What is a Master’s in Real Estate?
Until fairly recently, it wasn’t possible to get an advanced degree in real estate. But for those who are interested, there are several colleges and universities that now offer both undergraduate and graduate level programs in real estate.
Some of the options out there include a Bachelor’s Degree in real estate, a certificate program, an MBA with a real estate focus, or a master’s degree specifically in real estate.
To be clear up front, none of these degrees are necessary to have a successful career in real estate and many people have done great things in the industry without such a degree. But for those interested in a bit of a more formal educational foundation or those looking to fill in some educational gaps like myself, a degree in real estate may be worth considering.
It's also possible to pursue a master’s degree without a business, real estate, or finance degree at the undergraduate level, but the road will be a more difficult one. Coming from a social sciences background academically, I did some reading on my own and took some business courses at a local community college ahead of time.
Types of Programs
Certificate programs can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time, are more likely to be able to be completed entirely online, and make for a nice addition to your resume. But with only about four to six courses on average you’ll want to make sure that the courses offered are of genuine interest and benefit to you. As an example, both Harvard and Cornell offer certificate programs.
When you get to the master’s level there are three primary tracks to consider. The first is an MBA with a real estate focus. This is the degree that people will be most familiar with, as many in corporate real estate positions will themselves have an MBA. Keep in mind though that an MBA is a business degree and thus the majority of the courses you’ll take will be more general in nature. Still you can take additional courses and electives that will allow you to specialize in real estate. Some examples of these programs include Rutgers, Syracuse, and UPenn.
The next two options are the Master’s in Real Estate (MRE) or Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) which are equivalent and the Masters in Real Estate Development (MRED). There are other names that both of these options may go by depending on the school. For example, Georgetown University offers a Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate.
Still these are the more common names.
Both the MSRE and MRED programs will be real estate specific. Instead of a two-year MBA program, if you attend full-time, you can complete these programs in about a year (specific programs will of course vary). Comparing the two against each other in theory, the MSRE is a more general degree while the MRED is more focused on development. The latter is more likely for example to have courses on the entitlement process and construction management. That being said, in my experience the curriculum is way more important than the name of the degree.
As I spoke with different programs, I quickly learned that most programs seemed to have a focus or a theme. For example, one program was almost 100% economics based and all about investment decision making and analysis, while another program was all about having students go through a series of case studies and mock projects. Still a third program felt thrown together and poorly organized. Instead of having a dedicated real estate department, this university has students take classes from various other colleges within the university (e.g., the Economics department or the Architecture Department) and then synthesizes it into a “real estate degree”.
Examples of MSRE programs include the University of Denver and the University of San Diego. One of things that makes the program at Denver unique is the ability to customize your schedule. Many programs have few if any electives, while the University of Denver program has more electives than core courses. Examples of MRED programs include Clemson University and UC- Berkeley.
If you’re seriously interested in one of these programs, I encourage you to take your time exploring them and asking questions. Sit in on a class if you can. Be sure to look at the curriculum and get a feel for the school’s reputation in the community. Consider that you’ll be studying state specific laws and market trends. Thus, if you plan to live in New York, you may not want to attend a program in Texas, or vice versa. At the same time there are only so many real estate graduate programs out there and so you can’t be too choosy either.
Also, don’t get hung up on the name of the degree. Instead focus on the courses, the interests of the professors, and how the program is structured. You can also ask if they’re part of any fast-track programs where some of their courses apply to the requirements needed to obtain certain credentials that may be of interest to you such as CCIM or LEED. You may also want to ask about mentorship opportunities, internships, or help finding a job after graduation.
Finally, get a feel for the program. As I mentioned many have themes. Some may be more academic and research oriented while others may be more practical in nature. Some may emphasize green development, finance, construction, or another area within the broader field of real estate. Remember that the right program is the right program for you.
Periodically, I plan to include short lessons of a more practical nature. In this way, this blog will be more than simply an autobiographical journey, but also offer some small pieces of knowledge. I’ll keep these lessons short and simple, trying to avoid getting too complex, or assuming any prior knowledge.
For example, one of the ways in which business in general differs from the business of real estate is when it comes to economic markets. If you’re trading a stock, you could have hundreds, thousands, or millions of people trading that same stock over and over in a very short period of time. You have liquidity, making it easy to quickly buy or sell and what’s called informational efficiency, which means that information about the stock is prevalent and easy to come by. This is all because stocks trade in what are called public markets.
Real estate however often trades in the private market. It takes time to buy or sell a house because you need to find a willing partner to take on the other half of the transaction. It’s also easier to hide information that could affect the sales price. It’s not like you can read articles online or a newspaper that talks specifically about the pros and cons of the house down the street. As a result, settling on a price is harder. With stocks it’s pretty clear what the going market value is. But with real estate it’s not that clear, which is why different people can easily come up with different numbers.