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To Degree or Not To Degree?

The current state of education in CRE

There is no concrete route when pursuing a career. While in today’s workforce it may be all but required that emerging professionals hold a Bachelor’s degree, the steps toward employment are up to an individual’s discretion. That may not be entirely true for fields like law or medicine, where extensive schooling and a hefty resume are crucial in the advancement of one’s career, but it is true of the commercial real estate industry.

For a long time, a career in commercial real estate was less a goal one pursued intentionally and actively, and more something one happened upon. That’s not to say CRE isn’t a desirable field to be a part of, but the lack of schooling required meant many developed an interest through other means. But as is the case with industries across the board, there is an increasing demand for professionals who have a strong, broad skillset in their field that can only be acquired through attaining a degree.

With individuals keen to gain this kind of cohesive understanding of an industry, the past 10 years have seen a surge in students interested in pursuing a degree in commercial real estate. In response to the shifting dynamics of the industry, schools like Fordham University, New York University and Georgetown have developed comprehensive programs for both undergraduate and graduate degrees that prepare students for success in their careers.

“Real estate education is not merely about mastering analytical techniques, financial engineering and the process of bringing a building from idea to physical reality,” said Robert Morgenstern, program director at Fordham University’s Real Estate Institute. “Real estate education has, as an integral attribute, the nurturing of good judgment through classroom learning and by the transmission of the wisdom of experience from the industry to the student.”

Of course, hands-on experience in any field is invaluable, with some arguing it is even more so than schooling. But, as Morgenstern notes, an education sets students up not only to master sophisticated skills and techniques, but to do so in an environment specifically meant to facilitate the passing of knowledge from the experienced to the inexperienced. Programs for commercial real estate offer the opportunity to expand one’s range of thinking both in and out of the classroom, with the help of highly respected faculty, courses that allow students to develop a specific concentration and annual events and panels.

Take NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate in the School of Professional Studies: “Schack is an anchor of the real estate industry in academia and is very well known for its national and global conferences,” said Associate Dean Sam Chandan. “Last year, we hosted our 51st annual capital markets conference and our 2nd annual women in real estate conference, which was an enormous success. We will host our 24th REIT symposium this spring and are introducing a new program to support our students, such as our LGBTQ Roundtable.”

NYU’s Schack offers education, yes, but also a space to seek guidance from top leaders in the industry. Morgenstern supports this merging of two modes of learning, as well.

“Events that bring industry leaders to the university, to share their knowledge and questions, and to interact with educators and students perform a service to both the industry and to the school,” said Morgenstern. “Curating panels and programs focus on bringing both rigor and relevance to the discussion. Putting together conversations where academics and industry leaders jointly consider topics helps to bridge the divide, bringing benefits to educators, students and practitioners.”

This kind of diverse range of opportunities to advance one’s existing knowledge is specific to academia. Where else can young individuals in pursuit of a career find such targeted, accessible information specifically designed to nurture developing minds? The benefits of obtaining a degree in commercial real estate are plentiful, and can only help when it comes to securing a job and entering the workforce. This is even truer of a master’s degree.

“Companies want to hire students who can demonstrate basic financial and real estate acumen,” said Glenn Williamson, faculty director and assistant professor of the practice at Georgetown’s Real Estate Master’s Program. “They use the master’s degree, whether it’s a master’s in Real Estate or an MBA with a Real Estate concentration, as an initial screen for sorting through the most desirable candidates.”

In the past, pursuing a master’s degree was not common for most, as a bachelor’s degree was satisfactory in obtaining a job in one’s desired field. But now, as more young people complete their undergraduate education, graduate education is the extra, and often necessary, step in demonstrating dedication and skill. As an industry that previously required little or no education to secure an entry-level job, it may be difficult to see why one would pursue a master’s in CRE.

“While there may be a low barrier to entry for an entry-level job, our students are not looking for entry-level jobs in real estate,” said Williamson. “A typical Georgetown student already has several years of work experience in a particular field of real estate, whether construction, design, finance, leasing or acquisitions and sales. What the students are seeking is a broad understanding of the other aspects in real estate so that they can become more effective project managers and/or managing directors.”

This is really what it comes down to. Sure, an education in commercial real estate is by no means required—many have entered the industry without it and have gone on to find immense success. However, an education provides individuals with an undeniable advantage, both in having a solid base of information and skill prior to any work experience and in proving their dedication and seriousness to potential employers and clients. The pursuit of a degree in commercial real estate is for individuals that don’t just want to strive for success; they want to do everything they can to all but guarantee success. Of course, in our ultra-competitive and overly saturated work landscape, nothing is guaranteed. Every single working professional has a different story of how they got where they are, and no one can decide on the proper course of action for a person besides the individual themself. But in an industry as constantly evolving as commercial real estate, the barometer for what makes someone qualified is always rising, and a degree is well worth anyone’s consideration if they hope to find success.

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