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Graduate Real Estate Series: Cornell University’s Baker Program in Real Estate

The Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate is an immersive, two-year Ivy league graduate real estate education with the rigor, structure, and academic profile of an MBA while focused entirely on Real Estate. Located at Cornell University’s picturesque campus in Ithaca, NY, the program is jointly administered by the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the School of Hotel Administration under the direction of the new Cornell College of Business.

The program leverages Cornell’s expansive real estate alumni network, the largest full-time real estate faculty in the country, a multidisciplinary approach to real estate education, and the school’s globally recognized brand to provide Baker students a launch pad for out-sized career success.

In this post, the fourth in a six-part series on graduate real estate programs in the United States, I’ll explore in-depth the Baker Program in Real Estate, its students, its curriculum, its admissions process, and whether this prestigious graduate real estate program is right for you.

Disclaimer: I am a graduate of the Baker Program in Real Estate at Cornell University

Cornell University, Ho Plaza and Sage Hall.jpg
Cornell University – Ithaca, NY (Source: sach1tb)


Description

College: School of Hotel Administration (Cornell College of Business); College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Program Name: Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate

Location: 489 Statler Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853

 

Year Established: 1996

Program History: Robert Abrams ’53 and Howard Milstein ’73 founded the Cornell Program in Real Estate in the mid-90’s in response to a sea change in how institutional investors think about real estate and the pent-up demand for formal training in real estate investment, finance, and development. Mr. Abrams acted as its first director, shepherding the two year program in its early years. In 2012, the program’s endowment more than doubled with an $11 million gift from Lisa and Richard Baker ’88, Governor and Executive Chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Company and owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, among other interests. Consequently in that same year, the Cornell Board of Trustees approved the renaming of the program to the Baker Program in Real Estate and the program was restructured to be governed jointly by the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) and the School of Hotel Administration (SHA).

Program Director: Dustin C. Jones (since 2015); previous directors include Robert Abrams, C. Bradley Olson, and David L. Funk

Rankings:

Degree(s) Offered: Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

Dual Degree(s) Offered?: Yes

  • Dual Master of Real Estate (MPS RE) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) with the Johnson Graduate School of Management
  • Dual Master of Real Estate (MPS RE) and Master of Regional Planning (MRP) with the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Program Length: Four semesters/two years

1st Year Fall Semester + 1st Year Spring Semester

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Summer Internship

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2nd Year Fall Semester + 2nd Year Spring Semester

Program Website:  baker.realestate.cornell.edu/

Cornell University was founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White


Cost and Financial Aid

Tuition: $25,356 per semester; four semester program = $101,424 excluding living expenses and books

Cost of Living Comparison: Using Numbeo’s Cost of Living Comparison tool, I compared the cost of rent in cities where the six graduate real estate schools being profiled are located. Not surprisingly, Cornell’s location in rural upstate New York is quite a bit more affordable to live in than in the large cities where the other programs are located:

  • Ithaca, NY is 58% less expensive than New York, NY (Columbia University and NYU)
  • Ithaca, NY is 45% less expensive than Boston, MA (MIT is in Cambridge, MA, across the Charles River from Boston)
  • Ithaca, NY is 46% 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 )
  • Ithaca, NY is 37% less expensive than Los Angeles, CA (USC)

Financial Aid Available?: Yes

  • Subsidized housing: Various University-owned housing options are available for graduate students at below market rent rates
  • Merit and need-based scholarships: Various scholarships are available annually
  • Merit-based assistantships: Limited number of teaching and research assistantships offered each year
  • Work Full-Time While Studying?: While not expressly prohibited, the schedule and load of coursework make it impossible to work full-time

“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” – Ezra Cornell


Curriculum

Cornell’s motto, “any person, any study” is reflected in the Baker Program’s multidisciplinary approach to the curriculum. Its 62 credit-hour graduation requirement (the highest of any graduate real estate program), its broad and diverse core course offerings, and the wide range of concentrations available all offer Baker students an opportunity to depart Cornell with a strong competency in the specific area of real estate they’re most interested in.

Graduation Requirements

  • 62 total credit hours = 41.5 core credits + 4.5 leadership and management credits + 10 hours of electives in an approved concentration + 6 credit hours of free electives
  • Residence in the Baker Program for a minimum of four semesters of full-time study

First Semester – Fall (15.5 credits):

  • Construction Planning and Operations (3.0 credits)
  • Real Estate Development Process I (1.5 credits)
  • Real Estate Development Process II (1.5 credits)
  • Real Estate Seminar Series #1 (0.5 credits)
  • Principles of Real Estate (3.0 credits)
  • Introduction to Real Estate Financial Modeling (1.5 credits)
  • Statistical Analysis of Real Estate Data (1.5 credits)
  • Managerial Finance (3.0 credits)
Second Semester – Fall (16.5 credits):
  • Real Estate Seminar Series #2 (0.5 credits)
  • Communications in Real Estate (1.5 credits)
  • Residential and Commercial Development (4.0 credits)
  • Urban Theory and Real Estate Market Analysis (1.5 credits)
  • Real Estate Finance and Investments (3.0 credits)
  • Macroeconomics and International Trade (2.0 credits)
  • Concentration Elective #1 (3.0 credits)

Summer Internship – 12 Weeks

Third Semester – Fall (14.5 credits):
  • Real Estate Marketing and Management (1.5 credits)
  • Real Estate Seminar Series #3 (0.5 credits)
  • Creating the Built Environment (1.5 credits)
  • International Cases and Contracts (2.0 credits)
  • Real Estate Law (3.0 credits)
  • Concentration Elective #2 (3.0 credits)
  • Management and Leadership Course #1 (3.0 credits)
Fourth Semester – Spring (16.0 credits):
  • Real Estate Seminar Series #4 (0.5 credits)
  • Legal Aspects of Land Use Planning (4.0 credits)
  • Concentration Course #3 (3.0 credits)
  • Concentration Course #4 (1.0 credits)
  • Free Elective Course #1 (3.0 credits)
  • Free Elective Course #2 (1.0 credits)
  • Management and Leadership Course #2 (1.5 credits)

Concentrations

At the end of their first semester, Baker students meet with their adviser to select from one of five predefined areas of study or to design their own concentration. In my case, I chose real estate finance and investments as my concentration. Concentration options at Baker include:

  • International Real Estate
  • Real Estate Consulting and Market Analysis
  • Property, Asset, and Portfolio Management
  • Development and Sustainability
  • Real Estate Finance and Investments
  • Independent Concentration

Courses Available Outside of SHA/AAP

  • Students can take courses in any of Cornell’s seven colleges, space permitting
  • I personally took courses outside of SHA/AAP including several in the Johnson Graduate School of Management and a negotiations course in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Leadership and Management

Unique to the Baker Program is the requirement to take 4.5 credits (2 – 3 courses) of Leadership and Management. The academic calendar, programming, and curriculum of Baker are structured more like an MBA than a traditional MRE and the Leadership and Management requirement is an example of this fact. From the program’s website:

“Graduates of the Baker Program are very likely to move quickly into management roles within the real estate industry, and preparation for successful execution of managerial responsibilities is a key to success. Therefore, in addition to and separate from courses in the core and concentration areas, at least 4.5 additional credits are required in the areas of leadership and management. Cornell offers a large number of courses that fulfill this requirement, as well as conferring excellent on-the-job leadership and management experience through student work on various team projects, national competitions, and summer internships.”

Leadership and management courses include study in the areas of:

  • Human relations/interpersonal/communication
  • Project management
  • Cross-cultural leadership
  • Conflict resolution/negotiation
  • Management and decision-making

Example Electives

Elective options span the possibilities, depending on the area of real estate most of interest to the student. Given that my concentration was in finance and investments, my electives included:

  • Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management
  • Hospitality Real Estate Finance
  • Advanced Business Modeling in Excel
  • Due Diligence in Private Equity
  • Advanced Real Estate Financial Modeling
  • Securitization and Structured Financial Products
  • Investment in Real Estate Securities and Funds
  • Real Estate Private Equity Case Competition

A sample of other electives include courses such as:

  • Merging Markets Finance
  • Strategies for Sustainability
  • Strategic Change and Renewal
  • Urban Theory and Spatial Development
  • Organizational Diversity
  • Fundamentals of Health Facility Planning for Management
  • Long-Term Care Alternatives for the Older Adult
  • International Marketing
  • Behavioral Economics and Public Policy
  • Hotel Transactions
  • Immigration and Public Policy
  • Economic Evaluations in Health Care
  • Workplace Design Strategies
  • Studies in Human-Environment Relations
  • Poverty, Children, and the Environment
  • Universal Design: Ergonomics and Accessibility
  • Adaptive Reuse Studio: Recycling the Built Environment
  • Economics of the Public Sector

Full-time Real Estate Faculty

Comprising 25 faculty from five colleges at Cornell, the Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate has the largest full-time real estate faculty in the United States.

For a list of the faculty members and their respective colleges, click here.

 

Statler Hall – Home of the Baker Program (Source: IthacaBuilds.com)


Culture

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. Additionally, in the case of the Baker Program the relatively small class size (~25 students per year) means the class profile can vary greatly from year to year. The information offered below is anecdotal based on my experience.

Class Profile

  • Size: ~25 students
  • International (%): ~40%
  • Female (%): 20%-25%
  • Avg. Age: Late 20s
  • Age Range: Mid 20s – early 40s
  • Avg. Years Work Experience: Varies greatly, but 3-5+ years is typical
  • Median GMAT: No information available, but I would guess high 600s
  • Avg. Undergraduate GPA: Best guess is low to mid 3s
  • Pre-Grad School Industry: Many students come with an existing real estate background and are looking to either transition into a separate area of real estate or move into the institutional side of the industry

Extracurricular Activities

The Cornell Associate Real Estate Council (AREC)

AREC is the offical graduate real estate club on campus, connecting real estate related disciplines from across Cornell’s graduate community. Membership, while largely made up of Baker students, includes students studying law, engineering, planning, architecture, management who share a common interest in real estate. AREC hosts various networking, career, and social events. The group’s programming includes real estate treks, evening socials, a speakers series, interview prep, career workshops, and mentoring among other activities.AREC_2line_4c

Cornell Real Estate Council

The Cornell Real Estate Council is one of the largest university-based real estate alumni networks in the world. Through various Council networking events and conferences, Baker students are connected to job opportunities around the world. The Baker Program director acts as the liaison between the program and the Council.

Center for Real Estate and Finance (CREF)

CREF produces a series of online publications, is a leading source of real estate research, and provides students direct access to industry leaders.

Case Competitions

Participation in real estate case competitions is big at Cornell. Cornell hosts an undergraduate real estate case comeptition in NYC and graduate student teams from Cornell consistently place well in the competitions they compete in. A Cornell team has won MIT’s The Case competition several times in recent years. Course credit is offered in some situations for participation in case competitions.

Distinguished Speakers Series

A weekly event at Baker, the speakers series is also a core course. A prominent real estate professional comes to campus each week, and speaks to the students for approximately two hours followed by a reception where students are able to interact with the distinguished invitee. The series is limited to Baker students only, which means the ~50 Bakers have exclusive access to these individuals.

  • When I was at Cornell, the series was held every Thursday from 4:30pm – 7:30pm
  • Speakers include fund managers, developers, investors, bankers; senior level professionals, entrepreneurs, and retired practitioners
  • A question and answer portion follows a formal presentation after which the attendees proceed to the reception
  • Business formal attire is required
Cornell Real Estate Review

The Cornell Real Estate Review is a student-led real estate publication. The Review staff also maintain a blog, which you can visit at: blog.realestate.cornell.edu/

Social Life

Let’s be honest, there isn’t exactly a lot to do in Ithaca NY – population 30,000. However, Ithaca offers Baker students the quintessential college town experience and helps make for a more immersive, personal experience than they would otherwise get if they chose to attend a school in a large city.

In terms of social life for Baker students, school work consumes much of their time but the weekends aren’t devoid of fun. Study groups were a big part of my experience and while I studied a lot, doing it in a group with people I came to admire and enjoy being around was incredibly rewarding. I wanted to join a tight-knit group of exceptional people and choosing a real estate program in a small college town helped make that possible.

Here’s an interesting thread discussing the topic of social life at Cornell.

Collegetown Bagels is a staple in Collegetown, the epicenter of social life at Cornell. (Source: blogs.cornell.edu)


Careers

Areas of Focus

This was covered some in the concentrations section, but the Baker Program offers a wide range of areas of focus. A lot of students arrive on campus interested in development. However, in my experience as students come to discover the options available to them, most end up choosing a career path outside of development. This is not because development jobs aren’t available, they are, but it’s because there are so many other options that are more suitable. Ultimately though, most students end up going the acquisitions, development, or asset management route.

Geographic Focus

I wouldn’t say the program has a specific geographic focus, it really has a global reach and that isn’t anymore evident than in the placement of those I went to school with. My classmates scattered throughout the U.S. and the globe – from Seoul to Dubai, from Miami to Seattle – and here I am in Dallas, TX! One of the strengths of the program is that the alumni network is not overly concentrated in any one city, which means the degree has a broad geographic reach that other schools don’t have.

With all that said, New York City, because of its proximity to Ithaca and strong Cornell connections (Cornell Tech, Cornell Weill Medical School, Cornell Club of New York), does draw a larger proportion (3 or 4 in my class?) of graduates each year. But it’s certainly a minority of the class that decides to go to NYC.

Career Service Offerings

  • Full-time Real Estate Career Development Professional?: Yes
  • Career Programming: Advisory Board and alumni mentorship program, real estate career fairs each semester, resume prep, mock interviews, regular networking events with prospective employers
  • Campus job board: a good number of real estate jobs each year; I applied for, interviewed through, and secured both my internship and full-time position through the Cornell job board

Internships

The summer internship is an integral part of the Baker experience. The internship demonstrates to prospective full-time employers of your interest in a specific area of real estate (e.g. asset management) and affords Baker students the opportunity to put into practice what they learned in their first year. I interned with USAA Real Estate Company, which was a huge help to land my full-time position at a similar type company (the real estate investment division of a life insurance company) the following spring.

Job Placement and Salary Information

The Baker Program publishes annual salary statistics for the graduates from the previous year. Here are the statistics from the class of 2015.

  • The median full-time base salary was $105,000, with a mean of $103,333 and a range between $50,000 and $125,000. 89% of respondents’ salaries were within the range of $95,000 and $125,000
  • 78% of respondents reported receiving a compensation package that included an annual bonus with a mean annual bonus of $42,857 and a mean signing bonus of $12,500
  • By Industry:
    • Development – Mean base salary of $95,000 and mean annual bonus of $81,750
    • Acquisitions – Mean base salary of $100,000 and mean annual bonus of $27,167
    • Asset Management – Mean base salary of $108,333 and mean annual bonus of $38,250

2015 Hiring Companies

Both internship and full-time included:

  • AEW
  • Brickman Associates
  • Citi Community Capital
  • Chartres Lodging
  • China CITIC Bank International
  • Clearview Hotel Capital
  • Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston
  • Grubb Properties
  • Hodes Weill
  • HR&A Advisors
  • ICBC
  • Intelli-Stay Hospitality
  • LCS Senior Living
  • Mapletree Investments
  • Maroon Capital Group
  • MetLife Real Estate Investors
  • Northwestern Mutual Real Estate Investments
  • Oaktree Capital Management – Europe
  • Pacific Cascade Group
  • Prudential Real Estate Investors – Latin America
  • Related Companies
  • Skanska USA Commercial Development
  • Starwood Capital Group
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
  • Tishman Speyer
  • Tamares Real Estate Investors
  • Urban American
  • United Realty Advisors
  • Washington Street Partners
  • Welltower (formally Healthcare REIT)


Admissions

Admissions information is always subject to change, so you should confirm this information is still applicable by visiting Baker’s admissions page. As of the writing of this post, the Baker Program admissions team is offering an application “pre-assessment.” This is a good way to know what your chances are of admission.

Pre-Requisites

  • Undergraduate degree from an accredited university
  • Acceptable English language proficiency for international students (see TOEFL score minimums here)

Additionally, the Baker website offers this guidance:

“Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate students are as diverse as the specialties they choose to pursue. The ability to bring leadership to the industry and make a unique contribution to the community at Cornell are factors that are often emphasized over direct experience, GPAs, and GMAT scores.

Characteristics that the selection committee looks for include:

  • A passion for real estate and its related fields
  • Creativity and an intellectual spark
  • The ability to positively contribute to diverse teams
  • Leadership in an academic, work, or community setting
  • Direct or indirect real estate experience or exposure”

Admissions Requirements

  • Online application
  • $95.00 application fee
  • Statement of Purpose (750 words)
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendation (two)
  • GMAT or GRE score
  • Interview (required upon invitation)

Admissions Statistics

  • Applicants: Not available
  • Acceptance Rate: Not available

Note: In my acceptance letter, several years back, I was told fewer than 15% of applicants were admitted. It’s my impression that applications are up since than, which would mean acceptance rates have dropped.

Admissions Schedule

  • Round One Application Deadline: November 30
  • Round Two Application Deadline: January 15 (last opportunity to apply for Baker Program scholarships)
  • Round Three Application Deadline: March 1
  • Round Four Application Deadline: April 1

Beebe Lake Waterfall at the Cornell Gorges (Source: Noitazilivic)


Commentary

My goal has been to provide a fact-based profile of the Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate. 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 Baker.

Strengths

  1. Global Reach. Baker students leave Cornell and really span the globe in terms of where they land a job. This is possible in large part due to the strength and breadth of the Cornell real estate network and the quality of the Cornell brand. But also, because of Ithaca’s remote location graduates haven’t been pigeonholed into one location. Which means if you want to end up in Denver, or London, or Hong Kong or San Francisco, or NYC, you can.
  2. MBA-Like Two-Year Program. The length of the program is a huge strength for two reasons.
    • First, it gives sufficient time to develop a deep Cornell connection. The primary reason in my view to attend a top-tier university is for the network. Two years affords you sufficient time to truly plug into the alumni network and adapt the culture of the institution. After one year at Cornell, I was just barely starting to feel like a Cornellian, after two I bleed carnelian red.
    • Second, the internship. I can’t stress enough how important the internship is – especially for career changers or for those pivoting within real estate. The internship shows prospective employers that you’re capable of this new role and allows you to practice what you learned in your first year at Baker. But it also gives you some breathing room; because when you finish the internship you still have another year of school to work on landing the full-time job. There’s a good reason full-time MBA programs are two years – the internship.
  3. Network. Cornell’s real estate network is rock solid. I landed my internship and my full-time position with the encouragement, help, and support of Cornell alumni. The Cornell Real Estate Council is 1600+ strong and Cornellians love to help other Cornellians. In my experience, you email a Cornell alum and they email you right back. They’re anxious to talk to you and help in anyway they can. I went to Cornell, in large part, because of the network and I haven’t been disappointed.

Admissions Advice

  1. Visit campus. I’ll say that again, visit campus! The admissions committee wants to admit applicants that will accept the offer and there’s no better way to demonstrate genuine interest than to travel all the way to Ithaca NY to say, “hey, I want to be a Baker.” You’ll likely be competing against a couple hundred applicants for 25 spots, a campus visit will go a long way toward helping you stand out from those other applicants.
  2. Do something special. It doesn’t matter what (so long as it’s positive!), just do something that makes you stand out. Start a blog. Move to Africa. Whatever, just set yourself apart.
  3. Reach out to a few Bakers. Track down and email a few past and present Baker students. Ask for their advice. Learn about their experience. Your statement of purpose and interview will be all the better because of it; and it won’t hurt to name drop when appropriate moments warrant it.

Other Resources

My hope is that the school profiles, including this profile of the Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate, 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.


Read Other Profiles

Columbia MSRED | Cornell MPSRE | MIT MSRED | NYU MSRED & MSRE | Johns Hopkins MSREI | USC MRED

About the Author: Born and raised in the Northwest United States, Spencer Burton has over 15 years of real estate investment and development experience. In his current position, Spencer assesses new investments for a $40bn real estate fund. He resides in Dallas, TX.