of law school? [18:22]


And actually, you can also apply to Lauder supplementally after you’ve submitted your Wharton application. There are some people who don’t find out about us until after they’ve submitted their application.

You gave some excellent advice in terms of addressing “Why Lauder.” Can you summarize that advice for us now? [19:25]

I think the benefits of Lauder are the language, international experience, and intercultural communication. Our students gain substantive international experience: the average student goes to six countries.

I encourage students to do their research. We sometimes see applicants who’ve done superficial research. We want to see that you’ve done research on the program, what makes it a good fit for you, and how you can contribute.

See how the program is a fit for you. If you can, visit – sit in on a class.

What gets you excited (in a positive way) about an applicant? [23:00]

That they’ve done the research! That they’ve reached out to alums. That they have a clear set of reasons why the program makes sense for them, and the experience to back that up.

We love to see substantive international experience (working or studying abroad). Leverage your international experience.

Reach out to the admissions office.

What is a Lauder interview like? [24:55]

If you’re invited, you’ll also do the Wharton TBD.

You’ll be interviewed by a current Lauder student – it’s a half hour interview. The most important question we’ll ask is: “Why not just Wharton alone? Why Lauder?”

We can do interviews here on campus – if you’re overseas, we’ll set you up with an alum.

What is the 8-week Summer Immersion Program? [26:26]

It’s been a component of the program since we started in the ‘80s. Students will go to their region of concentration. Five of the eight weeks will be in language. The remaining three weeks will be spent with language speakers, developing regional expertise.

The program includes company visits, cultural excursions, etc.

For students in the Global focus, they’ll visit eight to 10 countries and focus on issues of global relevance (such as immigration and tech).

There’s also a research project.

Lauder students complete a research project, called a Global Knowledge Lab (GKL). What is it? [29:40]

GKL essentially has replaced the masters thesis. It’s a research project that students complete with a team.

Students have done a wide variety of projects – a couple examples: one focused on culinary differences, and one on women entrepreneurs. The Institute provides funding for students to conduct their research. They have to create a proposal, and the research should involve a region outside their own focus.

The GKL results in two papers – one is individually written (and should be publishable quality), and the other is a group project.

What about the second summer of the program – do Lauder students do internships? [34:10]

Yes – no different than if you were a law student alone or an MBA student alone. Often our students will try to do those internships internationally.

We also have funding for students to start their own ventures, so some students will spend that summer doing research to get their ventures off the ground.

We have our own career adviser at Lauder.

What are some of the coolest things recent grads are doing? [36:05]

We’ve seen a lot of students pursuing entrepreneurship. We had a student get funding from Lauder and Wharton – she’s developing a sanitation startup in India (RevoLOOtion).

We’ve had a lot of students start businesses. Our alums have amazing roles all over the world – one was head of Conde Nast in China. We have profiles of some recent grads on our site and on our social media streams.

What final words of wisdom do you have for applicants – either people applying this year, or those preparing to apply in the future? [38:50]

Go online – sign up for information, follow us on social media. It’s a great way to learn more.

IF you can’t visit, come to a webinar. Reach out to alums, students, and the admissions office. We’re willing and able to talk with you. If you can come to visit, that’s ideal.

In terms of building a strong application – we want to see evidence of a global mindset. We look for international experience and evidence that you thrive in that environment, as well as cultural experiences that make you a compelling applicant.

Share your objectives – how will Lauder help you get where you’d like to go?

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Relevant Links:

Wharton Lauder Admissions
Wharton Lauder Language Requirements and Clips
Wharton MBA Essay Tips 2017-18
Get Accepted to Wharton Webinar

Related Shows:

Wharton’s Commitment Project
From Rwanda to Wharton to West Coast Start-Up: MP Davis’ Story
The Lauder Institute Changes to Reflect the World
The Schwarzman Scholars Program: Leaders of the Future Unite
The CEMS MIM: A Truly International Masters in Management


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