MSRE, MS Finance, MBA, or Alternative? NYC Career Changer

Inspired by DoingItInNYC's recent post.... ("Which Fall 2020 MSRE Program Should I Pursue to Build Towards a REPE or REIB Career?")

I decided to throw my own situation out there and seek the board's feedback.

Any thoughts, criticisms, advice, derision, support would all be enormously appreciated! And for the magnanimous individuals who take the time to read through this whole thing, I'm already in your debt.

As a preface I'll add that my very long term, very ideal target positions would be in REPE acquisitions or asset management. I realize the two are quite separate roles but both do hold great interest to me. I also realize the state of reality however, and if I shoot for the stars and reach the moon, so to speak.....end up somewhere in the vicinity of ballpark, won't end up bitter.

That said:

34, have been working successfully as a self employed CTA for about 12 years, aimless/poor undergrad (history major), and ambition to transition into "actual" finance. Trading is not what I'm looking to do into my 70's.

Obviously here my biggest (but by no means only) challenges will be age, a lack of actual employment experience, and a lack of educational credentials. I have just taken two semesters of non-degree undergrad business/math courses, and my grown ass man GPA is 4.0, so I'm building. I have some decent modeling skills, particularly in excel which were gained through online courses. Given my credentials though, it makes me a novice/arm chair general at the very best I realize.

To remedy this I'm considering masters in finance programs and MSRE programs among other options. Being located in NYC puts me close to a wealth of these options, for which I feel lucky.

The way I see it I have four broad pathways from which to choose. Thoughts on which of these might fit best for me (or any alternatives) would be excellent.

First, doing a masters in finance at the "best" school possible for myself, healing up that poor undergrad.
Potentially leveraging a good/excellent GMAT score which I have a better than neutral confidence I could pull off, given performance on practice exams. Internships, networking, and finally entry level. From there there's the MBA down the road or MSRE depending on career trajectory.

Second, and the next most appealing is the MSRE. Added benefit of being right on the money in terms of eventual career target. Same as above, get in, perform, learn, network, internships, entry level. The only reason I hesitate at all here is due to reading opinions on this route perhaps being most effective after I've managed to hold an entry level position, and not as an industry starter credential.

Third, MBA at the best school possible. Same theme, internships, networking, entry level. This option is slightly less appealing given the cost and length, and that it is finance specifically that I'm most interested in and committed to. Smarter is smarter though, if this might be a better route given my circumstance.

Last, and before or during pursuit of any further education, seek out whatever work I can that's even remotely related to finance. Payroll, bank teller, administrative assistant for a real estate firm, the grab me coffee guy, whatever the hell. Money is not an issue and so I don't need the salary at this point, it's purely about resume. I'd prefer not to go this route and instead seek out internships through the aforementioned grad programs, effectively kill the two birds with one stone, but if this is the sensible path then I'd gladly take it.

That's the long and short of it. Again, to anyone who took the time out of their day to read through this I'm deeply grateful. Any and all forms of feedback greatly appreciated!

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Comments (16)

Jul 19, 2020 - 3:33pm

I googled CTA and got Commodities Trading Advisor. Is that the job you are referring to when you say CTA? If so, then you're changing to a different industry without much relevant experience. Furthermore, I think being 34 and applying to internship/analyst/associate roles may carry a stigma to REPE firms. If you were still in your late 20's I'd say that an MSRE could be a solid option, but given your age (no offense), I think an MBA from a top school would be your best bet. I think being in your mid-30's but having an MBA from M7 would help REPE firms overlook your age for associate positions. I'm not speaking from experience though so take my advice with a grain of salt

Jul 19, 2020 - 3:57pm

Absolutely no offense taken and appreciate the feedback, thank you. Yeah that's what I meant by CTA. Had an inkling that it might be the case with the MBA relative to the other options so I'll definitely take that into consideration.

Jul 19, 2020 - 4:20pm

Regarding the stigma attached to a 34 year olds applying for entry level positions, it'd be wiser then I assume to target associate level roles/experience? I'd written off pursuing above entry level to start given my lack of relevant experience, but if that's the more natural (but no less challenging or difficult given the circumstance I'm sure) route to take then I certainly wouldn't argue.

Most Helpful
Jul 19, 2020 - 7:02pm

I think you need to first take your GMAT and see where your actual score lands you. I would think your experience along with a decent GMAT score will get you into a lot of programs. If money isn't a factor for this degree, you may want to apply for "Executive MBAs". No idea what Stern or CBS look for, but generally 10 years is the minimum experience required (and the ability to pay more for the degree... the real admissions criteria....).

In all fairness, I don't think it will be nearly as hard as people may make it sound on here. Your age is not a liability to the vast majority of employers, but you may not fit in traditional "analyst/associate" programs at the "big" firms. That is only a small amount of the job market anyway.

I realize what I am about to say will be about 75% worthless given pandemic, but still good idea.... that is join the major NYC real estate organizations and start networking. It sounds like you have time to I would go with ULI, NAIOP, and MBAofNY. You should also look up YREPNY, it's free and just does networking events (or well, it did them...). The sooner you actually sound like you "know real estate" (not that hard), the better you will be on interviews and be able to convince someone to give you a shot. People do military careers, go out and do MBA/MSRE/Ds and get jobs in CRE past 30 all the time, I don't see how you are any different, but it can feel more of an upward climb.

The big thing is making sure your story makes sense as you tell it. That this is a thought out move for XYZ reasons, not just some random move or you "failed out" of stuff. One possible route to consider (but not a preferred or recommended one, unless you like it), is via brokerage (investment sales, leasing, or debt/equity placement). Pretty much anyone can get a job here that is 100% commission based, even at some worthwhile firms. Frankly, this is a shit way to start (IMHO) for most people, but you are older and thus more mature and capable than a 22 year old. Even if you do for a few years, and don't make much money, it could help you get a legit CRE job. If you hate the idea of sales, don't bother. If you are not adverse to it, worth considering, but hopefully find a shop where you get real training/mentorship (otherwise, don't bother).

Final thought, I think MBA may be good/best but you really could benefit from the coursework of a MSRE/D and frankly could go that route and end up at the same destination. If you go to Stern, you can always take some courses at Schack at the same time (and vice versa). Until you actually have a set of acceptance offers, I wouldn't really stress this. Look at each's curriculum and other factors at that time. I would focus on GMAT prep and networking via the CRE orgs, that will help you make the school decision as well.

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Jul 19, 2020 - 11:54pm

This is excellent and extremely helpful, thank you so much for taking the time.

Nearly everything I've read/heard serves to highlight the non-traditional nature of the route being taken here, so to hear it put into perspective in that way in regards to age is motivating.

Taking the networking advice to heart- pandemic universe has to wrap up or at least wind down at some point eventually here so that'll be one of my moves since my schedule is typically flexible.

Sales is not a natural fit but it sounds like a solid learning opportunity and potential point of entry, will keep that option in mind for a way in or to pick up some experience.

Will also keep that thought in mind when framing my career move, it's one based on "passion," getting into work I find far more appealing/engaging so I'll look to communicate that in an articulate and effective way alongside the logic of it.

GMAT prep it is. Curriculum wise Schack has me salivating. Given the feedback MBA is sounding like a slightly more certain bet. I hadn't considered blending the two or taking courses concurrently which is appealing, so I'll take that advice and look at that/network factors/GMAT when making the call.

Jul 20, 2020 - 11:51am

Given the feedback MBA is sounding like a slightly more certain bet.

This is absolutely the 'common wisdom' of WSO and maybe the world, but I am not sure it really is 100% accurate. Top MBA programs have very different admissions profiles than most MSRE/D programs, especially with experience requirements. So it's like very successful people get admitted to top MBA programs, then continue to be very successful. I am not fully convinced the MBA program was as critical in their hiring decision in all reality. The top MSRE/D grads likely do as well as the median top MBA grads. There is just a lower tier set of grads from lower ranked MBAs and MSRE/D programs that would never have made it into the top MBA programs.

Personally, I think it matters less where you go. I only went to so-called non-target state schools, and it didn't stop me. Had I gone to a top M7 type MBA program, I might be 10x more compensated today; but honesty, I don't believe that would have been the case. I think my first job out would have been much better, but over ten years later? Not sure, but that debt would have absolutely impacted the net gains from salary. In sum, I wouldn't do it differently.

To be fair however, my career is more of an outlier for the group of fellow alum, but I am far from the only one to have a career in high levels of institutional real estate and finance.

Jul 19, 2020 - 9:13pm

Personal thought and others may disagree but I see the most value for you in an MBA. Having personally gone the MSRE route at one of the top schools in NYC and landed at a large foreign REPE fund. I would've had an easier time and perhaps landed at a higher level had I focused on getting an MBA. MBA's are the bread winners of pretty much any reputable college and it's even more clear when you're in a grad program that isn't a MBA. MBA's are forced into networking opportunities so if you're a little awkward in that aspect you won't have to worry about not putting yourself in those positions (I don't know why you wouldn't if you're paying the money but you would be surprised the amount of people that don't in MSRE programs). Not to mention most employers respect a MBA over a MSRE as it's the traditional path to moving up in the financial world. I know people who graduated from the MBA program with zero years of experience in the field they ended up entering and landed an associates position. I know many people in my MSRE program with several years of Real Estate experience who actually took a lower level position upon graduating simply because they viewed the company to be superior to their previous company. It really depends on what you want, but in my view a MBA seems to be more of a sure shot, especially if you're a little older.

  • 7
Jul 20, 2020 - 12:08am

Thanks for your thoughts and feedback and that's very helpful to know, based on your experience. It's interesting and enlightening to know that that's how employers might assess the two options in my case.

Being forced into some good networking opportunities sounds good to me. What do you think about internships in my case, during an MBA? Would it be frowned upon given my age and experience, or would it still be an effective (if it's possible) way to pick up relevant work experience and build onto my resume?

Jul 24, 2020 - 10:37am

Thanks for your thoughts and feedback and that's very helpful to know, based on your experience. It's interesting and enlightening to know that that's how employers might assess the two options in my case.

Being forced into some good networking opportunities sounds good to me. What do you think about internships in my case, during an MBA? Would it be frowned upon given my age and experience, or would it still be an effective (if it's possible) way to pick up relevant work experience and build onto my resume?

While I think your age likely adds to the difficulty of your pitch post graduation I don' think it's unrealistic for you get a few internships and pitch "rebranding yourself", after all that's typically one of the main two reasons to get an MBA. You should be able to land on your feet post MBA as long as you don't internalize being "the old guy" in a group of kids.

  • 5
Jul 20, 2020 - 2:44pm

I agree with FinancialBarn. In the MS programs, at least MS Finance programs, students tend to be all under 25. It's not nearly as well respected as an MBA (though you're basically doing the finance portion of the MBA) and the exit ops aren't as good. Most placement is into entry level analyst roles. If you were looking to break into IB and willing to burn 80k I'd say do Vandy MSF. But you're not!

My take here is MBA all the way

Jul 20, 2020 - 4:31pm

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