RE MBA Decision - Wharton and Columbia

As this is my first post, I wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone on here. I have been lurking for quite a while and have found all the resources on here quite useful, so thank you.

I was admitted to Wharton and Columbia for my MBA and wanted to get your perspective on which of the programs you would recommend. I have seen some posts about Wharton vs CBS for an MBA more generally but not for a RE finance track. From a personal perspective, I would be happy at either school.

Background: I have spent the last 3.5 years working in multifamily development with my father in a good sized city (relatively speaking) in the Upper South. Since it is a lean company I've learned a lot about RE dev and gotten to help source and underwrite deals (primarily with our existing equity partner), lay out sites, design buildings, units, & amenities, manage the actual development process, plan and execute a value-add renovation, etc. etc..

Goals: After getting my MBA I want to go into a more finance oriented role within REPE in NYC and get some exposure to capital raising, the management and deployment of a fund (vs the individual assets like I have done to date) so that I can round out my skill set.

It's my understanding that Wharton is generally seen as the best / better RE MBA (barring specific geographic or personal reasons), if that is the case, is it significantly above Columbia in your mind? How significant is the advantage of Columbia's NYC location? For what it's worth, I have a small network in New York but nothing all that significant.

Being that I don't come from a traditional REPE background, but do have an understanding of the real estate business, would you see me being at a distinct disadvantage to a previous REPE guy or can I make up for most of that with a good summer internship (or two) before I start my full-time search?

Thanks again

At a certain point, choosing between top schools comes down to more nebulous factors like fit, location, etc. Recent rankings show Wharton edging out CBS, but there's something to be said about being in NYC while wanting to work in NYC long-term from an internship and networking opportunities perspective.

Have you visited both schools? Spoken with their admin people, professors, and student bodies?

Commercial Real Estate Developer

Yeah I've visited both schools, spoken with admin, alum, students, etc and haven't been pushed one way or another - probably because both schools are perfectly fine and at this point it really does come down to more nebulous factors like you said

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Goals: get some exposure to capital raising, the management and deployment of a fund (vs the individual assets like I have done to date) so that I can round out my skill set.

This section makes very little sense to me. In the big funds Wharton / Columbia grads work at, you likely won’t get much exposure to the inner workings of the fund. You’re an associate putting together IC Memos, models, doing due diligence and property tours. It’s the most senior guys that make connections with the fund‘s LPs, raise capital / market the fund, establish a relationship with a fund finance banker, etc

If you want higher deal flow and more finance oriented work, then REPE is the way to go. But if it’s for the reasons above, I don’t see the point.

To answer your actual question, I think you should talk to alumni (primarily) and current students to make the decision. They’re both so close in quality that in the end your choice will come down to personal reasons


Got it, if you move up the ladder you may get that type of experience. My point was I don’t think you’ll get exposure to those parts of the fund if you do 3-4 years there and then go back to working with your dad. I also don’t work in PE so maybe someone can prove me wrong


So, Wharton has a real estate department within it, easily one of the best in the world with huge alum connections (I know many, but I didn't go there). CBS has a finance department with a few people who do real estate research (not sure about what RE course work they have). Columbia's MRED program is actually in the architecture school and not connected to CBS. Thus, I think Wharton for RE is a no-brainer. Downside, it's in Philly, but that's just a little of over an hr away by Amtrak to NYC.

It appears that CBS houses a real estate department (Paul Milstein Center) as well, no?

After doing (albeit limited) research I would argue that, from a RE lens, Wharton/CBS are 1a and 1b. While I agree with you the Zell/Lurie Center looks to be more well funded/recognized, but it doesn't seem like the gap is really all that large.

Also, as an aside, seems like there's a pretty big drop off after these two programs from a RE MBA perspective (feel free to correct me if that's not actually the case).

The best way to tell is look at the real estate course offerings, "centers" are not departments. In the case of Columbia they have an MRED housed in architecture, when people talk about going to Columbia for real estate that is the program they are usually talking about (this is not a knock on CBS's MBA at all). Wharton has a real department (as well as a center) that is probably top of the Ivy's for real estate. CBS is trying to up their game, they hired NYU Stern's top real estate faculty member a year ago. Still, as an NYC based person, let me just say Wharton has many miles up on CBS in terms of real estate (and I would argue finance as well). CBS will place tons in IB, PE, and of course RE as well. Again, you won't go wrong.

My best advice is to look at the actual classes you can take and how often they are offered. If you want to take RE courses, I'm pretty sure Wharton will have greater depth and frequency of offerings. For the same degree of choice at CBS, you will need to take courses from the architecture school (no idea if they allow as electives or not in the MBA program).

Have to take in consideration that Philly cost of living will be much cheaper than NYC, especially when you have two years of no income. Also Philly is a great place to be a student with lots of uni's nearby.

Wharton 100%! The alumni network will open doors to most shops in NY, DC and other strong coastal markets along the east and west coast if you want to do acquisitions or asset management. I know Tishman recruits from both schools but Wharton all the way. Peter Linneman who wrote the real estate finance book also heads the RE program. Take advantage of case competitions, you will learn little things and meet other MBAs at other schools at both programs. You won't go wrong either way but I would do Wharton if I was in your position. Best of luck!


Its not a total no-brainer and if you have your heart set on Columbia then fine. But absent that, Wharton will always be Wharton. And location hardly matters when Wharton to Penn Station is under 2 hours. The biggest difference to me is that you'll have stronger classmates at Wharton. I know many top applicants (like the ones coming from PE firms) every year who apply only to HSW and that's it.

Cant go wrong (alum of one of these programs) you will see students from these two schools at every super day you’re invited to. Wharton maybe has a slight edge on the “prestige” factor but people complain about having to take the train up every Friday for coffee chats, whereas the CBS students can go for meetings in between classes so can build a bigger network much faster. You are very lucky you get to make this choice.

Congratulations on the admits! I am applying to bschool this fall including Wharton and CBS, among others. Based on my limited knowledge, Wharton > CBS but both are great. As I'm sure you are aware, Wharton places an enormous # of students in NYC, so I wouldn't see any dis-advantage getting there if you choose it over CBS, other than the commute for interviews and summer internship displacement.

BUT since you don't have the REPE background, I think you give CBS a hard look just for proximity to your ultimate destination and ability to be part of the CRE scene while in school. Penn students won't have that ability during the normal work week.

Can you share any details about the interview process at each school? What are your stats in terms of undergrad school / GPA / GMAT / extra-curriculars / other intangibles that made your app stand out? Also what other schools did you consider / apply to?

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