Showing Houses After Class – Starter Guide for a Real Estate College Job

Real estate can appear to be a flashy industry, especially in the age of sleek reality TV shows that follow the lives of agents closing high-profile deals for six-figure commissions. But the industry, and especially the role of real estate agent, is one that is often misunderstood – being an agent is neither about driving luxury cars from one house showing to the other, nor is it about a cliché divorcee re-entering the job market with an online degree and no practical skills.

In fact, real estate might just be the after hours job for a college student, with the potential to get a jump start on a post-university career path. Not only are work hours flexible, but startup costs are fairly low, especially compared to many other businesses.

Additionally, with the current popularity of online education, there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in the timeline of certification, allowing a student to mold the real estate courses to their college workload. In fact, some real estate courses can carry college credits, while certain college degrees make it easier to secure your real estate salesperson license.

Before you commit

Of course, it takes a strong work ethic and great time management to pursue a job in real estate, and in some cases, you may face an age bias, since some customers will be reluctant to work with an agent in their early twenties.

On the other hand, young people have better fluency in social media, and are nearly always online. Both of these traits lend themselves well to the digital marketing skills and quick response time necessary to be a successful real estate agent. Then there’s Gen Z’s desire for homeownership, and the fact that Millennials are currently the largest generation of homebuyers.

So, what are the main points to consider before you commit to pursuing your real estate salesperson license?

  • Expenses related to obtaining your license
  • Expenses related to maintaining your license
  • Continued educational commitments
  • Securing a brokerage to work with
  • Start-up costs
  • Flexibility in working hours
  • Ebb and flow of income
  • Communication and marketing skills
  • Updated awareness of national and local trends in the property market

After weighing your options, if you concluded that pursuing an agent’s license isn’t for you at this time, there are still other avenues to pursue in real estate with lower time and resource commitments that can also serve as opportunities to pursue your license in the future.

For example, you can could become a part-time agent’s assistant, leasing agent, referral agent or engage in bird-dogging. None of these roles require licensing to practice, and give you ample opportunity to learn on the job, build a network, and create a personal brand.

Who knows, maybe the couple who you helped to lease an apartment will be excited to look you up a few years later – after you already have your license – to help them buy their first home. It’s all about building experience and getting your name out there.

If you do decide that a real estate license during your college years is a good idea, then congratulations! It’s going to take commitment and hard work but will open a world of opportunities down the line. The communication, negotiation, contracting, branding and advocacy skills you will develop will be useful in countless other career pursuits – real estate-related or not.

So, let’s explore in detail all the steps you need to take to become a successful real estate agent while in college.

Getting your license

In very basic terms, in order to become a licensed real estate salesperson, you must go through real estate education, go through some form of background check, successfully pass a state licensing exam, obtain errors and omissions insurance and sign with a broker or brokerage. Specifics for obtaining a real estate license vary from state to state in a number of aspects, from the amount of pre-licensing education, licensing costs and fees, timelines between education, examination and relicensing, and whether or not you need to be sponsored by a broker prior to licensing.

Check out the interactive map below for some of the main licensing requirements in each state:

It’s crucial to research all requirements specific to your state even before enrolling in a course. This is easiest by consulting your state’s real estate commission requirements, which are readily available online. Usually the governing body will be known as [State] Real Estate Commission or [State] Department of Real Estate.

While requirements vary, there are a number of commonalities across states:

  • Age requirements

The lowest and most common age threshold throughout the United States is 18. However, in some states you must be 19 or even 21 to pursue a real estate license.

  • Residency requirements

To become a real estate agent, you must have U.S. citizenship or legal residency. Some states, such as Mississippi, require state residency as well to become licensed, while others, like California, do not have any state residency requirements.

  • Educational requirements

Educational requirements for becoming a real estate salesperson tend to be fairly minimal, with most states only requiring a high school diploma or GED. In some states, even high school diploma and GED requirements are waived, although lacking such a proof of formal education may discourage potential clients from trusting your abilities.

A limited number of states require proof of formal education beyond high school for licensure, such as tech school diplomas or university level education. On the other hand, certain college degrees can open up alternative licensing routes. For example, a real estate major at a four-year college can replace Pennsylvania’s state-mandated 60-hour pre-licensing education. Often, holding a law degree also exempts you from pre-licensing education or a portion of it – you will still be required to take the real estate salesperson license exam, however.

  • Background check requirements

Generally speaking, you will need to provide proof of some form of criminal background check. Whether or not a record affects your ability to obtain a real estate license varies significantly from state to state. In some states, such as Georgia and Utah, a criminal record is an automatic disqualifier, while in others – like Arkansas – would-be agents with a record are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

In Arizona you need to be of high moral character, and in Maine you have to provide notarized recommendations of your reputation from a minimum of three people. Alabama will deny the license to those convicted of felonies, as well as those who have had their license revoked or application rejected in any state in the past two years. Indiana will reject applications from people convicted of crimes that suggest they could be a danger to the public, while in Alaska, if you have been convicted of a felony, the requirement is to have served the full sentence.

  • Real estate education requirements

With very few exceptions, you cannot obtain a real estate license without taking a set amount of real estate licensing courses. Whether you opt for online education or traditional courses, the most important thing is to ensure the course vendor is a licensed school accredited in your state. You can usually consult your state’s real estate commission for a list of schools with valid accreditation.

The complexity and length of your real estate education will depend partly on how much work you can take on educationally – especially when choosing online courses – and on what your state-mandated requirements are. Additionally, some states mandate a set amount of post-licensing coursework, usually to be completed within the first year of receiving your license. It must be noted that post-licensing education is not the same as the continuing education coursework required for renewing your license.

The amount of coursework you need to take on to qualify for your real estate license exam is set by your state’s real estate governing body and can vary significantly between states. It can be as little as 30 hours of education (Vermont and Kansas) or as much as 168 hours (Colorado). Texas leads when it comes to pre-licensing educational requirements, mandating 180 hours of coursework from would-be licensees.

Additionally, some states also set subject requirements for a set amount of the minimum mandatory education. For example, of the 60 hours of pre-licensing education required in Arkansas, at least 30 hours must be in basic principles of real estate.

Of California’s 135 legally required hours, 45 must be in California real estate principles and 45 in California real estate practices. The remaining 45 required hours can be in an elective such as real estate appraisal, real estate economics, legal aspects of real estate, business law, property management, escrows, mortgage loan brokering and lending or real estate office management, among others.

However, regardless how many hours of education are mandated by your state’s licensing board, it’s imperative to ensure you know not only basic information such as how to estimate a buyer’s new property taxes. Information on area schools, keeping up to date with any new developments in the area that might influence property values and homeownership, and additional information from your area of activity will also help you better serve future clients.

The cost of pre-licensing courses again varies, depending on your state, length of coursework, vendor, and medium (physical or online). Some states will require you to sit a post-course exam, usually arranged by your course vendor, as a pre-requisite for registering for the state exam.

  • State examination requirements

Keep in mind that there is a set timeframe between finishing your courses and sitting your state license exam. Usually, you must take your state exam between 3 and 12 months after finishing your courses, depending on your state’s specific guidelines. If you go over the deadline, you will have to retake your courses, incurring additional expenses

After finishing your mandatory real estate courses – and, if applicable, taking your post-course exam – there are a few additional steps prior to scheduling your licensure exam. First, you have to a obtain a certificate of completion or official transcripts from you real estate school proving you have successfully finished the state-mandated coursework. Even if it’s not required in your state, it’s a good idea to take a post-course exam to help prep for the actual state licensing exam.

You will also have to fill out a real estate license application, and sometimes a separate application to register for the exam. Forms are generally available on your state’s real estate commission’s website, as are costs and fees you will need to pay. Fees vary significantly between states, ranging from $45 in Louisiana to $300 in Oregon.

When it comes to the license fee, read carefully beforehand as to what it includes. In some states, the license fee includes the application fee and/or the exam fee. In others, it’s a separate cost you also need to cover before becoming eligible for taking the exam. Since your eligibility for a real estate salesperson’s license can be affected by any past brushes with the law, you’ll also have to provide some form of background check, which is an added cost. In certain states, applicants also need to submit fingerprints, which also carry a fee.

A real estate salesperson must also secure errors and omissions insurance. Colloquially known as E&O insurance, some states’ legislation requires applicants to secure it prior to taking the licensing exam. Since real estate agents must practice under or in association with a licensed broker, in some states – like Louisiana – you also have to prove you’ve secured a sponsoring broker prior to submitting your license application or even before examination.

Usually, the state licensing exam is provided by a third-party testing company and you will be required to present a valid photo ID at the examination venue. If you were required to submit an exam application, you will be notified – usually by the state – when you may register for the exam. After you have registered and set a date for the exam, all that’s usually left is to prepare for the exam. However, in some states you may have to sign an affidavit regarding your eligibility for the exam.

The exam itself consists of two main portions: national and state. You must pass both in order to qualify for a license. In some states, both portions are taken together, while other states offer the possibility of taking them separately. If you already hold a license in another state, and are looking to secure a license in an additional one – also known as reciprocal licensing – you may only have to take the new state’s exam portion. Even if you still have to submit to the full examination procedure, if you hold or have held a real estate salesperson’s license from another state in recent years, you must present the certification of licensure in your documentation.

Maintaining your license

Like many other professional qualifications, a real estate license – whether for agents or brokerages – must be renewed periodically. How often that happens is up to your state’s real estate regulatory board. The most popular option is a two-year renewal timeline, but many states require yearly renewals, while others set a three-year validity. California, Georgia, Kentucky and Nevada are the outliers, with four-year renewal timelines.

It’s important to be familiar with renewal deadlines and stay updated on any changes that may occur. Certain states set fixed dates for all licensed real estate salespersons’ renewal deadlines, such as June 30 for Minnesota. Others set rolling dates connected to the licensee’s birthday or the date of their first certification, like Arizona and Idaho.

Additionally, some states will have shorter renewal timelines for first-time license holders. Generally, this means that the first license you’re issued is probationary or provisional. Going from a provisional licensure to full licensure is often tied to post-licensing education.

Make sure you research ahead of time whether your first license is a full one, or a provisional one tied to post-licensing education. There are strict timelines for completing your post-license education and the amount of post-license coursework can vary significantly from state to state. Additionally, post-license education represents a significant additional cost towards securing your real estate license.

For example, Florida requires 63 hours of coursework for initial licensure, with 45 hours of post-license education. Kentucky requires a mere 30 hours of pre-license real estate education and an additional 30 hours post-license coursework. Texas mandates 180 hours of pre-license education, with the first renewal hinging on successfully completing an additional 98 hours of sales agent apprentice education.

Completing and providing proof of fulfilling your state-mandated continuing education requirements is a key step in successfully renewing your license. Costs, prerequisites and the amount of continuing education is also state-specific. West Virginia mandates 7 hours of continuing education for license renewal, North Carolina requires 8 hours, and North Dakota 9 hours. On the other end of the spectrum sit California and Wyoming with 45 hours of continuing education requirements each. While post-licensing education and continuing education both have an impact on licensure, they have a different role and scope.

Securing a broker to practice with

The biggest difference between a real estate salesperson and a real estate broker is that brokers can operate on their own, whereas agents cannot. By law, agents must find a broker to associate with in order to operate. In fact, some states require real estate license applicants to show proof of sponsorship from a broker as a prerequisite to taking the licensing exam.

As such, it’s best to research your options ahead of time. The first step is to look up area brokerages and research the agents and brokers associated with it. You can research agents and brokers using their license numbers through your state’s real estate governing body. You can also attend area real estate events to ask questions and network.

Once you’ve secured a broker and received your real estate license, you will have to secure errors and omissions insurance (E&O). In some states you need to have the insurance in place prior to licensing or even sitting your exam. As a form of professional liability insurance, the purpose of E&O is to protect the insured against claims by clients regarding inadequate or negligent actions. This provides you and your brokerage with more security against any errors or claims.

Whether you choose an independent brokerage or a franchise, the brokerage will retain or receive a percentage of any commissions you make. Some brokerages offer mentorship and training programs for young agents. Even if you don’t manage to sign with the top brokerage in your area, the most important thing as a young agent is to sign somewhere and start honing your skills through real experience.

Starting off in the business

Most real estate agents represent both sellers and buyers, but usually not in the same deal. When representing the seller, you will be the listing agent or seller agent. As such, you will enter into a listing agreement with the clients and become legally bound to protect their fiduciary interest, i.e. secure the best deal.

When representing a buyer, you will be the buyer’s agent or selling agent, working for the buyer’s interest. While listing agents always enter into a listing agreement with their clients, buyer’s agents are not always required to sign a buyer’s broker agreement.

If an agent represents both buyer and seller, they become a dual agent and receive the full commission. Customarily between 5% and 6%, the commission is split between the seller’s and buyer’s agents in the more common non-dual agency transactions.

Dual agency can also occur between different agents, if both agents are employed by the same broker. However, representing both buyer and seller, is not permitted in any state. Where dual agency is prohibited, an agent can still mediate the transaction by becoming a transaction agent. As such, the transaction agent doesn’t represent either buyer or seller, but oversees the deal.

Whichever role you operate in as a newly-licensed agent, you will have to build up your credibility in a market of experienced and established agents. Online and offline marketing, building data bases, working your personal and professional networks for leads, turning leads into clients and deals, and getting referrals are some of the most important areas where you will have to develop experience and eventually prove yourself.

You will have to decide what strategies to use in each step, and how much time and resources to invest, especially as a college student. Due to the cyclical nature of the industry, there may be periods when things move at a fast pace and the balance between your profession and studies will suffer. To minimize the risks and effects of such a situation, you need to have set contingency plans ahead and maintain a strict schedule. For example, you can invest more time into your job when you’re on break from school or you can take some of your college courses during the summer.

There are also slumps in business, so you need to have a financial contingency plan in place. If you are looking to pursue a steady income in the real estate industry, operating as a buyer’s or seller’s agent might not yet be the best option.

Alternatives, leadups and learning opportunities

Although not every state requires leasing agents and property managers to hold a real estate salesperson’s license, having one can prove useful. It allows you take on more responsibilities as a leasing agent and many employers prefer it. Since a real estate agent’s license is not required in every state, you can work as a leasing agent for the additional income and as a leadup towards licensure, by gaining experience and getting to know the industry. If required by your state, obtaining a leasing agent’s certification is a shorter and less resource-intensive process than salesperson licensure.

As a leasing agent you may work for a broker or brokerage, real estate agent, property management company or a building. You may receive a fixed salary or work on commission. Duties may involve researching landlords, available apartments and clients, pre-qualifying potential clients, processing applications, and showing apartments. Generally, it requires flexibility in working hours, since many clients can only view apartments in the evening and on weekends. This makes it easier to combine with traditional school hours.

Another avenue into the real estate business while earning an income is to become an agent’s assistant. You don’t need a real estate license to operate as one and you receive a monthly income. It’s also a great way to build a network and secure a broker to hang your license with once you do obtain a real estate salesperson license.

Many of the duties of an agent’s assistant are clerical, like setting up appointments, preparing documents, mailing newsletters and reports, and handling correspondence and phone calls. An agent’s assistant can also update MLS information and distribute funds from a deal. Once in possession of a real estate agent license, an assistant can also attend open houses.

Prior to that however, both you and the real estate professional you work with must be clear on duties that you may perform and those that legally you cannot without real estate certification, as well as any legislative changes pertaining to that.


So, is it worth pursuing a real estate agent’s license as a college student? In short yes, but not for everybody. If your course load is already packed, or if you’re passionate about the social aspects of college life, it’s probably unsustainable. But if you’re looking for employment, even if it’s part-time, in a dynamic environment where communication, deal making, marketing and research intersect, it might just be the perfect opportunity for you. Just like anything else in life, being a successful real estate agent takes work, time and dedication, regardless of what stage in life you are in. With the right work ethic, you can pursue a successful career as a real estate agent whether you’re in your 60s or still in college.

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss is a senior writer reporting real estate trends in the US. Her work has been cited by CBS News, Curbed, The Los Angeles Times, and Forbes among others. With an academic background in journalism, Eliza has been covering real estate since 2012. Before joining PropertyShark, Eliza was an associate editor at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive. Eliza writes for both PropertyShark and CommercialEdge. Reach her at [email protected]