Q&A: Cornell MSRED Student

Hi All-

Long-time lurker here, I figured I would make a quick FAQ and AMA as a student seeing all of the former posts and interest in the graduate school space. 

For background, I am a former civil engineer from a state school with work experience in civil engineering and project management. I have looked to go into real estate development and looked at graduate programs, and chose Cornell for the benefits of the network and benefits of having a two-year program. I will be working as an intern at a major REIT for the summer and will be moving towards development.

Please feel free to ask any questions on my experience with graduate school programs, applications, and my experiences with coursework and recruitment! 

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Comments (23)

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May 16, 2021 - 2:24pm

Hey Cornell MSREDAMA,

Thanks for the AMA. Can you talk through whether there is a recruiting/networking discrepancy between pure MSRED students and Johnson MBA students who may be pursuing the Baker minor and still actively involved in on-campus Cornell real estate organizations/clubs? Trying to understand the pipeline of opportunities made available only to MSRED students or whether it's a bit more amorphous? Thank you for the insight. 

May 16, 2021 - 2:57pm

I wouldn't say there's a significant discrepancy between the MSRE and Johnson MBA students at the top half, but I would say that Johnson students have a higher floor than MSRE-only students. While the top-half of the MSRE only students are comparable in recruitment and opportunities, I would describe the floor for the bottom half as lower than the floor for Johnson students. 

I will caveat that a significant amount of recruitment is based on the strength of the individual prior to entering the program. The majority of the program have some experience in real estate, such as myself, but are rerouting their careers. Many of those with strong work experience within the space have had strong recruitment outcomes, even with the COVID environment. 

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May 17, 2021 - 12:04pm

My strategy was to focus on high-hit rate and networking with individuals that would be "stickier" than to go with a big shotgun blast approach. I looked for alumni of Cornell/my undergrad/my old companies and focused my efforts on former engineers/architects/construction people that were more knowledgeable about the career switching portion and would be receptive to someone that was in my position. I know many people approached it from a wide lens but I just found it frustrating and extremely time consuming with minimal benefit. I had a couple people that were extremely helpful out of the 50+ people I reached out to and got the majority of my opportunities through those few people. 

Cornell also has access to virtual career fairs where employers such as Hines, BX, Greystar, and other major real estate players were present and was helpful in getting first rounds and introductions to recruiters. Cornell normally hosts multiple career fairs respectively to Hotelies, Real Estate, and MBAs. The administration also gets you in touch with alumni within relevant industries and regions to get you started if you ask and are helpful in getting some traction. 

  • Developer in RE - Comm
May 17, 2021 - 1:54pm

How is Ithica as a place to live for 2 years during grad school? Any issues to get to major cities for recruiting/coffee chats etc...? How is the town like if you're trying to have a social life in grad school?

May 17, 2021 - 2:17pm

I wouldn't say any major issues outside of any other university that you'd attend. Students are taking trips to NYC every weekend so finding a ride there and back isn't a major issue, and Cornell has a bus to NYC for coffee chats if nobody's available. Ithaca has an airport right beside campus and Syracuse is an hour away with direct flights anywhere along the east coast + Chicago/Denver. All of my coffee chats/recruitment was virtual for the year anyways so it wasn't a major inconvenience to get in touch with people. 

Having a social life at Cornell was easier than expected with a relatively large student body for an Ivy and the general isolation. Ithaca is genuinely a college town and most of your socialization will be with other graduate students within the town. Unfortunately, you won't get the big city feel and amenities from other city-based programs, but you're also not dealing with city costs on top of graduate school costs which add up. COVID definitely put a damper on meeting people, but I ended up meeting with a ton of people outside the real estate program with relevant interests within MMH, CRP, Johnson, architecture, and other relevant graduate programs. The Baker program itself is smaller than others but there are a ton of people at the school and region with similar interests that you'll see in other programs within your classes.

May 18, 2021 - 12:11am

I'd say that most of the students have around 3-5 years of work experience with some from fresh out of undergrad to 40+ years old. I'd say the largest percentage are architects but that probably only makes up around 20% each year. It really is a huge mixed bag of people; some from brokerage, construction, PE, trading, PWM, consulting, leasing, you name it. Nearly all have some sort of background in finance or architecture/engineering/construction. 

May 18, 2021 - 9:39am

Thanks for doing this.

Regarding the opportunities available for recruiting, are these typically entry level opportunities and are more senior opportunities readily available during the recruiting process? I assume a lot of this has to do with your experience, but with a class experience of around 3-5 years, around 100k base seems kind of low as they state on their career profile page, especially when the bulk are placed in the North East. 

Additionally, as opposed to real estate focused job opportunities. How is investment banking recruiting for the program (i assume this will focus on REGAL). I noticed the career profile sheet online has a few placements in this space, but is this mainly through networking or are banks actively recruiting for their investment banking arms from this program? 

May 18, 2021 - 1:29pm

I would say that the majority of the graduates come out at Associate/DM/AVP level employees, pretty similar to post-MBA placements. Again, most of your opportunities are going to be based on your previous experience and standing; a construction PM can come out to be a DM, someone fresh out of undergrad will be anywhere between an analyst to associate. 

As noted above with the base, the variance on student backgrounds coming in the program drive the base for the Baker program, along with the lack of placement to IB/Consulting roles. MSRE programs are not a silver bullet; you will most likely not be coming in as a VP for Related if you came out of undergrad straight into grad school. That being said, MSRE programs can place a former consultant into a LifeCo, or an accountant into a buyside role. I would not consider the MSRE as a guarantee of any roles, but a really good opportunity for someone who is smart but wasn't knowledgeable about the industry in undergrad/high school, or someone who needs additional credentials for a promotion to leadership.

Regarding banking, I would say that the program does not discredit you in any way in getting a banking role but may not be the accreditation you need to get the foot in the door. If you're coming from an irrelevant industry such as myself, I would recommend going through the Johnson program for a more organized placement and if you're dead-set on IB. Most people I know who could have been placed in REIB at a BB could have already pivoted, but left banking or chose to come back to school. Most of us are mid-to-late twenties and would rather work 40-50 hours at 150k+ starting rather than 80+ at 200k+ starting so lifestyle has a big part in why most don't pursue banking at this point. Again, I have seen many Johnson/Baker dual degrees go to BBs and some Bakers, however through a combination of less interest, less organized recruitment, and higher student achievement variance, not too many go to REIB. 

May 18, 2021 - 12:51pm

When you were first committing/enrolling, were you hesitant at it being a mostly virtual environment? What other schools were you considering, if you weren't going to go with Cornell?

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May 18, 2021 - 1:48pm

I was definitely hesitant coming to a virtual environment, but I figured that in 2 years the environment would be better and I wasn't getting any younger. I had a great lifestyle and fairly good comp, however I felt like I extracted as much value as I would need in going to a development role and that it was time to go. 

I looked at going to MIT, Cornell, and Columbia MSRE(D) programs and briefly at MBAs in the range of Tepper, Kenan-Flagler, Darden, McDonough, etc. I didn't get into MIT and chose not to apply to MBAs because of my development focus and didn't want to take classes that were irrelevant to my goals. While MBAs obviously had better placements in consulting/banking/etc, placements in development and REPE were somewhat comparable. I ended up choosing Cornell over Columbia based on having a 2-year program which allowed for internships and the reputation of Cornell in the real estate space. I am also not hell-bent on being in NYC and I thought that having a "tighter" Cornell network would help me place better than having a huge number of alumni that were less likely to pick up the phone or respond to my emails. 

May 25, 2021 - 12:44am


Thank you for creating the CornellMSREDAMA thread, the Q&As have been very informative. I was hoping to ask you a few questions regarding your transition to real estate development.

You've stated that you will be working as an intern at a major REIT for the coming summer and then moving towards development. Is this to gain more experience within the financial aspect of real estate before obtaining a job with a developer? From reading up the various paths to becoming a real estate developer it seems to be really varied and up to the individual. There seems to be ones who join a development company as an analyst and move up/gain experience (>5~10yrs) before breaking out on their own OR ones who begin as analyst in more real estate investment type companies and moving up/gain experience/connect with capital sources before breaking out to create their own funds or jump ship to a developer to manage the financial aspect then break out on their own? Would this be the correct way to view the broad/varied ways to becoming a real estate developer/starting one's own development company?

I currently do not have any work experience but would like to attend a real estate program in order to gain a better understanding before starting a full time job. Any advice for someone that is specifically interested in developing multifamily assets in a primary market (LA, SF, NYC)?

I see that for Cornell's program there are various concentrations one can pursue. For someone with a background in architecture/civil engineering/construction that is somewhat related to real estate but not completely aligned in regards to the hard skills required (e.g. financial modeling) would you recommend to completely focus on the financial aspect? For example, for someone with a background in architecture/civil engineering/construction, if they were to attend Cornell, would you recommend to pursue the real estate finance concentration or the sustainable development concentration? (if their goal was ultimately to become a multifamily developer)

Looking forward to your reply and thank you ahead of time for taking the time to read the questions.

May 25, 2021 - 11:13am

I looked to work for a developer for various reasons, not just for finance experience. I'm interning at the job I would like to do, brushing up on all aspects that include project management and the actual building part of development on top of finance. I'd imagine that starting a development company with a development background or investment background would be fine, but you'd also be able to supplement things that you'd need additional expertise on with your partners to cover some bases. I really think to only options to starting your own company would be having experience in the space or having an ungodly bank roll to start.

I would really, really encourage you to get at least a small amount of experience before coming back to school, especially if you can get a job relevant to the field you're in. Even as an engineer, I learned an absolute boatload about project management, the built environment, and the discussions that needed to happen to get things moving. I would say that having at least 1-2 years in industry would definitely help you spring board your career rather than just going from grad school out. I understand that some programs skew younger, but having experience will help you get the most out of your experience at school, both from an education and opportunity standpoint. 

If you're set on going straight to grad school and want to learn as much as you can in a couple months, I'd just read The Real Estate Game and binge read CoStar reports and listings so you'd generally know what's going on in the area. There's not too much that you can learn in a short period before school, so this would be a fairly optimal way of using your time. 

Regarding the concentrations, I think most of the curriculum is very flexible, especially in the last year/semester where you have a lot of optionality when it comes to coursework. I really think that the difficulty of modeling and finance is incredible overstated and overestimated, especially on this forum. The finance isn't harder than the freshman Chem and Physics classes in engineering and you'll pick it up very quickly if you've done anything quantitative in the past. The RE financial modeling course at Cornell is really, really, good, but also isn't impossibly hard to pick up with a technical background, especially if you've taken any CS courses in the past. The finance concentration is very suitable for going into real estate finance, with a ton of people from non-finance backgrounds pivoting into finance heavy roles. I think that a lot of people start the program looking at development but end up looking to get out of it once they realize some of the more nitty gritty aspects of it. 

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