Business Administration

What Is an MBA in Real Estate? More Than Just an MSRE Alternative

What Is an MBA in Real Estate? More Than Just an MSRE Alternative
There was a time when aspiring entrepreneurs in the United States were focused on finance, tech, and in every possible market other than real estate. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry June 9, 2020

The students most likely to pursue a real estate MBA are those who love business but would prefer to study with a cohort that's as passionate about property as they are.

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Let’s get something out of the way: you can succeed in real estate development with a generalist MBA. Business is business, after all. The question you have to ask yourself before deciding to focus your MBA on real estate is whether you want to specialize in the business of real estate within the context of the business world at large, i.e., finance, accounting, operations, marketing, economics, and strategy.

Or perhaps it makes more sense to frame the question this way: do you want to learn about the business world at large while you dig deep into the business of real estate? Because if the answer is “No, I only care about the nuts and bolts of real estate deals,” then perhaps a Master of Science in Real Estate is a better degree for you. The MBA in Real Estate is better-suited to those who prefer a big-picture approach.

Don’t assume that choosing an MBA concentration like real estate means you won’t delve into core business fundamentals. You will, but you’ll do it in the context of real estate, and you’ll do it alongside people who are just as passionate about property as you are. In an MBA in Real Estate program, you won’t have to spend much time learning about business strategies that are primarily applicable to retailers, financiers, or marketers. Your education will be concentrated and focused. Every class you take will give you a better understanding of real estate markets, finance, taxation, regulations, and more.

Top schools like Columbia University and New York University offer real estate MBA programs. A growing number of professionals opt for them because they want to transition into real estate or advance more quickly in their careers. If you want to join their ranks, keep reading. In this article, we answer the question what is an MBA in Real Estate? by discussing:

  • Who is most likely to choose this MBA specialization?
  • What is the difference between an MBA in Real Estate and an MSRE?
  • What courses do students in real estate MBA programs take?
  • Can I pursue an MBA in Real Estate online?
  • Are there part-time real estate MBA programs?
  • What kinds of careers do people with this degree pursue?
  • How much will I earn after graduating with an MBA in Real Estate?
  • Do I really need an MBA to launch a career in real estate?

Who is most likely to choose this MBA specialization?

There was a time when aspiring entrepreneurs in the United States were focused on finance, tech, and in every possible market other than real estate. In the early 2010s, however, real estate became the hot new MBA specialization, and colleges and universities scrambled to launch or flesh out their real estate programs. Now, savvy business people and financiers have an eye on the property market again, and there are plenty of MBA programs ready for the next generation of real estate entrepreneurs.

The people in these programs aren’t aspiring real estate agents or small-time developers, but rather future industry leaders. Students in MBA in Real Estate programs tend to be interested in institutional real estate, where they’ll be involved in large-scale projects funded not by individuals but by money from funds, big corporations, and Wall Street investment banks. Some MBA graduates go into private equity and investment management focused on property and development. And finally, some students pursue an MBA intending to open their own brokerage firms.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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What courses do students in real estate MBA programs take?

The course work in real estate-focused MBA programs varies from school to school. Some business education programs for real estate entrepreneurs devote more credit hours to business and management fundamentals. In contrast, others (especially one-year MBA programs) tend to be laser-focused on real estate concepts.

In the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business’ two-year program, students take courses like:

  • Advanced Real Estate Finance
  • Business Strategy
  • Data to Decisions
  • Economics for Managers
  • Ethics, Integrity and Society
  • Financial Accounting
  • Integrated Company Analysis
  • Introduction to Financial Management
  • Leading and Working in Teams
  • Marketing Management
  • Operations Management
  • Real Estate and Investment
  • Real Estate Capital Markets
  • Techniques in Real Estate Valuation
  • Urban Economics

Compare that to the curriculum of an accelerated MBA in Real Estate program. You might find that one-year and 16-month programs spend less time on general business coursework and more time on classes related to real estate concepts, like:

  • Analyzing Buyers, Sellers, and Financiers
  • Asset Management in Real Estate
  • Commercial Real Estate Management
  • Financing Real Estate Development
  • Foundations in Real Estate Law
  • International Real Estate Law
  • Investing in Real Estate
  • Market Analysis in Real Estate
  • Real Estate Development
  • Real Estate Valuation and Investment
  • Urban Development and Management

Most MBA in Real Estate programs are multidisciplinary in nature because property investment, development, and management involve not only buying and selling, but also architecture, engineering, and even psychology. The best MBA in Real Estate programs offer students opportunities to take classes in other related disciplines, whether as part of the core curriculum or via general and real estate electives.

Some programs don’t focus primarily on real estate or the real estate industry but do grant real estate certificates. At The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor‘s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, students pursuing full-time MBAs, executive MBAs, or dual degree pathways that include a Master of Business Administration can complete an additional 17 credits through A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Rackham Graduate School to earn a Certificate in Real Estate Development.

What is the difference between an MBA in Real Estate and an MSRE?

The easy answer is that business-minded people choose the MBA. Real estate-minded people choose the Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE). It isn’t, however, that simple. Both degrees can prepare students for a long and lucrative career in real estate, but there are some significant differences between these two degree pathways:

  • Most MBA in Real Estate programs take two years to complete, while MSRE programs often last just 12 months and have a curriculum that’s 100 percent focused on real estate.
  • In MBA programs for real estate, internships and other experiential learning opportunities are typically required. In MSRE programs, internship opportunities may be limited and not required for graduation.
  • Master of Real Estate programs require a thesis, while real estate MBA programs are more likely to require students to complete a capstone project involving a real-world consulting project.
  • Real estate MBA programs tend to be finance-focused, while Master of Science in Real Estate programs cover a broad range of topics that can include management, development, architecture and design, and capital markets.
  • It’s not unusual for real estate MBA students to be recruited before or shortly after graduation by companies that have relationships with a university. MSRE graduates typically have to create their own opportunities.

Both degree pathways have their merits. MBAs are a great choice for people who want to work in real estate finance or aren’t sure they want to spend their entire careers in real estate. Earning A Master of Science in Real Estate is worth it, however, if you want to advance into senior roles in real estate development or management.

Can I pursue an MBA in Real Estate online?

There are strong online real estate MBA programs at schools like – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill‘s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Saint Joseph’s University‘s Erivan K. Haub School of Business. These programs tend to have course lists very similar to more traditional on-campus programs. They can be a good option for students who absolutely can’t take time off work to pursue a degree or have personal obligations that make committing to a full-time, on-campus program difficult.

These programs are accredited by the same organizations that oversee traditional MBAs and are typically as respected by employers as other programs. However, before you decide to pursue an online MBA in Real Estate, make sure the program you choose is comparable to traditional programs for career support services, internship placement opportunities, alumni networks, and post-graduation employment rates.

Are there part-time real estate MBA programs?

It is possible to earn an MBA in Real Estate while enrolled part-time, provided you’re willing to commit to a longer course of study. Earning an MBA can take three years or more if you’re studying part-time, and that can feel like forever. You may also miss out on valuable networking events that are geared toward full-time students.

The trade-off is that you’ll be able to continue working and earning money while pursuing your degree, which means that you may graduate with minimal student loan debt or no student loan debt at all. If you’re already working in real estate, you’ll also have ample opportunities to apply what you’re learning in your MBA program at work. You may advance more quickly in your current company as a result.

What kinds of careers do people with this degree pursue?

Positions for real estate MBA graduates often have analyst or associate in the title. Even so, the duties and salaries associated with these roles can vary significantly from firm to firm. It makes more sense to look at the areas of real estate MBAs typically end up in:

  • Acquisitions: You’ll need highly developed financial modeling skills and experience in real estate and capital markets to work in this area. Your job will be to identify real estate opportunities and to purchase real estate assets that are in line with criteria set by portfolio managers.
  • Consulting: Real estate consulting can be a lucrative career path for anyone who enjoys working on new projects regularly. As a consultant, you might work in appraisal and valuation, portfolio strategy, location footprint strategy, or property analysis and acquisition.
  • Development: Team management and process management skills are critical assets when your goal is to work in real estate development in positions like Development Manager. You’ll play a role in the creation of residential, retail, industrial, and healthcare properties—specifically a role in helping guide projects from concept to completion.
  • Finance: Some real estate MBAs work for firms that own, develop, finance, or back property projects. Their responsibilities usually involve handling broader financial functions. Going into finance is a smart career move for graduates who aren’t sure they want to stay in real estate.
  • Investment banking: After graduating from an MBA in Real Estate program, you might become an associate on a real estate coverage team. In this position, you’d be a part of raising capital, assisting with mergers, and managing real estate assets.

How much will I earn after graduating with an MBA in Real Estate?

A traditional MBA can double your salary. An MBA in Real Estate will almost certainly increase your current salary and boost your lifetime earning potential, but it probably won’t double them. That’s because as interest in real estate MBAs has grown, competition has become a lot tougher for real estate business jobs, and that has kept salaries down. According to PayScale, the average salary for real estate MBA graduates is about $102,000. Students who graduate from programs at the top business schools like University of California – Los Angeles‘s Anderson School of Management or Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management only earn about $120,000.

However, it’s worth noting that salaries in real estate look low because they don’t include bonuses, equity in deals, and other forms of compensation. The most important thing you should consider is that salaries for real estate MBAs aren’t typically as high as salaries for consulting MBAs or traditional MBAs from the best business schools.

Do I really need an MBA to launch a career in real estate?

In many fields, you won’t get very far without a degree, but real estate isn’t one of them. You can succeed in real estate without any degree at all, provided you have pluck and plenty of grit.

That said, most of the people enrolled in real estate MBA programs aren’t looking to become real estate entrepreneurs, though having a master’s-level business degree certainly can’t hurt if that’s the path you ultimately take. MBA in Real Estate holders go on to hold senior-level and executive positions in residential and commercial real estate development firms, private equity and investment management firms, and banks. While you can technically advance into a director, vice president, or c-suite position without an MBA, the journey won’t be an easy one. You’ll almost certainly be competing for those roles against people who’ve been to business school.

That said, there are pros and cons to pursuing an MBA in Real Estate—especially if you can’t afford or aren’t accepted into one of the best real estate MBA programs. The fact is that studying at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Wharton School or Columbia University’s Columbia Business School will absolutely pay off in the long run, even if you have to struggle to pay the high cost of tuition. The connections you’ll make with classmates, alumni, and industry professionals in those programs will lead to lucrative opportunities immediately after graduation and for decades afterward.

If you don’t make it into a high-profile program, the rewards of having an MBA in Real Estate may not justify the cost. You won’t necessarily learn everything you need to know to become a real estate investment analyst or jump into executive roles in an MBA program that devotes more credit hours to general business topics. Plus, if you can’t find a suitable part-time MBA program, you’ll need to take time off from work and sacrifice years of income for a degree that may or may not make it easier to achieve your goals.

On the other hand, this is a versatile degree—much more versatile than a Master of Science in Real Estate. An MBA in Real Estate from any well-regarded college or university, even if it’s not a prestigious one, can help you advance in real estate… and then transition out of it later, if that’s what you decide to do. An MBA with a real estate specialization is still an MBA, which means you can always pivot into other industries if you feel like your career is stagnating or the real estate game isn’t as fun as it once was.

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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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