Interview with Kara Keenan Sweeney, Director of Admissions, Marketing, and Financial Aid at the Lauder Institute [Show Summary]
Kara Keenan Sweeney, Director of Admissions, Marketing, and Financial Aid at the Lauder Institute, takes us through the Lauder program: what is it, who it is a good fit for and who it’s not, and how to get in.
Learn what makes Wharton Lauder unique, and how applicants can distinguish themselves in their applications [Show Notes]
It gives me great pleasure to introduce Kara Keenan Sweeney, Director of Admissions, Marketing and Financial Aid 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.
Can you give an overview of the Wharton Lauder Program? There may be some listeners who aren’t that familiar with the program. [1:56]
Our students earn a Master of Arts in International Studies at the same time they do the Wharton MBA program. It is a two-year, joint, integrated program, and all of the classes are taken at the Lauder Institute. The Institute was founded in 1985 by the family of Estee Lauder, and they have been very involved in the planning and execution of the program. We have six programs of concentration. Five of the concentrations are focused on a region of the world – they are East/Southeast Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We also have a global track for those who already have significant international experience and are looking for a more macro take on global issues. There is no language requirement while in the program because they have to have those skills before being admitted. Students do both programs simultaneously, and we frontload a little bit with students starting in May. There are 70 students in each class, and they take a month of classes in Philadelphia and then do an eight-week summer immersion, so they have three months of class under their belts before the MBA program starts.
Wharton Lauder has a new director Dr. Martine Haas. I realize that she just started in July, but any idea of the direction that she’d like to take the program? [5:32]
She brings a lot of energy, and it’s great to have someone new as well as the first woman lead the institute. She is from South Africa, studied in the U.K., and has been teaching at Wharton for the last several years so she already knows a lot about our program. She continues to learn more about our program through our students, alumni, and board, and is very happy to help shape the vision for the next five years.
What else is new at Wharton Lauder since we last spoke two years ago? [6:22]
We changed the curriculum a few years ago from strict language-focused classes to a concentration focus. Those changes have been going very well with the new regional focus. We’ve added Korean as a language to our Asian track, and we also restarted our Anglophone Africa program this year. We’ve hired three new faculty members, one of whom oversees the Africa program right now. Another covers the Global Knowledge Lab. We also in the last month had a new fellow join the program, Professor Mohamed El-Erian, professor of practice at Wharton and Lauder, and it’s an amazing experience for the students to work with him. The students are required to go on two trips as part of Lauder Integral Ventures. We have nine trips available – Botswana, Myanmar and Tahiti, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Israel, Mongolia. Students spend a week in one of these regions with a faculty member, study a topic, and then write a paper.
Can you describe the critical elements of the Wharton MBA and Lauder application? [11:10]
They complete the Wharton application as traditional MBA applicant would, and embedded into it is the Lauder application as well. We ask for an additional essay on why they are applying to Lauder, why they are going after their chosen concentration, the value they will add to the program, and the results of the oral proficiency interview which is a language proficiency test. Students must already have an advanced language skill to study in that language. We teach our classes in a particular language already at a graduate level, so you need to come in already at a strong level. We also ask for information on international experience. The application is submitted jointly to both programs. In most cases, you are either admitted to both or not to both. In a few cases applicants will be admitted to Wharton only, as they don’t qualify for Lauder. We only look at the applicants as a whole group and the adcom reviews both the Wharton and Lauder application. We know what the Wharton program is looking for and we make decisions together. It is a very integrated admissions process.
How do you go through an application? [14:08]
We read through it start to finish in the same order it’s submitted online. We look through background, work history, read the essays (two for Wharton), recommendations, and then the Lauder application is a supplement. We evaluate each area and make sure they would thrive at Wharton with academics, GMAT/GRE and in quant. For Lauder, with a master of arts, we want to see that students have strong writing abilities, which we can evaluate from standardized tests, essays, and grades as an undergraduate. We look at the professional experience so far in their career. We evaluate international experience and ambitions, and how applicants see themselves benefitting from the Lauder program. We want to see students have done the research and checking all the boxes and sections we are looking at. So long as you have a compelling reason for attending the program, we will take your application seriously.
Lauder’s essay question for MBAs is “Discuss why you are applying to the Lauder program detailing specific reasons for applying to your chosen Program of Concentration and describing how you see yourself benefiting from, and contributing to, the Lauder program overall. (Approximately 800 words.)” What is the wrong way to approach that question? [19:29]
It is frustrating to see people who really haven’t done the research on the program. We want to see people reaching out to us to learn about it and have a compelling reason for attending the program, and you can really tell when people haven’t done that research. We don’t want a two-page essay on why you are interested in Africa, we want to see you really understand what the program is about. The folks who have done the research feel the program was designed for them.
What gets you excited (in a positive way) about a Lauder applicant? [21:17]
When you see the evidence of research, passion and energy for the program that will be a great fit.
What about the applicant who is multi-lingual, has international experience, and global career goals, but a below-average GPA or test score? Are they doomed? What can they do, if anything, to improve the likelihood of acceptance? [21:46]
There are a few different ways to think about it. Don’t think about your GMAT or GPA as a be-all and end-all. It is not the only example of aptitude. If you have a below average GMAT score, talk about how the work you do has quant aspects or that you have taken supplemental courses that show evidence of academic ability. Talk about what you want to do and how you will be rounding out skills you haven’t developed so far. We have a wide range of GPA and GMAT scores but give us evidence of being a good student. Maybe talk to recommenders about creative ways to highlight that.
What is a Lauder interview like? [23:51]
It is a 30-minute conversation ideally with a current student or alum. For students in the U.S. they do it in Philly in person hopefully. For international students we are lucky to have alums all over the world and schedule something in an applicant’s home country. It is basically a conversation question about why you are applying to Lauder and not just Wharton. Why Lauder, why it’s the right program for you. We ask applicants to share a bit about language instruction, how they learned languages, international experiences, passion for international studies, evidence of a global mindset, and ambitions post-MBA.
Where do Lauder grads get jobs? [25:58]
1 in 3 students will work outside of their home countries on average. Our graduates are all over the world. Many have gone to Amazon, many transition to consulting or finance, some go to places like World Bank or IFC. We have profiles of several recent graduates on our website and encourage listeners to review them. Lauder graduate outcomes are fairly consistent with outcomes for the MBA program, but are more geographically disbursed. We also have some students who start their own business.
On the Accepted blog, we recently interviewed a Wharton Lauder student, Sergio, who emphasized the plethora of opportunities in the program and the finite nature of time. How do you recommend students prioritize at Wharton Lauder? Are you looking for time management skills in applicants? [27:58]
We tend to see very type A, driven individuals apply. We have students running on very few hours of sleep, hitting the gym, socializing, doing recruiting, somehow they find the time to make everything happen. There are two additional classes twice a week, and there is a strong community at Lauder with a lot of support. We have a mentorship program between 1st and 2nd years. What I have heard from alums and students is that with Wharton there are so many clubs and activities, and you need to pick and choose wisely what you are really passionate about. Choose the few things you are really interested in so you can meet academic obligations and manage other things like job search. Time management is key, but most manage to thrive really well.
What advice – final words of wisdom – do you have for applicants to Wharton Lauder? [30:28]
Do the research. We have two fulltime staff people dedicated to admissions and working with applicants. Reach out to us – we are open to phone calls to discuss your candidacy. We have webinars. Reach out to students and alumni through your network. If you don’t have anyone in your network, reach out to the office and we will connect you with a current student or ambassador. If you can make it happen, come to Philadelphia, visit class, visit Wharton. In lieu of that, doing research is the #1 piece of advice I can give.
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