MBA Considerations

Looking for some opinions here. Even if nobody responds I guess it's helpful to get my thoughts out!

TL;DR: work at top firm, considering part-time MBA, does it make more sense to do T15 part time or shoot for M7 full time if plan is to transition from acquisitions in one asset class to development or generalist acquisitions?

I currently work for a well known firm on the level of Hines, PGIM, CBRE GI in NYC/LA. I currently work on acquisitions for one asset class. I'm 2.5 years in, love the culture/company and overall fit in really well with the team. I went to a (very) non-target school and have always thought that I'd apply to MBA programs after 4-5 years.

I love RE, and my goal has always been to end up in development. So while not 100% required to do so, my plan was to get an MBA to pivot from acquisitions at current firm to development at a similar tier firm while stamping a brand name on the resume ( 4-5 years acq > MBA > development). 

However, I've realized the caliber of people these firms hire, my own firm included. We get so many qualified post-MBA prospects from HBS, GSB, Wharton, etc. that I am thinking even if I do happen to get in to a top program, getting the role I want would be far from a shoe in. I'm starting to think - why leave my relatively cushy job (which hires from top MBA's / where I will be at the post-MBA level within 1-2 years / where I have a long-term career opportunity) in order to spend $225k+, lose 2 years of income, and come out the other end possibly making less money/at a lesser firm (have seen this last post happen a fair bit with people in RE). 

I know opportunity cost probably needs to be looked at on a longer time horizon (unfair to compare just those 2-4 years - need to value MBA benefits over the course of a career). Which brings me to my next point. 

What about a part-time MBA from a school like NYU Stern/UCLA Anderson? To me, this "checks all of the boxes" except it is slightly lower on the "prestige" totem pole compared to a FT MBA at Wharton/HBS/Columbia. It would give me a bigger brand name school on the resume, a much larger alumni network than I currently have, check the MBA box for future roles, cost significantly less, allow me to continue to gain work experience. My reservations are that it might not directly provide as many career opportunities, making a transition to another asset class or development may be difficult, and the long-term value in an MBA is arguably the network which is surely better at Wharton/HBS/Columbia (more localized at an NYU/UCLA).

I guess by the time I wrap up grad school I'd either be...

  • ~28-29 years old with 6-7 years of institutional acquisitions at large REPE + T15 MBA + a lot more $ in the bank
  • ~28-29 years old with 4-5 years of acquisitions experience + M7 MBA + 0$ in the bank 

Would be curious to hear thoughts from WSO!

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Comments (27)

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  • Associate 1 in RE - Other
Jan 23, 2021 - 11:26am

Experience trumps MBA in real estate. Your thinking is correct regarding a part-time MBA given that you like your firm. If I was in your shoes, it would be a no brained to stay with the current firm and apply to business school.

I suggest busting your ass over the next year or two and then approach your boss or whoever about your goal of going to business school part-time while working. Come in prepared as to how it will benefit the company, how you will manage your work load with this new demand in you life and what your expectations are after graduation. The reason I bring this up is that if you are really worried about pedigree there are other options coming from companies like these if they will be a reference and sponsor/partially sponsor you. Executive MBAs are a possibility with 4 years of experience at these type of firms. Rare, but if you crush the GMAT and have done well on the job...it has happened. This opens up Columbia, MIT and Wharton. Outside of this you have Cornell as well. I have met of a couple of people in the Wall Street world that have managed to go to Columbia part-time. Something to look into if you are in NYC. It's not advertised and no idea how it works...seems like it's kept hush hush, but know it is out there.

Personally, I think a NYU/UCLA MBA is just fine and can still get you to where you want to go. Plenty of real estate alums from both schools. Will just have to network your ass off while in school. The switch is definitely doable.

  • Associate 1 in RE - Comm
Jan 26, 2021 - 10:55am

100% agreed. As someone who did their MBA trying to transition from banking to RE with one year of RE experience, it is very difficult and most firms really do not care at all about an MBA. I think an MBA may help for promotions sake internally, but I just don't see the benefits of an MBA. If you are looking to return to development what is stopping you from looking right now? 4years at a top level firm would let you move to a development firm at associate level if that's what you wished.

Jan 24, 2021 - 10:10am

Besides desire to get an MBA, I don't understand why you would need one to make the transition. I know you've been thinking about it and seem to have always imagined doing it. But if you want to go the development route, why not just start networking and applying to positions. The MBA won't further your career goals from an opening doors perspective in my humble opinion. If anything, it's just a two year break. If you want the MBA, do part time. But in all honestly, I really believe you could skip it and save the $200,000. If you really think you need it, have you considered an MS in Real Estate Development? It's 1 year vs 2 and cheaper. You can also do it at night depending on the program. 

Jan 24, 2021 - 2:37pm

I don't think you need an MBA coming from that type of company in those markets. I'm in one of those markets, coming from a similar non target, and looking to break into development as well. There are people out of undergrad working at development shops in NYC and even more with some work experience and no MBA/MSRED so it is possible. The market is tough right now, but there are still opportunities. I suggest getting out there and networking, Happy to share more specifics if you PM me.

  • Analyst 3+ in RE - Comm
Jan 24, 2021 - 5:50pm

I think you just have to test the waters first in applying and networking for development roles. You've got pretty good experience right now with the brand name of a top institutional shop, so I think you've got a pretty decent shot at going to a notable developer without a MBA.

However, I will say though that this question has come up many times on this forum. I will say, based on what I have seen in those old discussions is that, a MBA will give you a better chance at landing in a development role with a big institutional shop. Obviously no official guarantees with that though or saying it has never been done without one. A MRED has similar potential, but an MBA seems to have better recruitment for institutional shops. At the end of the day, you have to wonder if skipping out on your salary for now to attend a MBA program will allow a big enough leap in your career that's worth it.

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Jan 24, 2021 - 8:17pm

I'm in a similar position to you. I keep flip flopping between whether I should invest the effort to get an MBA just to end up in development. I have asked a lot of people this question, but the one that sticks with me was a Wharton-grad (at a mega developer) who told me he could've ended up in the same position without an MBA. After he told me that, I started networking for development roles and actually got offered a couple but passed on them because they were too small.

An MBA will matter if the firm you're trying to work for values that credential, which I noticed a lot of large developers do. 80% of the people at my firm (REPE) VP and above have a Masters. Most have also recommended that I only get an MBA from an M7. Part-time MBAs can be pretty brutal when paired with work just to end up with a T15 degree. Even then, a lot of developers don't have formal recruiting processes so the hiring is going to be largely on where we are in the cycle.

I'm probably going to take a shot at CBS or Wharton but if I don't get in (or get decent aid or scholarships) I'll probably pass. Also worth noting, I have heard Stern isn't the best RE school. UCLA is pretty strong though. 

Jan 24, 2021 - 10:45pm

I guess you could apply to both and see what happens (I mean until accepted into various schools, this is super guess work).

Personally, I'd just get the cheaper PT degree and be happy with life (closest to what I actually did personally). 

Unless you have a diehard need for the M7 degree and want to fight the ladder and everything else (i.e. start your damn career effectively, albeit at hopefully "higher" level), then really no reason. If your not going to use the degree for some mega change, then the marginal value will not be there (IMHO). 

Clearly, there are fields/tracks (and well firms), that will more or less require that degree, and the network value can be legit. But unless you NEED that, then it's more for sport. 

The cold hard reality is that a lot of people spend big $$$$ (or worse debt) to get fancy degrees to take jobs they could have gotten with a state school degree, but there are those where the expensive degree literally made all the difference. Just be happy with what ever track you take! 

  • Associate 2 in RE - Comm
Mar 8, 2021 - 3:48pm

Thanks for the insight. What tracks / fields require a high-ranking MBA?

Mar 8, 2021 - 7:12pm

I mean, the jobs often obsessed over and over on WSO...

REIB at the big name firms (Goldman, BofA, Morgan Stanley, etc.)

real estate roles at the private equity "mega funds" (Blackstone, KKR, Starwood, etc.)

It can help with some of the big name developers (like Hines, Brookfield, Related), but less "required" but still can be very helpful.

There are firms that only do OCR with top mba programs, just fact of life. They don't charge what they charge for nothing. 

Jan 25, 2021 - 1:16pm

My VP+ colleagues recommend it for the network and executive training. I have noticed a consistent theme in how the case studies helped them become more well rounded business persons. I don't need it to progress at my firm but it does shave 2 years off of the promotion track. I'm already on track to get to the Associate level so I could bump myself to Senior Associate if I get an MBA. The ones who don't have it come from RE-families so most indicators point to having to get one if I plan on staying at a more institutional firm. That's something I'm still mulling as well.

Jan 25, 2021 - 3:46pm

I think you're missing a significant point in the original post:

I guess by the time I wrap up grad school I'd either be...

  • ~28-29 years old with 6-7 years of institutional acquisitions at large REPE + T15 MBA + a lot more $ in the bank  - and employed
  • ~28-29 years old with 4-5 years of acquisitions experience + M7 MBA + 0$ in the bank - and seeking employment
  • Partner in IB-M&A
Mar 8, 2021 - 9:21pm

I have seen the same (both m7, except  h/s/w, mba's and the usual suspects msred's) and the common denominator in the struggle was always not having a critical mass of solid and applicable prior work experience.  

Jan 25, 2021 - 11:10pm

I struggled with this question in my mid to upper 20's whether to get a MBA.  Had the mindset that experience was the most important.  I did not have the option of continuity at the mega REPE I was working at (the Great Recession was a big reason) and once unemployed in a recession I didn't have the money or motivation to get a MBA (was just trying to survive).  
 

I did eventually get back on track and I fortunately lived in a market with a top PT MBA (Berkeley Haas).  I attended Haas events before even considering a MBA because they had great RE events and conferences and I loved the school/culture (and college town experience / football).  I was working for a major REIT in development at the time, learning on the side.  Then one day I asked a development manager if I should get a MBA and he said "absolutely."  From there I committed to the process.
 

I could see UCLA Anderson part time being that experience.  Good school (maybe even classes on campus Pre-Covid), chance to mingle with the full timers, and I know folks who went through the program and continue to have great career trajectory.  Part time is usually 3 years, but there isn't really a post-MBA as you can get a post MBA job while you are getting your MBA since you are still working and already in CRE (and you can handle that lifestyle).  The MBA opened doors in RE and beyond as I wanted optionality and to create skillset leverage.  Yes, mega developers hire associates with MBAs (everyone else around me was full time M7).  

I have to use my resume to help win business and I'm certain the grad school and places I've worked factored into decisions.  
 

The air gets thin at the upper ranks in our industry.  The ability to reinvent yourself is an important consideration. 

Have compassion as well as ambition and you’ll go far in life
  • 6
Jan 26, 2021 - 10:41am

odog808

I struggled with this question in my mid to upper 20's whether to get a MBA.  Had the mindset that experience was the most important.  I did not have the option of continuity at the mega REPE I was working at (the Great Recession was a big reason) and once unemployed in a recession I didn't have the money or motivation to get a MBA (was just trying to survive).  
 

I did eventually get back on track and I fortunately lived in a market with a top PT MBA (Berkeley Haas).  I attended Haas events before even considering a MBA because they had great RE events and conferences and I loved the school/culture (and college town experience / football).  I was working for a major REIT in development at the time, learning on the side.  Then one day I asked a development manager if I should get a MBA and he said "absolutely."  From there I committed to the process.
 

I could see UCLA Anderson part time being that experience.  Good school (maybe even classes on campus Pre-Covid), chance to mingle with the full timers, and I know folks who went through the program and continue to have great career trajectory.  Part time is usually 3 years, but there isn't really a post-MBA as you can get a post MBA job while you are getting your MBA since you are still working and already in CRE (and you can handle that lifestyle).  The MBA opened doors in RE and beyond as I wanted optionality and to create skillset leverage.  Yes, mega developers hire associates with MBAs (everyone else around me was full time M7).  

I have to use my resume to help win business and I'm certain the grad school and places I've worked factored into decisions.  
 

The air gets thin at the upper ranks in our industry.  The ability to reinvent yourself is an important consideration. 

- expand -

This is very helpful insight, thank you! Couple of follow up questions:

  • How did you approach your employer about going for an MBA part time? Were they generally supportive? User above mentioned that I have to pitch it right and explain how it will add value to me and the firm (100% agree)
  • Is the value of the Haas network limited to SF/West Coast? 
    • My hesitation with a UCLA/NYU/Haas type MBA is the network seems very location specific whereas M7 has a greater reach. Maybe I'm wrong. But this is part of the trade off IMO 

First thing, you are young and in your mid-20's so congratulations on thinking this through more thoroughly that I did. Your example of firms you are working for fit where I was at; however, I didn't make the MBA decision until after I left that company.

I did approach my employer and they were all receptive of me getting my mba part time. I wrote pretty extensively about REIT culture on WSO and I'd say the company was more chill but my superiors in development all had either a MBA or MSRED so they knew I needed to do this to grow.  
 

That said, when I was at the kind of firm you are at now in Acquisitions, I know the firm paid for the PT MBA for some folks.  That tells me, if you are having some golden boy status then it's a good shot they would approve and even pay for some of it.  Helps to learn the bios of your superiors, particularly those who've been there 10+ years.  Also, see if a superior got their MBA part time, they will be your advocate.

Regarding regional vs National reach / limitations of a Haas/Anderson/NYU network.  I can't comment on something I never had (FT mba at an Ivy League school) but I have some theories why I think you'll be almost just as successful at a place like Haas, even part time.  
 

1) MBA student interest in CRE is lower today than it was 15 years ago as a %.  Just a hunch. That means your network is already limited.  It is further limited geographically as, for example, these CBS or Kellogg grads spread out across the country.  Now over time, there could be depth in your market, but you won't necessarily know them well.  You might be better off attending a school in the region you want to live.  I like the Bay Area.  Haas is good for that.  Vice versa, Haas has layered coverage over time of alumni in a given area.  Furthermore, you are going to meet students, majority who are not going to work in CRE.
 

2) Network reliance. I'd say your undergrad, analyst class, JV partner relationships, MBA groups, etc are networks you form.  The closest, tightest knit and nostalgic are the network you make earlier in life or in times of great uncertainty.  How you stay in touch is another topic.  Keep this in mind that school network is one part of the network you build.  

3) Value Proposition.  Another member mentioned at a PT MBA you are likely (but not always) to be employed.  That is actually a nice carrot to have while networking amongst PT and FT peers.  You get to meet and know super smart people during their period of uncertainty.  It is great to try to help them out rather than being in competition with them because you have a job for the next 3-5 years.

4) $ and opportunity costs. 
 

5) Haas/Anderson/NYU checks the box for prestige in CRE.

6) Optionality and skillset leverage.  The fact that you will network with non-CRE folks means you have a skill set they don't have, and the confluence of industries to have or take on an expansion of hard asset investment is only going to grow in diversity.  Think Facebook or Google's real estate ambitions.  Think Amazon distribution centers.  Think health care, hospitality, data centers, cloud kitchens, crowdfunding, etc.  Your peers, the other 95% of your MBA class who are not in CRE, you never know how you can team up.  CRE professionals can be so myopic in thinking and quite frankly you undervalue yourself only thinking about working in the traditional structures in major markets, where your skillset leverage is suppressed.  Moving to a secondary and tertiary market also allows you to flex some skillset leverage.  

End of the day, your life and game should be uniquely you and what you want.  You want to do Anderson, do Anderson, and the cards will fall into place.

Have compassion as well as ambition and you’ll go far in life
  • 6
Jan 26, 2021 - 1:08pm

I think a lot of this depends on what you want to be doing in the future. If you want to work at a development shop on the acquisitions side, I can say that I've met a number of people who've taken this trajectory and didn't do any more of masters-level education. If you want to work at a development shop and be more of a generalist (and/or position yourself more strongly for pure management), then your MBA will start to provide some returns.

Mar 8, 2021 - 9:08pm

Depends on whether or not you want to stay in RE. If your goal is to move within the RE asset class, MBA would not be worth the money and time. If you were coming from another industry, which is not the case here, I'd still recommend doing a 1-year Masters in RE than an MBA

Mar 16, 2021 - 6:56pm

Real estate is definitely an industry that places a premium on experience, but I think the MBA is becoming increasingly more important as the asset class gets more institutional and structured in nature. Just about every job posting I see says "MBA or Masters in relevant subject preferred". What makes you think your experience is so amazing that it'll get you further than someone with similar prior RE experience and an MBA? Perception plays a major part in success and the MBA brand and network is something that continues to benefit you throughout your entire career, regardless if you learned much from the classes or not.  

One thing I'll add that's been overlooked in this thread are the social benefits from school. Lots of people call this "networking" but it's really a chance to meet people (both in RE and outside of it) and build new friendships. Going back full time is an incredible experience, and the atmosphere can't be replicated in a part time program. I applaud the majority of people on this site who are super gung-ho about their career and getting ahead, but in reality, most people are going to be working until they're 60+. Is 2 years really setting you back? Only from reaching some arbitrary goal you've set for yourself based on a certain net worth or job title at XYZ age. If you can afford to take 2 years off in your prime while you have a bit of money and before you have the responsibilities of marriage or kids, that's a huge luxury.

I think this perspective is especially valuable having spent the last year working from home and being exhausted by the endless BS at my company. The thought of going back full time, taking a break from the day to day corporate life, immersing myself in studies, and hanging out with new friends is something that excites me far more than any new job or bonus check at this point....just my 2 cents. Good luck!

Mar 17, 2021 - 12:39pm

I've read a lot of good comments here and will add my thoughts.  I am also considering an MBA and would like the forum's opinion as well.

I have about 5 years of excellent experience in real estate investment banking and buy side acquisitions.  I've run deals, originated clients, sourced deals, etc.  However, I'm based in secondary market and I want to transition to a more sophisticated operating environment/market.

When networking with professionals, friends, colleagues, and others, the feedback I get is an MBA is not essential in real estate.  I can see that firsthand when I look through the coursework at the M7: only CBS has a solid real estate program imo.  Otherwise, like the entertainment business, it's really what you learn on the job and I've learned quite a bit.

I think the Author of this thread does not need an MBACRE is about getting reps, building relationships, and live deal experience.  An MBA will get you #2 big time but I view #1 and #3 as far more important.  This is America: if you're industrious, you'll make it happen.

On my note, I was accepted into an M7 program and I am considering going, however not for CRE.  Through my experience I've really learned to enjoy advising on capital structure, cash flow valuations, running deals, etc.  My background wasn't initially in finance but now that I've spent a few years on the finance side of the business, I can see how the big the world is from an financial operator perspective and I want to explore IB, PE, etc.

Part of the reason, I'm interested in stepping out is I work in middle market PE and the CRE space is so competitive right now we are not winning deals.  The best deals I've seen are all about your basis and the great CRE operators/sponsors I know all sit on their hands for years until they the market adjusts and they go on a 3-4 year tear.  In the long run, I don't want to be tied just to CRE but other operating business while the cycle fluctuates.   

My thinking is the MBA, particularly at the program I got into, has a fantastic academic program in finance, credit, and capital structure.  I can get out of my pisher market and into a major metropolis, expand my network, gain the skill set academically as well as professionally with an internship.  I'd like to transition into a capital allocator role on the buy side or on an M&A advisory role but not in real estate.  Best comes to best, I can transition into a totally different realm of finance, learn a new repertoire and skill set, add prestige to my resume (for what its worth), and expand my global network for the long run.  Worst comes to worst, if I don't like my summer experience at a BB or PE shop and want to go back into CRE, I have the experience already, an M7 MBA, and access to a brand new network in a major metropolis so I'm confident I can find a job.  I am older though (~30) and have to fork out the money.   

Don't mean to hijack the thread but would like other's opinions as well.

Mar 18, 2021 - 5:03am

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Have compassion as well as ambition and you’ll go far in life
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