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Wharton MBA Dual Degree with Lauder Institute: Interview with Admissions Marketing Director

Wharton Dual Degree MBA-MA with Lauder Institute

How do you take a top-notch program such as the Wharton MBA and make it better? The University of Pennsylvania seems to have given it a lot of thought and found an option – the dual degree program offered jointly by the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.

In this interview with Sameer Kamat (founder of MBA Crystal Ball), Kara Keenan Sweeney, from the Lauder Institute shares more about the program, the admissions process, essay & interview tips, and careers.


Wharton Dual Degree Program with Lauder Institute

Q&A with Kara Keenan | Director of Admissions Marketing and Communications


About the Program

MBA Crystal Ball: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Kara. It would be great if you could start off with a little introduction about yourself and what you do at the Lauder Institute.

Kara Keenan: Thanks, Sameer! I’m the Director of Admissions Marketing and Communications for The Lauder Institute at Penn – which is a joint-degree MA program in International Studies offered in tandem with either the Wharton MBA or Penn Law JD degree.

I joined Lauder earlier this year and I have worked in business school admissions, marketing and program management for over a decade.

MBA Crystal Ball: What was the rationale behind offering dual degrees? Why is the MA in International Studies degree not offered independently?

Kara: The Lauder Institute was founded as a joint-degree program with the Wharton MBA in 1983 to help educate a new generation of globally-minded, and multilingual, business students.

The program later added the joint program with Penn Law. The rationale was to complement the top-ranked professional programs with the breadth and rigor of an MA in International Studies conferred by the School of Arts and Sciences.

The curriculum emphasizes the international contexts of business and law. That concept is reflected in the joint-nature of credits in both programs: some academic credits in the MBA and JD programs count jointly for the MA.

MBA Crystal Ball: What does the MA degree cover that the Wharton MBA program doesn’t?

Kara: The Lauder Program provides a foundation for understanding the political, economic, legal, historic and cultural contexts which impact business.

Lauder offers courses in international political economy, economic history, leadership for intercultural settings, language, culture and more. Our courses are exclusively offered to students in the Lauder program.

Students develop regional expertise in a defined Program of Concentration but also do fieldwork in other parts of the world.

Lauder Intercultural Ventures take an academic theme and explore that theme in locations around the world. Current LIV’s include: Social and Economic Transition in Cuba, Buddhism in Thailand, Water Issues and Innovations in Israel and the History of the Slave Trade in Zanzibar.

MBA Crystal Ball: How should applicants decide which dual-degree (MBA-MA or JD-MA) works best for them?

Kara: Applicants should consider what career path they plan to pursue and the appropriate Program of Concentration that allows them to develop greater expertise.

We seek candidates who have already developed some basis of familiarity with the region, but who may benefit from further study of regional issues and challenges.

Candidates should consider how an international studies joint-degree can help them build the skillset required for a global professional path, whether it be in business or law.

MBA Crystal Ball: How is the program structured?

Kara: The Program is structured as follows: intensive month-long courses in May (Philadelphia); 8-week summer immersion; year 1: simultaneous MBA/MA coursework; summer internship; year 2: simultaneous MBA/MA coursework with special emphasis on the master’s research project called the GKL.

The program is 24 months in duration and begins in May of each year. We bring in a cohort of approximately 70 students comprised of both MBA/MA and JD/MA students, the latter being smaller in number.

MBA Crystal Ball: Share some insights into the Programs of Concentration. How does a student decide which one to choose?

Kara: Students in the program decide what region they of the world they would like to focus on for their course of study.

We offer six Programs of Concentration including: Africa, Europe, East and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and our Global program – which focuses on key themes across regions.

Generally speaking, students in a regional Program of Concentration have had experience in that region, either as a student or professional – or both – and speak a language from that region.

I would say most also have career ambitions in the region of the world corresponding to their chosen Program of Concentration.

MBA Crystal Ball: How does the summer immersion work? Does it clash with the MBA internship schedule?

Kara: No, the summer immersion happens during the first year of the Lauder program – prior to the start of the Wharton MBA Pre-Term in August. Students in the Lauder program have the second summer free to do an internship.


Dual Degree Admissions

MBA Crystal Ball: How does the application process work for dual-degree programs? Is there one integrated process or do applicants apply separately?

Kara: For applicants to the MBA/MA program, the application is integrated, meaning there is only one combined application.

Applicants to Wharton should indicate on the application that they also are applying for the Lauder program and complete our additional questions and essay which are imbedded into the Wharton application system.

Applicants to our JD/MA program should download our supplemental application here and request that their law school application materials are sent over to the Lauder office electronically.

MBA Crystal Ball: Why do you ask for a separate oral proficiency interview (OPI)? How is it different from the standard language proficiency tests like TOEFL?

Kara: The OPI tests an applicants’ language proficiency in languages other than English, though an OPI in English does exist.

Applicants must submit an OPI test and score at least at the advanced low level in their designated Target Language in order to be considered for admission to Lauder.

The target language is the language the candidate plans to study at Lauder and one that is commonly spoken in the region they are planning to focus on, e.g. Spanish or Portuguese for Latin America.

Students to our Global Program must score at the superior level on the OPI in any language. Multilingual candidates with high degrees of proficiency are appropriate for the Global Program.

Wharton and Penn Law also require the TOEFL for applicants who did not earn an undergraduate degree taught in English.

MBA Crystal Ball: In contrast to the typical MBA essays, the Lauder essay focuses on cultural experiences. Can you give some tips on how to write this essay?

Kara: Applicants should write about relevant professional, personal, and academic experience and how it relates to their experience in a cultural context.

For example, you must discuss how working and living in Japan as a German was a unique experience and how you navigated the cultural and linguistic differences.

What examples and experiences you share are entirely up to you. What we are looking for is an indication that you have a global mind set and that you are culturally prepared and aware to both contribute and take something away from the Lauder Program.

MBA Crystal Ball: Applicants also need to go through two interviews. How are the Lauder interview questions different from MBA interviews? How can applicants prepare for it?

Kara: The interview for the Lauder program is a conversation with either an alumnus, current Lauder student, or admissions committee member.

We will want to understand your motivations and preparation for the Program, what you hope to gain from the Program that cannot be obtained in the MBA or JD programs alone, and how you can contribute to the program from your professional and personal experiences.

Like all other programs, we are looking for applicants who are a great fit.

MBA Crystal Ball: In what ways is the class profile different from (or similar to) the Wharton MBA class profile?

Kara: Students in the Lauder program have a very similar profile to Wharton MBAs – similar professional and academic strengths, age, years of work experience, and potential after graduation.

However, Lauder students, in general, have had significant international experiences as individuals, students and professionals – and their career goals tend to be more international as well.

We look to build a cohort that has a marked interest in international issues and contexts.


Tuition and Financial Aid

MBA Crystal Ball: What is the total cost of a Dual degree program?

Kara: The cost of the two-year Lauder program is currently $45,240.

MBA Crystal Ball: Joint degrees have independent costs that make it a very expensive option, especially for international students. Does the institute help deserving students with financial aid?

We believe that cost should not be prohibitive for highly talented and academically serious students. In fact, most Lauder students receive some form of financial fellowship. On average, Lauder students receive $20,000 in financial aid towards the cost of the program.

We also have a full-scholarship named after Leonard Lauder which is offered each year to a select number of highly qualified applicants.

MBA Crystal Ball: How can dual-degree students convince themselves that the investment of close to a quarter million dollars is worth it in the long run?

Kara: Students need to think about the return on their investment. Generally speaking, graduates from a top MBA program can anticipate paying off their degree within five years of graduation – and the long-term benefits in terms of career growth are immeasurable.

At Penn, the incredible depth and breadth of the alumni population between Wharton, Lauder and Penn Law is unmatched – students can literally go to any part of the world and find a network of graduates they can tap into.

The impact on one’s personal and professional life of a degree like this is incredibly strong.

MBA Crystal Ball: Do graduates get higher paying jobs than regular MBA students?

Kara: We do not measure Lauder graduates’ salaries vs. ‘regular’ MBAs or JD students. We measure our impact through the level of engagement of our alumni who are the best ambassadors of the value of the Lauder Program.

The level of engagement from the first class to the most recent ones is an indicator of how much graduates value a Lauder education and the Lauder Experience.


Careers after completing the Dual Degree

MBA Crystal Ball: What placement support can dual-degree students expect? Does the Lauder Institute have a separate careers team?

Kara: Yes, we have a dedicated staff person that works exclusively oncareer advising and helping students to obtain internships and job offers internationally.

Students also have access to career management resources at Wharton and Penn Law. In addition, Lauder brings to campus industry leaders who are interested in interacting with Lauder students. Some of them are Lauder alumni.

MBA Crystal Ball: What jobs do dual-degree students get after graduating?

Kara: Since our students are also MBAs and JDs, we base our career information on their statistics which you can find below:

MBA Crystal Ball: How many graduates return to their home countries? What kind of opportunities do they take up?

Kara: We do not maintain these statistics.

MBA Crystal Ball: Any other lesser-known aspects about the dual-degree program that you wish international applicants knew about?

Kara: We very much value international experience and ambitions, so we encourage those from outside of the US to consider Lauder when applying to the Wharton MBA or Penn Law JD programs.

Additionally, we are one of the first top-ranked business programs in the world to develop a concentration on Africa. We are very proud of this.

(Since 2015, during the time of this interview, Kara Keenan Sweeney has become the Director of Admissions Marketing and Financial Aid)
Image Source: Lauder Institute

You can find out more about the programs offered by the Lauder Institute on their official website.

Read the interviews with the Admission Committee officers of other top bschools.

Also read:
Wharton MBA admit in Round 2 for Indian student with low GMAT score
Life at Wharton MBA as an international student
16 things every Wharton MBA student should know
How I got into Wharton with scholarship

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

6 thoughts on “Wharton MBA Dual Degree with Lauder Institute: Interview with Admissions Marketing Director”

  1. Hi Kara,

    Thank you for sharing details about the course. I have a few queries.

    The career links point to the overall placements for the Wharton MBA class.

    Is there any way international students can find out whether others with their backgrounds who’ve taken up the dual degree have fared well?

    Also, can you explain what you mean when you say:
    “We measure our impact through the level of engagement of our alumni.”

    Typically how many girls do you have in the class each year? And how many Indians overall?

    For non-US students, this is a very expensive option. It will be very helpful if you can answer the questions.

  2. Thanks for your questions. We don’t have stats on international students and career placement, unfortunately. But since all of our Lauder students are also Wharton MBAs the stats there are a good source to use.
    In terms of alumni engagement, we measure impact as far as their involvement with Wharton as alumni – which is very strong.
    Each year, about 40% of the class is female – and about the same are international.
    Good luck!

  3. Hi Kara, It is good to see you answering questions here.

    Many programs offer a waiver for the TOEFL based on certain conditions or on a case-by-case basis. Is something similar available for OPI also?

  4. Hi kara , can you tell me whether i can apply for the next year’s dual degree batch if i’ll have around 6 months work experience? Also , tell me if cgpa is a really high priority to get in the program?


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