Real Estate

Is a Master of Science in Real Estate Worth It?

Is a Master of Science in Real Estate Worth It?
Real estate pros have traditionally learned everything they needed to know on the job, but that’s changing. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry August 14, 2019

Some people get into real estate because they’re done with school. The most driven professionals in this space, however, know that earning a master’s degree in real estate can open up new—and lucrative—opportunities.

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If you have a solid understanding of how real estate sales and real estate development markets work, but want to take your business and management skills to the next level, your best bet is to look into a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) program. These master’s degree programs are all about advancement in a saturated industry where the barriers to entry are basically non-existent. MSRE graduates go on to work as asset management advisors, analysts, planners, and project managers, and in other roles in the real estate sphere.

Earning a Master of Science in Real Estate can give you a big advantage over the competition and a boost in your career. There’s a good chance you’ll make more money at a real estate company, too, because you’ll have the qualifications you need to apply for management jobs.

Real estate pros have traditionally learned everything they needed to know on the job, but that’s changing.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The reasons to pursue a Master of Science in Real Estate
  • The prerequisites for a Master of Science in Real Estate
  • The commitment required to earn a Master of Science in Real Estate
  • Top MSRE programs
  • Why education matters in real estate
  • Career options for MSRE graduates
  • Is this degree path right for you?

Is a Master of Science in Real Estate worth it?

The simple answer is that having a master’s degree can mean the difference between success and failure. Can you succeed in real estate without a graduate-level degree? Absolutely, but if you don’t want to spend your entire career as a real estate agent facilitating the buying and selling of residential property, earning your MSRE is one way to break into other areas of the industry. Here are four more reasons why you might decide to pursue a Master of Science in Real Estate.

1. You’ll probably make more money

Information about the world’s richest real estate tycoons is published regularly in media outlets like Forbes, and it doesn’t take long to see that most of the real estate investors and developers who make it onto those lists have a master’s degree.

While there’s no guarantee your salary will shoot up once you have an MSRE under your belt, you will be more employable by the kinds of large development companies or commercial real estate management companies that tend to pay more than residential real estate companies. New MSRE graduates who go into retail real estate can expect to earn anywhere from $110,000 to $180,000 per year.

2. You’ll know how to avoid costly legal problems

During your Master of Science in Real Estate Studies, you’ll dive deep into the legal issues that can impede success in this volatile and trend-driven industry. Housing and construction are governed by a complex web of federal and state laws, many persnickety and counterintuitive; that’s why lawyers need to be involved in real estate transactions. You won’t be a lawyer, but you’ll learn enough to steer clear of the kinds of legal problems that can scuttle a deal or set back a real estate professional’s career.

3. You’ll build a strong and useful network

Who you know is hugely important in real estate, and master’s degree programs typically give students access to well-connected, like-minded industry professionals via alumni groups, professional organizations, and cohorts. The network of industry leaders you build during your graduate studies will be a source of knowledge and opportunities for your entire real estate career.

4. You’ll advance more quickly

You can work your way up into many of the same positions that MSRE graduates hold, but it will take you a lot longer to get there. Earning your graduate degree may mean it only takes you three years to achieve your ten-year goals.

Prerequisites for a Master of Science in Real Estate

Master of Science in Real Estate programs tend to be quite competitive, with rigorous admission requirements. Most accredited MSRE program admission committees look for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a discipline relevant to real estate, such as business, economics, real estate finance, capital markets, planning, or even engineering. Some also require that candidates have taken specific college-level classes in microeconomics, accounting, and business.

That said, having a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough. The candidates most likely to be accepted into master’s degree programs in real estate also will have extensive real-world work experience in some facet of the industry. That means a minimum of three to five years of employment as a broker, architect, loan officer, engineer, construction manager, or consultant. In some cases, candidates will be interviewed by the MSRE admission committee as part of the application process.

Commitment required to earn a Master of Science in Real Estate

Earning a master’s degree typically takes between one and three years, and programs range from 30 to 70+ credit hours. How long it takes you to get your MSRE will depend on the graduate program you choose and whether you attend school full-time or part-time.

Regardless of whether you study on campus or online, full-time or part-time, your coursework will probably include:

Real estate finance

These classes will focus on the economic and financial structures of the real estate market, and will include the study of property valuation and management, project planning, cash flow uncertainties, tax features, and debt sources.

Real estate investment

This coursework will include the study of financing strategies, investment decision making, and capital markets by examining the tools used in complex real estate marketing.

Real estate development

This course will cover development of both raw and developed land, rehab, and acquisitions and will examine retail, warehouse, single and multifamily residential, mixed use and other “specialty” uses like golf courses and assisted living facilities.

Market segment analysis

This course will focus on data sources used to analyze trends and market activity in real estate sales, leasing and lending and will include city planning, traffic studies, and population mobility.

Project management

This coursework will outline how to scope future projects, budget time and resources, assess and mitigate project risk, and organize components to insure a successful project outcome.

Site analysis and design

This class will examine the feasibility of potential real estate investments, from property location and demographics to demand and marketability, and examine how to make informed design and development decisions.

Public entitlements

Coursework in this class will outline land use laws and how they impact real estate development, and will examine how to obtain the necessary property rights and entitlements to allow for successful proposals.


This course will cover successful real estate marketing strategies, including print and online techniques, and will look at technological trends and innovation and how they impact branding, exclusivities, representation, targeted selling, and other promotional activities.

Business management

This class will examine the types of ownership structures of development companies, and how the ethics, investor relations, company structure, and community focus impact the real estate management process.

Real estate valuation

This class will outline the principles of real estate valuation through detailed financial and performance models and by examining risk and the forces of capital markets.

Depending on the MSRE program you choose, you may have the option to pick a concentration or specialization like sustainable development, finance, affordable housing, asset management, or public-private partnerships. Some Master of Science in Real Estate programs require their graduate students to complete an internship and a capstone project; others don’t.

Look at programs carefully before deciding where you’ll apply. Make sure that the elective courses and concentrations you’re most interested in are available before you submit an application.

Top schools for a Master of Science in Real Estate

If you’re serious about advancing in your career, these are some MSRE programs you should consider:

American University

This one-year MSRE program covers both the financial and business aspects of real estate and prepares students to work in areas of the field, including commercial development, international development, investment banking, and mortgage financing. Networking is emphasized.

Cornell University

This two-year program is structured very much like a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, but is entirely focused on the business of real estate. Students are required to complete an internship between their first and second year and to choose a concentration.

Fordham University

This 36-credit program (which can be completed part-time on evenings and weekends, or in one year of full-time study) is focused on the financial, investment, and development side of real estate. Students are given opportunities to complete immersive coursework in their chosen concentration.

Georgetown University

This on-campus or online master’s program (called a Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate at this school) gives students a strong foundation in real estate finance, law, markets, ethics, accounting, project management, development, and construction.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The MSRE program at MIT’s Center for Real Estate is a one-year degree program that is only offered on-campus. It is defined by its small class sizes, academic rigor, interdisciplinary approach, and networking opportunities. Students are encouraged to take courses in the departments of economics, urban studies and planning, civil and environmental engineering, and architecture, as well as courses at the Sloan School of Management.

University of Florida

You can earn an MSRE in just 10 months in this full-time on-campus program. Students work with career mentors and have the opportunity to earn fast-track certifications (like the ARGUS Software Certification and CCIM designation) during the program. Courses cover such subjects as finance and investment, asset management, appraisal, market analysis, real estate development, financial planning, and real estate law and institutions. A capstone project provides hands-on experience, requiring students to analyze “live” commercial real estate cases.

Why education matters in real estate

Earning a master’s degree isn’t just about showing employers that you’re 100 percent committed. As mentioned above, real estate has long been considered one of those industries where education is optional. That, however, is changing. Today’s real estate industry is evolving at a breakneck pace thanks to new technology and real estate cycles that are moving faster than ever before.

Big data and analytics are now driving forces in all areas of sales, development, and investing. The property buying process is becoming digitized. Results are being tracked. The real estate landscape of tomorrow will likely look very different from the landscape of today. In an MSRE program, you’ll learn everything you need to know to succeed in the industry today and you’ll gain the tools you’ll need to adapt to the real estate markets of tomorrow.

Career options for MSRE graduates

There are many possible fields and career paths for a Master of Science in Real Estate graduate. You could transition from working as a residential agent to helping clients buy and sell commercial real estate after earning your master’s degree.

Other real estate-focused career options for MSRE graduates include:

Acquisitions analyst

Real estate acquisitions analysts oversee rentals and lease details in lending agreements. (Average salary: $95,600.)

Asset manager

Real estate asset managers are team leaders and are charged with coordinating staff to best manage a company’s holdings. (Average salary: $86,000.)

Business development manager

Real estate business development managers are responsible for both the daily operations and the future development of the company. (Average salary: $97,409.)

Financial analyst

Real estate financial analysts help plan for investments by analyzing market data and providing reports for market forecasts. (Average salary: $79,237.)

Institutional real estate manager

Institutional or commercial real estate managers handle complex loans, investments, and development projects and offer guidance to loan officers. (Average salary: $174,496.)

Investment manager

Real estate investment managers work for banks and investment firms providing advice and research on trends to guide portfolio investments. (Average salary: $93,439.)

Mortgage brokerage manager

Real estate brokerage managers oversee a team of agents, and manage the licencing, training, and legal compliance of their work and investments. (Average salary: $73,333.)

Portfolio manager

Real estate portfolio managers oversee property buying, selling, and leasing, and manage the details and compliance of properties within the portfolio. (Average salary: $103,900.)

Project manager

Real estate project managers are responsible for all budgeting, resources, and progress communication of development projects. (Average salary: $87,090.)

Real estate appraisal manager

Appraisal managers outline a values estimate for properties that are to be mortgaged, sold, leased or taxed and provide and verify details for public record. (Average salary: $91,656.)

So, is a Master of Science in Real Estate worth it?

The only person who can answer that question is you, but you don’t have to answer it alone. Talk to professionals currently working in the kinds of real estate development and sales positions you think you’d pursue after earning a Master of Science in Real Estate. Did they earn a master’s degree before stepping into those roles? If they did, do they think that the time and money they spent on a degree was worth it? Talking to real estate professionals can help guide you toward the right degree path—or toward opportunities outside of the academic sphere. Keep an open mind because advancement in real estate doesn’t always happen in a straight line.

You can also reach out to the admissions department at universities with MSRE programs to find out more about what those programs look like and what they look for in real estate degree candidates. That will help you determine whether you’ll be a good fit for specific programs. Look into lots of different programs, and remember that different schools have different admissions requirements and curricula. If you’re committed to the idea of earning a master’s degree in real estate, there’s a program out there for you.

Then again, maybe you’re still looking at MBA programs. There’s a compelling reason to shift your focus toward MSRE degree tracks. In most MBA programs, only a handful of students will be interested in real estate and coursework may only touch on real estate part of the time.

When you pursue a Master of Science in Real Estate or a Master’s of Science in Real Estate Development (MSRED), on the other hand, your coursework will be industry-specific most of the time (which may be a lot more interesting) and you’ll be surrounded by people who are just as passionate about the real estate industry as you are.

That’s what drove Spencer Burton, a specialist in real estate acquisition and development, to choose an MSRE over an MBA. He wrote about that choice on the A.CRE blog, emphasizing the networking value of a real estate-focused master’s degree: “I chose a specialized real estate program because I wanted to be around other real estate people. I wanted to interact and engage every day with people who were just as passionate about real estate as I am; people who would one day be the leaders of the industry and to whom I could turn for assistance as my own career progressed.”

(This article was updated on December 2, 2021.)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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