When I was applying to graduate schools, I was focused on the real estate programs at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Cambridge and a few misc. MBA programs (Yale SOM and Tuck). The MIT RE program is for much more experienced people, I already had experience at Cornell, and the other programs are more regionally focused. In terms of MBAs, I didn’t think I had the experience or credentials for a Harvard or Wharton MBA at that point and I honestly really didn’t want to take a bunch of random general core classes. I applied to Yale SOM and Tuck just in case I wanted to pivot to general banking or consulting, but I know deep inside that I really don’t.
I ended up getting into all the schools I applied to, so it was certainly a hard choice for me to make. I was worried about various things about each program and even considered not going anywhere at one point. I made a list of pros and cons for each program and it became clear to me that Harvard was the way to go. The obvious major con is that it’s housed under a Master in Design Studies tag within a school named the Graduate School of Design. Real estate is still very much a finance-y industry, so the degree name and school certainly raise some eyebrows. That being said, that is basically the only con. The curriculum is extremely flexible and you can really learn a lot across classes from all of Harvard and MIT. The network is great and the placement is strong. I’ve learned a ton and made some good friends already. Professionally, people are pretty receptive to the Harvard name and I am interviewing at the big three consulting firms, big investment banks, big private equity firms, and big developers.
Harvard’s degree in Real Estate and the Built Environment concentrates on four sub-areas: Design and Innovation in Real Estate, Real Estate Finance and Investment, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, and City Making and Urban Economics.
In this post, the last in a seven-part series on graduate real estate programs in the United States, I explore in-depth the GSD’s Real Estate program, its students, its curriculum, its admissions process, and whether this prestigious graduate real estate program is right for you.
Watch the Student Interview Deep Dive on Harvard’s Real Estate Program
In this interview, we conducted an interview with a current student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Sam Chan.
Thank you so much to Sam for speaking with us about what it’s like at Harvard. His perspective and knowledge are extremely beneficial in helping others better understand what Harvard has to offer.
“The Graduate School of Design has established itself as the cornerstone of real estate education at Harvard University. Design is powerfully interdisciplinary, and the Harvard GSD’s real estate concentrations and executive education programs each foster the transdisciplinary mindset needed to approach the built environment holistically and conscientiously. Our global orientation keeps our students at the forefront of trends and developments in the field while also inspiring greater sensitivity toward the purpose and context of real estate.”
Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design
College: Harvard Graduate School of Design
Program Name: Master in Design Studies in Real Estate and the Built Environment (also referred to generally as the Master’s in Real Estate Program)
Location: 48 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Year Established: 1936
Program History: Harvard University’s real estate program was started by Richard Peiser, the founder of the Master of Real Estate Development program at the University of Southern California in 1986. He left the University of Southern California to become the Michael D. Spear Professor of Real Estate Development at the Graduate School of Design and later became the director of the university-wide Real Estate Academic Initiative at Harvard University in 2003.
Dean: Sarah Whiting
- Harvard is 2nd on the 2021 U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities Rankings List
- Graduate Real Estate:
- No reputable rankings of graduate real estate programs exist
- Graduate School:
- The Graduate School of Design at Harvard is ranked 1st on the Design Intelligence 2019 ranking of America’s Top Architecture Graduate Programs
Degree(s) Offered: Master in Design Studies in Real Estate and the Built Environment
Dual Degree(s) Offered?: Yes, but applicants must apply to and gain admissions from each program separately. There is no dual degree offered with the business school.
Program Length: Three or Four Semesters
Option 1: Three semesters (Fall Term + Spring Term + Summer Internship + Fall Term)
Option 2: Four semesters (Fall Term + Spring Term + Summer Internship + Fall Term + Spring Term)
Option 3: Four Semesters (Fall Term + Spring Term + Summer Internship + Fall Term + Thesis)
Program Website: https://research.gsd.harvard.edu/realestate/
Graduation Requirements: Complete four core courses and a minimum of 28 electives (these electives refer to any course across Harvard University and MIT)
Cost and Financial Aid
Tuition: $2,226 per credit hour; $82,183 masters program fees including tuition, room, books, and health fees.
Cost of Living Comparison: Using Numbeo’s Cost of Living Comparison tool, I compared the cost of rent in cities where the other six graduate real estate schools being profiled are located. Harvard’s location in Cambridge, MA is less expensive than all other locations but not by much in some:
- Cambridge, MA is 24% less expensive than New York, NY (Columbia University and NYU)
- Cambridge, MA is 8% less expensive than Boston, MA (MIT is in Cambridge, MA, across the Charles River from Boston)
- Cambridge, MA is 5% less expensive than Washington DC (Johns Hopkins’ full-time real estate program is in Washington, DC; it also offers a part-time option in Baltimore, MD )
- Cambridge, MA is 1% less expensive than Los Angeles, CA (USC)
Financial Aid Available?: Yes
- Merit and need-based scholarships: Various scholarships are available annually
- Merit and need-based employment: Job availability dependent on student situation
- Work Full-Time While Studying?: Not prohibited but may be difficult with the schedule and load of coursework
- Real Estate Development and Finance
- Market Analysis and Urban Economics
- Public and Private Development OR Creative Real Estate Ventures: a Legal Perspective
- Urban Design for Planners OR Form + Finance: The Design of Real Estate
Concentrations Available?: There are four concentrations available for students to choose from based on their career interests. The concentrations are very flexible and can be changed at any time. There are no additional required courses based on the concentration. The concentrations are:
- Design and Innovation in Real Estate
- Real Estate Finance and Investment
- Leadership and Entrepreneurship
- City Making and Urban Economics
Courses Available: All courses at Harvard University and MIT are available to be taken, including those at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan
- The program has only four core courses, many of which can be placed out of based on your background. It is highly encouraged to take courses outside of the Graduate School of Design to fill any gaps in knowledge.
- All courses across Harvard and MIT can be electives, but I have included some of the real estate focused courses specifically
- Advanced Real Estate Development and Finance
- Real Estate Private Equity (offered at both the GSD and HBS)
- Field Studies in Real Estate
- Real Estate Enterprises, Entrepreneurship and Leadership
- Innovation in Project Delivery
- Developing for Social Impact
- Real Property (HBS)
- Real Estate Law (HLS)
- MIT Real Estate Courses (MIT)
Special Seminars: In addition to the elective courses, special seminars are held throughout the semester taught by visiting lecturers. These supplemental courses are led by real estate practitioners, and cover topics ranging from urban informality to corporate real estate.
Kennedy School of Government
- API-141 Finance
- API-148 Advanced Risk Management and Infrastructure Finance
- API-164 Energy Policy Analysis
- SUP-601 Urban Politics, Planning, and Development
Harvard Business Scholl
- Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism
- Innovating in Energy
- Building Cities: Infrastructure and Sustainability
Richard Peiser, Matthew Kiefer, Frank Apeseche, Jerold Kayden, Alex Krieger, Ali Malkawi, Peter Rowe, Holly Samuelson
Note: In terms of class profile, data is limited in this area as is the case with all of the programs profiled in this series.
- 15 – 30 students; approximately 30 students are admitted each year, with a target attendance of 20 students
- International (%): 30% to 50%
- Female (%): Varies by year, but 30% – 50% are typically female
- Average Age: mid to late 20s
- Age Range: early 20s to mid 30s
- Average Years Work Experience: ranges heavily, some have one, some have five or 10 even.
- Median GMAT: Both GMAT and GRE are accepted but no median GMAT information was available; best guess is in the 650-720 range, scores typical of students at top business programs
- Average Undergraduate GPA: No information available
- Pre-Grad School Fields: there are usually two different groups in terms of pre-grad school fields, architecture/planning and finance (including brokerage, investment banking, and private equity)
Real Estate Development Club
(biggest real estate organization at Harvard with over 150 active members across Harvard),
Harvard Alumni Real Estate Board
(cross-university real estate organization focused on creating a network of alumni working in real estate)
Harvard Real Estate Weekend
The Harvard Real Estate Weekend is an annual conference jointly presented by The Real Estate and Development Club of the Graduate School of Design and The Real Estate Club of Harvard Business School. It provides a great opportunity to get to learn from and network with the many industry leaders who come to speak as panelists.
Group commutes to various public and private sector real estate companies across the United States and internationally. Many of these treks are done with students from other real estate programs around the northeast including MIT, Columbia, and Cornell.
Most people come in not knowing too many other people at Harvard, so everyone is open to meeting and hanging out. The small class size definitely helps with unity. Classes also encourage study groups and there are numerous group projects, so people in the program get pretty close.
Bonding outside of the program happens as well, as there are undergrads, non-real estate GSD students, business school students, and MIT students who take classes alongside us.
There are also optional social events and parties that many people go to.
In terms of where people live: some live on-campus, others live off-campus, but very close. There aren’t very many people who have a commute greater than 30 minutes away.
Areas of Focus
A majority of graduates pursue development as Harvard is big on entrepreneurship and development is very entrepreneurial. That being said, private equity, investment banking, finance, and consulting are all available options.
People go on to work all over, New York City, Boston, California, some return home to their home countries and work for top firms there.
Career Service Offerings:
- Full-Time Real Estate Career Development Professional?: Yes
- Career Programming: There is a mentorship program that pairs you with a second-year student who has the same career interests as yourself. Professors are also fairly well connected in the industry and provide a lot of insight and connections.
Some students do internships during the school years. There is a gap summer that is free for an internship as well.
There aren’t specific job placement stats published, but an internal database of real estate alumni (specifically from this program) show that alumni work at:
Apollo Global Management
Boston Consulting Group
Brookfield Asset Management
CBRE Global Investors
Fortress Investment Management
Invesco Real Estate
LaSalle Investment Management
Mack Real Estate Group
Slate Property Group
Starwood Capital Group
Terra Capital Partners
The Carlyle Group
The Related Group
Vornado Realty Trust
Admissions information is always subject to change, so you should confirm this information is still applicable by visiting https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/admissions/apply
- Undergraduate Degree: Must hold a degree from an accredited college or university
- Fields Considered: All fields considered, but applicants to the program normally hold a professional degree in architecture, urban planning, urban design, economics, finance, or business. Applicants with a degree in a related discipline such as landscape architecture, engineering, geography, computer science, or industrial design also qualify for admission. The program seeks applicants who have demonstrated overall academic and/or professional achievement in the real estate or design fields and who have the potential for advanced work in real estate. https://research.gsd.harvard.edu/realestate/admission/
- Work Experience: No minimum or maximum
- Online application
- $90.00 application fee
- Three letters of recommendation
- Scanned copies of official academic transcripts
- GRE or GMAT
- Personal statement
- Portfolio (Work Samples)
- TOEFL (International students only)
- Applicants: Per a peer who worked in the admissions office, around 300 to 400 applicants each year, although this varies year to year.
- Acceptance Rate: Around 10%
- Admission Rounds: One
- Application Deadline(s): Early January
- Decision Letters Sent: Usually beginning to middle of March
My goal has been to provide a fact-based profile of the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s real estate program. As such, I’ve been careful not to provide much commentary on the facts as they’ve been communicated. This last section, ‘Commentary’, deviates slightly from that goal in so much as here’s my chance to offer personal insights on my experience at the GSD.
- Branding: As real estate starts to become more institutionalized alongside finance as a whole, the Harvard brand helps with standing out in a large pile of resumes. Many firms have teams dedicated to recruiting Harvard students, inclusive of Masters in/of Real Estate students. Those that don’t are typically still very receptive in terms of at least interviewing Harvard real estate students.
- Network: The network is one of the biggest pros of the program. The program as a whole is small, so everyone gets very close. There are also several social events that promote networking with industry leaders as well as students outside of the real estate program and even Harvard. The Harvard Real Estate Weekend is a big one, as well as treks. The Harvard Alumni Real Estate Board’s sole purpose is to create a cohesive network of Harvard students and alumni across all schools of Harvard, so it’s a resource that really helps with networking as well.
- Flexibility: With only four core classes and the ability to take any of the classes across all schools across Harvard and MIT, the program is probably the most flexible of any of the real estate programs. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword, as it requires a lot more research, but generally, people appreciate the ability to study what they want and what they find most useful. There are essentially no grades/grades don’t matter, so that allows for even more flexibility. Back in undergrad, I feared taking hard classes that might ruin my GPA, but that isn’t an issue anymore.
- Have work experience in real estate or a field that is tangentially related to real estate and emphasize why you want to switch into real estate.
- Given that this is a program within an architecture school, at least pretend like you care about the design aspect of real estate (it actually is important in the industry, more important than finance types think at least).
- Reach out to current students and past alumni to talk to them about their experience and tailor your essay accordingly.
- Attend the open house in the fall and network with some of the program directors and future classmates.
- Have a strong profile academically (ie strong GPA, GMAT/GRE, letters of recommendations)
My hope is that the school profiles, including this profile of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, can be living documents that are regularly updated as new information comes available. So if you have any additional information you think will improve this profile, please share it with me and I’ll gladly add it to the profile. Also, undoubtedly there is inaccurate or incomplete information in this profile and so please let me know if you see something that needs correcting.