SALEM, Ore. (CNN/Money) - Forget Trump. This week, student teams from a dozen business schools will test their real estate savvy in the third annual Real Estate Challenge.
The competition, sponsored by the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin, begins on Tuesday morning when teams receive a case study via e-mail concerning anything from what to do with an unprofitable strip mall to whether to invest in a new resort hotel.
Teams have just 58 hours to evaluate the case, organize a presentation and travel to Austin, where a panel of 18 judges from Goldman Sachs and other A-list investment firms will declare a winner.
Real estate, it seems, is all the rage in business schools these days. Courses are full and have waiting lists, schools are rolling out new classes and student-run real estate clubs are doubling and tripling in size.
The real estate club at the University of Southern California has close to 200 members.
Demand for real estate courses at Emory University's Goizueta Business School prompted the school to add a real estate concentration two years ago.
At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of business, where students use points to bid on classes, those related to real estate are "selling" for several times the typical price.
"It's a very popular major right now," said Peggy Bishop Lane, deputy vice dean at Wharton.
Although many of the students focusing on real estate worked in the field before going back to school, she said, many are gravitating toward it for the same reason individuals have been shifting their investment dollars to real estate -- it's in favor.
"We had a record number in the MBA class this semester," said Jeff Fisher, a real estate professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, adding that this is no surprise considering the surge in investor interest in real estate.
Even if students don't plan to make a career in real estate, he said, many want the skills to invest in real estate on their own.
A need for number crunchers
At the same time students have become more interested in real estate, investment firms and traditional real estate companies seem more interested in hiring students with advanced degrees in this niche.
"Developers historically learned their business in the trenches, but now they're seeing the value in hiring people with technical skills to evaluate investments and add efficiencies," said Angela Dorsey, assistant director of the real estate center at McCombs.
"Clearly the industry is responding favorably," added Sonia Savoulian, director of Alumni and Student Services for USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate, which offers a masters in real estate development. "All of our 2004 graduates were placed in jobs by graduation in May."
The expectation among students focused on real estate is that the pay will be lower initially, said Stephen Roberts, who is the president of USC's real estate club and working toward a dual masters in business administration and real estate development.
"But there is the potential for higher compensation down the road," he said.
Besides, there are other perks to the job.
"It's a great way to get involved in a community," said Ephram Lustgarten, a first year MBA at Wharton and a competitor in next week's Challenge.
And unlike with, say, consulting, the work is tangible. "You can drive by the property, take a look at it and know you played a role in it," he added.