David Hartzell, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, says between 10 percent and 15 percent of the M.B.A. cohort at UNC specializes in real estate. It's extremely rare for M.B.A. students to become real estate agents, and most seek employment in real estate investment banking, development, or investment management, says Hartzell, who is the director of the school's Center for Real Estate Development.
In his 24 years at UNC, Hartzell has observed an increase in the extent to which applicants to the M.B.A. program who expressed an interest in a real estate concentration understood the field. Fifteen years ago, many applicants had no experience working in real estate, Hartzell says, but applicants today tend to have 5 ½ years of experience working in real estate.
Current applicants want an M.B.A. either to change types of real estate jobs or to gain the network and academic understanding that may position them to climb the ranks at their current companies, according to Hartzell. And, in the past two years, the number of firms recruiting UNC students with real estate concentrations has increased significantly, he says.
Not only are recruiters showing more interest in real estate students, but media coverage of the housing crisis has led more M.B.A. students to pay attention to the real estate field, says Brian Gill, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.
"It has been an area where people have both made a lot of money and lost a lot of money," says Gill, who specializes in commercial real estate. "I think there's a hunger on the part of a lot of students to understand how that system works, and whether or not there are entrepreneurial opportunities that they can exploit."
He notes that several business schools have strong reputations for real estate, and includes the Wharton School, the Sloan School of Management, the Wisconsin School of Business, the Haas School of Business, and the McCombs School of Business among those with such programs.
Jim Lewis, associate director of the Portland office of the international real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, has seen M.B.A.'s succeed in his field. "The M.B.A. opens doors and provides access to a wide variety of employment options in real estate," he says.