Crosscheck real estate careers and college degrees and you're liable to find lots of matches. However, the list may be substantially smaller when searching for Realtors and commercial brokers who majored in disciplines directly related to buying and selling homes or negotiating office or retail deals.

Unlike studying to be a lawyer or doctor, people interested in real estate aren't obligated to attend graduate school or major in real estate although taking courses or even concentrating in the field can be helpful. Many agents got their starts showing homes as a sideline or became involved after earlier career choices weren't right for them, while commercial brokers may have studied real estate in school but majored in another area. Some professionals obtain broader degrees such as finance or master's of business administration (MBA) that likely include real estate courses or subject matter.

Still in recent years, real estate by itself has become more complex, and it's emerged as a career for many professionals rather than a gig between jobs or a part-time occupation. Real estate study tracks are increasing in interest, whether students take courses on campus or online. The NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association lists 94 universities in the U.S. and Canada that have established real estate programs.

According to TheBestColleges.org website, real estate is emerging as a profitable career and studying it in college can boost the chances of earning significant wages down the road. Citing a survey from PayScale salary, benefits and compensation online site, TheBestCollege.org notes the average income for an agent or broker with a bachelor's degree in real estate is $54,803, and the average pay for someone who's earned an MBA in real estate, a program that typically takes two years to complete, is $72,120.

"Regardless of where you live, a career in real estate requires substantial knowledge of the real estate market and finances, as well as a familiarity with zoning and tax laws, insurance, and mortgages and banking," TheBestColleges.org notes. Graduates of real estate programs can be "highly sought after" especially in fast-growing housing markets such as Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida and West Virginia, the website says.

TheBestColleges.org doesn't see signs of the industry slowing down. "The field of real estate is expected to grow slowly but steadily through 2024, with millennials, the country's largest demographic group, entering prime working age and becoming heads of their own households over the next decade."

In deciding on a college, students should look for a real estate program that fits their needs. For instance, some schools offer specializations that would appeal to students "with specific career interests, such as commercial real estate or real estate finance," says BestColleges.com, another education-related Internet site.

Cost often is a factor. "In-state tuition prices are typically lower than out-of-state tuition prices. Students wishing to earn their degree locally find that completing the first two years of their education at a nearby community college saves money," BestColleges.com says.

In findings this year, U.S. News and World Report released rankings of the top dozen real estate schools in the country. In order they are the University of Pennsylvania; California - Berkeley; the University of Wisconsin; New York University; the University of Georgia; University of Texas; Southern Cal (USC); University of Florida; Marquette; Cornell; Florida State; and the University of North Carolina.

BestColleges.com, meanwhile, analyzes online real estate programs.

"Commonly promoted as convenient, flexible, and accessible, online programs allow students to earn their degree from home while saving money by eliminating commuting costs," the website notes. "Online programs frequently offer distance learning discounts, such as flat tuition rates for out-of-state students," it says.

The website lists its top five online real estate programs in order: the University of Memphis, West Georgia University, NYU, East Tennessee State University and Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Memphis, for instance, offers a fully online real estate degree that "prepares students to launch careers in real estate investment, valuation, property development (and) mortgage banking," the website says.

In some cases, real estate programs in frothy local markets single out their home towns as job starting points. The Carter Real Estate Center at the College of Charleston on its online site champions the area housing economy and how it's a prescient time to think about real estate as a career.

"Charleston's real estate market is steadily on the rise, so the timing is perfect to explore a minor or concentration in real estate," the center points out. "From manufacturing and warehouse expansion, corporate real estate and Class A office, retail renovation and development (to) condominium construction, the real estate industry has so much to offer."