Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more MBA programs.
In real estate, they say, it’s all about connections — which makes business school the logical place to go if you’re interested in a career buying, selling, managing, speculating in, developing, or otherwise focused on what social science refers to as “the built environment.”
Among the premier places to learn the skills to thrive in the constantly fluctuating world of real estate — and to make the connections that are the fuel for a successful career — is UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Since its founding 18 years ago, UCLA’s Ziman Center for Real Estate has leveraged its location in the heart of the Western U.S.’s largest city to become one of the top real estate centers in the country for the study of low-income housing, commercial real estate, market-driven approaches to affordable housing, and more.
Ziman’s founding executive director, Tim Kawahara, says the center’s role in L.A.’s real estate ecosystem is like that of all business school-based real estate organizations: Its studies, and the leaders it produces, are vital to the community.
“L.A. is very dynamic place right now with lots of public transit infrastructure being put in, lots of conversations about density and housing and the housing crisis, which permeates all of California,” Kawahara tells Poets&Quants. “And then we’ve got the Olympics coming in 2028, so a lot of infrastructure is being built in Los Angeles, so it’s a pretty dynamic place right now. From new stadiums to new high-rises, creative offices, we’ve got everything.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Poets&Quants has compiled a list of the top schools in the United States for real estate MBAs. The list — see Pages 2 and 3 — is in no particular order, owing to the wide range of programs on offer, from electives to specializations to on-campus centers dedicated to the industry.
Real estate is the career destination of a small but consistently measurable portion of the graduating class of most elite B-schools, but the fact is, some schools have cultivated a reputation for excellence in the area more than others. The 13 schools on our list are the best-known real estate schools in the country — but that doesn’t mean other schools have nothing to offer prospective real estate MBAs or other students. Want readers to know about a school we missed? Let us know and maybe we’ll include it in next year’s list!
According to the MBA employment reports of the highest-ranked U.S. schools, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School was the only elite school last year to send more than 10% of its graduating MBAs into real estate. Some of that is a byproduct of how schools report their employment data — “real estate” is sometimes lumped in with “private equity,” and sometimes thrown in a pot called “Other” — but it is undeniable that real estate is never going to challenge consulting or banking as top destinations for MBAs. Yet it can be just as lucrative. According to employment reports at the top schools for producing real estate MBAs, starting salaries are commonly in the $120,000 to $140,000 range, and can climb as high as $200,000. That’s what someone made coming out of NYU’s Stern School of Business in 2018; someone from Columbia Business School got a $50,000 bonus, as well.
STUDYING IN A ‘LIVING LABORATORY’
At UCLA, the 40 or so MBA students who are concentrating on real estate know they will get their payday: starting salaries ranged up to $140K for the Class of 2018’s real estate grads. But for many, pay is not the point — there’s a strain of social responsibility woven strongly though the program and the work of the Ziman Center, which has raised more than $20 million since 2012 in a campaign promising to educate future real estate leaders and social entrepreneurs in the ways of “sound public policy, better communities, industry best practices.” This may explain why someone in that 2018 graduating class took a starting salary of just $60K.
Ziman does a lot of things that fall into the category of social impact, Kawahara says, including its program on affordable housing that is geared toward the community. “We’re giving MBA-level training to nonprofit housing developers, public agency developers, to try to help build capacity,” he says. “So where we have this relationship not only with the private sector, private developers, and private capital, but also lots of the policymakers and even some of the nonprofit social impact-type folks that are doing some of this work on the ground.”
In addition to the usual battery of coursework on development, management, taxation, investment, and more, UCLA’s MBA students have access to a series of extracurricular activities that rival any other schools’: case competitions and mentor programs abound, and the Ziman Center hosts conferences — sometimes geared toward students and sometimes toward industry — on everything from crowdfunding to Blockchain to affordable housing policy.
“We like to tell our students that they picked well because they have Los Angeles as their living laboratory,” Kawahara says. “And of course since we’re located on the Pacific Rim, if you’re going to do any kind of business in real estate in Asian or Latin America, or anywhere in the U.S., this is a great place to have as your headquarters.”
MORE SELLING POINTS
The Ziman Center has a board of about 70 members — a “who’s who” of real estate, among them Lewis Feldman, CEO of Heritage Capital Ventures; Victor Coleman, chairman and CEO of Hudson Pacific Properties Inc.; and Mary Ricks, president of Kennedy Wilson. The board members “serve as mentors,” Kawahara says. “They come and meet with our students, there’s lots of network building for our students here as well.”
The Anderson School also has a strong real estate club, the Anderson Real Estate Association Club, which has its own set of programs that mirrors the MBA, with career nights, resume nights, speakers, site tours, and lots of internship placement, job placement, and career counseling activities. The school also boasts a formal curriculum at the undergraduate level.
And we haven’t even mentioned the faculty.
“Another good selling point for us is that our teaching faculty in our real estate program at Anderson are really among the top-rated faculty in the entire school, not just in our little area,” Kawahara says. “A lot of our students will matriculate here because of the reputation of our teaching faculty in the real estate program.”
See the next pages for our list of the top schools for real estate MBAs and their in-house centers.