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Emphasis in Real Estate


Program Overview

The mission of the Ph.D. program in Business Administration with an emphasis in Real Estate is to prepare individuals for teaching and research careers in leading universities. The program is consistently ranked as one of the leading real estate faculties in the nation.

Emphasis in the program is on real estate economics, agency and contract theory, economics of property rights and legal institutions, and financial contracting, while building a strong foundation in economics, finance theory and research tools in statistics and econometrics. Applicants are expected to have completed introductory courses in economic theory, mathematics (including calculus and linear algebra), and basic statistical principles through multiple regression.

Ph.D. students are offered a rich variety of scholarly opportunities through personal interactions with faculty members who are established as leaders in real estate research. The small size of the program makes faculty very accessible to graduate students. You will have access to cutting-edge research tools and the chance to design a highly individualized program of study. Most students can expect to work on a joint research project with one or more of their professors. Thus, students are quickly immersed in doing substantial research. Second, your assignment as a research assistant or teaching assistant will vary, allowing exposure to different areas in the field and the opportunity to teach different courses. That maximizes your opportunity to learn and allows you to decide what interests you the most. Finally, students need access to computer hardware, software, and financial data. Smeal is well supplied in all three.

Course Work

Students can expect to spend roughly two years in formal course work, taking courses in real estate, economics, finance and statistics. All Ph.D. programs in Smeal require a set of courses in the major field, another set in a supporting field, and a final set of courses in research methods. For the Real Estate Ph.D., the major field is, of course, Real Estate, and economics has typically been the supporting field. The sequence in research methods is generally satisfied by taking a combination of econometrics and statistics courses.

Several exams are required during the program. The candidacy exam is administered during the first 18 months. The second exam, which is the comprehensive exam, is administered after completion of all required Ph.D.-level real estate classes. There is also a research paper requirement during the second year.

Students can begin work on their thesis at any time. Most students, however, find that course work keeps them busy until the end of their second year. The summer research paper during the second year encourages students to begin thinking about their own research, or, if they are uncertain about their own interests, to undertake a project with a faculty member. In either case, the aim is to produce a publishable piece of work. Some students find that their second year research project can develop into a thesis. If so, the student will be well on the way towards clearing the final hurdle. If not, the third year is spent discovering and refining an idea or ideas that can qualify as a thesis. Students spend their last year analyzing their chosen topic and writing up the results. Placement activities also occupy this year, with various academic meetings in the fall semester at which students interview, followed by campus visits at the beginning of the spring semester.

The real estate faculty group supports all the students it accepts through an assistantship. Each student receives a tuition waiver, which makes attending Penn State free. Students also receive a monthly stipend to cover their living expenses. In return for the stipend, students are expected to be research or teaching assistants. The former assist professors in undertaking research; these efforts can result in a jointly authored paper with the student. Teaching assistants teach in one of the undergraduate courses offered each semester. Supplemental funds are available to outstanding doctoral candidates.

In addition to assistantships, the Smeal College offers a wide range of fellowships, scholarships, and grants to supplement your education. Please refer to the Smeal College Financial Aid page for further details.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • What qualifications do I need to be accepted?
    Applicants who gain admission typically have a GPA of about 3.5 and a GMAT score of 650 or above. Applicants are not required to have an MBA, M.A. or M.S. degree. The faculty committee that reviews applications looks especially for evidence of the candidate's interest in learning to do research and a strong economics or math background.

  • Is the doctoral program full-time only, or is there a part-time option available?
    The program is full-time and no part-time program is available. This is because our goal is to prepare graduates to excel in research and teaching, and this focus requires full-time commitment from students.

  • How many years are required to complete the program?
    Most students require five years to complete the program, including final defense of the dissertation. However, students vary a great deal in time to finish the degree. Usually students take courses during their first two years in the program, take qualifying exams, and then start their dissertations. If they make rapid progress in developing a dissertation proposal and completing the dissertation, then they could complete the program in four years.

  • Is it possible to arrange an interview as part of the application process?
    • Applicants are strongly encouraged to interview with faculty and current students, either by telephone or in person.


    For more information about the Real Estate program, please contact:

    Professor Brent Ambrose
    Real Estate Department
    Smeal College of Business
    The Pennsylvania State University
    381 Business Building
    University Park, PA 16802-3603

    Phone: 814-867-0066

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