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The Best Colleges for Real Estate

Should agents and investors add a college degree to their portfolio?


May 01, 2021 by Barbara Zito
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U.S. News and World Report is known for its annual ranking of top undergraduate and graduate programs, including the best colleges for real estate. But before we get to revealing that list of top schools, let's take a look at why a college degree -- which is not always necessary for a career in this industry -- could benefit a real estate professional's bottom line.

Do you need a college degree as a real estate professional?

Typically, a license is all that's required to become a real estate broker or agent, though the classroom hours and exam prep requirements vary greatly from state to state. From an investor perspective, it could be argued that all you need is money to break into the residential or commercial real estate investment. But there's a stronger argument that to be smart with that money, one needs a firm education in the real estate industry.

A college degree can provide the skills needed to open up additional opportunities in the industry, including those in real estate market forecasting and analysis, property management, urban planning and community development, and more.

While a real state licensure program will provide the necessary foundation in real estate principles, there are many aspects of the real estate industry that go far beyond the sales transaction, ranging from real estate appraisal to property management to community planning. For those who want to be an integral part of the development or redevelopment of towns, it helps to study community and urban planning.

Real estate professionals who want to work at large development firms or real estate investment trusts (REITs) would need to study finance and economics to better understand market shifts. For entrepreneurs looking to expand their investment portfolio and break into new industries or sectors, an understanding of accounting, taxation, and budgeting would also come in handy. Then of course, marketing classes can also help investors and landlords promote vacant properties to potential buyers.

What does a real estate degree program entail?

Dozens of colleges and universities across the country offer real estate curricula, whether it's a certificate program, an associate degree program, a four-year undergraduate degree program with real estate as either a major or a minor, or a graduate program, with some schools offering a real estate MBA. While all of these programs have a focus in real estate, a prospective degree student can expect a combination of a liberal arts education with a solid foundation in business administration coupled with real estate principles.

For example, the real estate program at New York University features an undergraduate curriculum that includes writing courses, quantitative reasoning, economics, statistics, science, and social science. A real estate major will also take courses that include business organization, management, real estate law, real estate finance, valuation, accounting and taxation, real estate market analysis, risk and portfolio management, commercial lease analysis, and capital market and corporate finance.

Aside from a great mix of business and real estate courses -- which likely include real estate licensure somewhere in the mix -- the great thing about being an undergrad real estate major is the access to internship opportunities that offer valuable hands-on experience as well as an alumni network that can be mined for professional opportunities.

The top schools for real estate

Without any further ado, if you are looking to take your knowledge above and beyond a real estate license, here are the top 11 colleges and universities for real estate, according to U.S. News and World Report. Note that all of these schools are also ranked for their business administration programs, showing again the correlation between a strong business acumen and a solid knowledge of the real estate industry.

  1. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  2. University of Wisconsin -- Madison, Wisconsin
  3. New York University, New York City
  4. University of California -- Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  5. University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  6. University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
  7. University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
  8. Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
  9. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas (tie with FSU)
  10. Georgia State University, Atlanta
  11. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

While these are the top schools by U.S. News & World Report's standards, they are by no means the only programs you can consider for an undergraduate or graduate degree program. When considering what type of real estate school is best for your career goals, there are many considerations, not the least of which is cost. Choosing an online program instead of an in-person program would allow you to study regardless of location, though it's smart to choose a program in the geographical market in which you will be working and investing.

The bottom line

A college degree is not required to launch a real estate sales career as an agent or broker, nor is it a must for building a real estate investing portfolio. But for those individuals who wish to expand their knowledge of the business of real estate development in either the residential and commercial sector, a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree in real estate could be an asset. Consider the tuition as a different type of real estate investment that could pay off.

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