A Master Student's Journey into Real Estate
A Master's Journey into Real Estate
This new blog describes the journey of pursuing a master's degree in real estate, launching a new career, and lessons learned along the way.
Hello. My name is Mark Scarola and I’m once again a college student. It’s my intent in this periodically published blog to share not only my experiences of being a career changer and returning to school after two decades, but also sharing tidbits of real estate and other information that you may find useful or interesting.
At the turn of the century, I graduated at the top of my class with a degree in Psychology. I was selected as Senior Class Marshall (similar to being valedictorian), gave a speech at graduation in front of 5000 people, had a department newsletter article written about me entitled “Outstanding Psychology Student of the Year”, completed my first of two theses, presented research findings at regional conferences, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Why am I telling you this? Because it doesn’t matter.
A month after earning my bachelor’s degree, I went on to pursue a Master’s Degree of Social Work from one of the most prestigious and respected colleges in the nation. Again, it didn’t matter.
Not once have I been on an interview where someone asked my GPA. Not once has anyone been impressed that I gave a commencement speech, wrote two theses, or went to the equivalent of an Ivy League school. They simply wanted to know that I graduated. The lesson here was that while all that hard work may have bettered myself, academia doesn’t always translate well into the workforce.
My advice to others in college is to focus on what you need for your career. Take classes that are relevant to your future. Spend time networking and making connections with people that can help you. Get a part-time job that will give you the right type of experience. As far as academics, don’t worry so much about your grades. Read the chapter that you find interesting that wasn’t assigned and don’t just study for the exam. Instead, study for your future. Speaking of your future, talk to people who are doing today what you think you want to do tomorrow. You might make a great connection or you might learn that what you thought was the perfect career for you isn’t in reality what you assumed it would be.
My master’s thesis was on burnout in therapists and ironically that’s exactly what happened to me. I trained to be a clinical therapist. I provided counseling to patients in a hospital, teenage girls removed from their homes because of emotional and/or behavioral issues, and worked at an agency that specialized in sexual abuse, counseling both perpetrators and survivors. I enjoyed the work and found it very rewarding. But it was also very draining, and over time I realized that I could no longer do it on a full-time basis. Unfortunately, this is all too common with mental health professionals.
Discovering Real Estate Investing
One of my first jobs offered me a 401(k) and tasked me with selecting one or mutual funds to invest in. I knew nothing about investing, but that assignment sparked an interest I didn’t know I had. I started investing in stocks as I taught myself more about investing in general.
I quickly realized that stock investing wasn’t for me. It was then that I discovered real estate investing and its many niches. While flipping was being promoted on late night television as the great alternative to a 9 to 5 job, I knew that I didn’t know construction or how to estimate the cost of repairs and that I would likely get taken advantage of if I pursued that direction.
I then discovered mortgage notes, which involves investing in delinquent mortgage loans. I took my counseling background and used it to speak with borrowers struggling to make their mortgage payments. I found a way to connect my training and skills with a new field. Whenever I talk with new or prospective career changers, I encourage them to do the same. Find a way to take the skills you already have and find something that you’ll both enjoy and thrive at.
In time I was hired by a real estate development company. I was in charge of investor relations, again using my counseling background in a new capacity. I answered investor questions, provided updates, wrote reports, and promoted our projects. I spoke at City Council meetings, presented at conferences, and helped raise capital for our company’s projects.
If I Only Knew
I found something that I enjoyed, but I quickly learned that I was also in over my head. I was working for a small company and so I ended up taking on responsibilities that I wasn’t prepared to do. For example, I needed to come up with a projection of expenses. While I did the best that I could, I knew that I was leaving certain expenses out. I just didn’t know what I was leaving out.
In time the company went out of business. I found another job, but then COVID hit the world and I was laid off approximately a month after being hired. I had no seniority at that point, and the company was understandably filled with uncertainty about the future. It was a difficult time to be unemployed with so many other people competing for jobs. Combined with the fact that my recent career experiences had helped me to become aware of how much I didn’t know, I made the decision to return to school.
A New Start
Being successful in college before, it felt like a natural and comfortable place to return. I view my return to college as both anxiety provoking and energizing; an opportunity to fill in the missing gaps of knowledge with a stronger foundation and a chance to rebuild my confidence.
A year earlier I wouldn’t have imagined making this decision as I didn’t even realize the kind of real estate programs that exist at traditional colleges and universities. In my next article, I’ll discuss some of the different types of programs out there, particularly at the master’s level.