In an industry where you’re responsible for handling large sums of money and filing mounds of legal paperwork, it’s no surprise that there’s a strict process for becoming a real estate agent. Perhaps more important than the time and money that goes into getting your license is the backbone of licensure: completing your pre-licensing training at a legitimate real estate school.
The real estate agent schooling that you need to get licensed is called “pre-licensing.” Most states require 40-180 hours of schooling, with some states splitting the coursework into multiple mini-courses. Most states allow applicants to do this online through programs like Real Estate Express.
You wouldn’t choose a college degree program with little more than a basic internet search and no additional research, would you? The same logic should go toward pursuing your real estate pre-licensing education as well. To learn everything there is to know about the real estate agent schooling required to get licensed, read on!
How to Get Your Real Estate License
Before we outline the specific schooling you must complete so that you can earn your real estate license, we’re going to take a slight step back and look at the bigger picture.
In the list below, you’ll see a breakdown of the steps you must take to achieve this goal:
- Meet the basic requirements for your state (18 and over, high school diploma, etc.).
- Attend a state-approved real estate school (also known as “pre-licensing”).
- Pass your state’s official real estate exam with a 70% or higher.
- Find a brokerage or company with the tools in place to nurture new agents.
- Complete a background check at an approved fingerprinting facility.
- Submit your state’s real estate salesperson application (including fees).
Now, it’s worth pointing out that some of these steps can be completed out of order.
For example, some prospective real estate agents will interview brokers before completing their pre-licensing course to fast-track their careers once licensed. You might have to pass your background check in some states before being eligible to take your pre-licensing exam.
The order of completion is a moot point.
What is essential to recognize is that no step in the licensing process is quite as important as the pre-licensing education that all agents must complete.
So that’s what we’re going to be honing in on from here on out!
The Importance of Pre-Licensing Coursework
You may have hands-on experience with the real estate industry already.
Maybe you spent some time as a mortgage advisor, real estate agent personal assistant, or some sort of home contractor. With your background, you have a decent understanding of the processes behind buying or selling a home.
But many prospective agents choose this career path after tuning into HGTV and catching a few episodes of Flip or Flop and Love It or List It—shows that undoubtedly paint a much prettier picture of the ins and outs of the real estate industry.
Without pre-licensing coursework, the legal and moral aspects of real estate go by the wayside.
What You Learn in Pre-Licensing
There’s a vast misconception about real estate pre-licensing coursework: you attend these classes to learn how to sell a house and generate passive income.
While this isn’t entirely false, it dramatically reduces the importance of pre-licensing classes.
The real purpose of this education is to introduce national and state real estate concepts to up-and-coming agents so that they can abide by the appropriate laws while in practice.
Take a look at the wide range of topics you’ll learn about:
- Licensing laws in your state
- Property (estate) types and rights
- Ownership types and survivorship
- Property easements and restrictions
- Titles and deeds
- Contracts and contract laws
- Types of agencies between brokers, agents, and clients
- Listing types
- Possession and condemnation of real property
- Mortgage and financing options
- Liens, redemption, and foreclosure concepts
- Federal and state real estate laws
- Closing and settlements
- Leasing, landlords, and tenants
- Property management
- Anti-Discrimination and Fair Housing legislation
- Real estate taxes
- Land types, zoning, and building ordinances
- Environmental laws impacting real estate
The list above is hardly scraping the surface of the topics you’ll learn about while attending state-mandated real estate schools.
Given these topics’ complexity and depth, you can likely see why states don’t let just any Joe Schmoe take multi-million dollar listings and interact with the public as a real estate expert.
Real Estate School and Real Estate Exams
The real estate exam is the bane of the existence of new real estate agents.
The statistics show that only about 50-60% of new agents will pass their real estate exams on their first attempt without proper exam prep tools.
Will pre-licensing alone help an agent pass their exam?
Unless you absorb complex topics and hundreds of pages of information unusually well, then the answer is probably “no.”
However, this mandatory educational coursework will introduce you to real estate topics that you had no interaction with prior. Plus, anything you learn about in your class is considered “fair game” for your state’s exam.
By understanding the topics that may be on the exam, you can better adapt your study habits to ensure you pass your exam on the first try!
Your pre-licensing can set you up for exam prep, triggering the rest of the process to continue.
Is There a Way to Skip Pre-Licensing?
There are a few circumstances where, depending on the state in which you live, you may be able to waive some or all of your state’s mandatory pre-licensing requirements.
The instances where this might be feasible include:
- Completion of college-level real estate coursework (equivalent to the hourly requirements for your state)
- Possession of a real estate-related Bachelor’s or Associate’s Degree
- Active licensure in another state
- Attorneys in good standing with the State Bar Association
Unless you already qualify for any of these exceptions, pursuing them now will likely cost you more time and money than a typical pre-licensing course.
Take a look at the rates for typical college credit (nearly $600), and you’ll see why.
While many of the items in the list above are related to real estate somehow, they also may not prepare you as much and as directly as your cliche pre-licensing education.
So plan to attend a real estate school rather than looking for a loophole!
The Pre-Licensing Requirements for Real Estate Agents
Do you know what would make things a lot easier? If all real estate agents had the same pre-licensing requirements no matter where in the U.S. they lived.
However, this simply isn’t realistic.
You have to consider things like variations in state laws, property types, and economic factors that exist across the nation. The rules and concepts that apply in California won’t necessarily pertain to agents or homeowners in New Hampshire or Virginia.
So let’s shift our focus toward the details of pre-licensing courses.
All states require their agents to complete a minimum number of hours in the classroom (or in the online portal) for pre-licensing purposes.
Some states—like Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Vermont—require 40 hours or fewer pre-licensing coursework. On the upper end of the hour requirements, you have states like Utah (120 hours), California (135 hours), Oregon (150 hours), and Texas (180 hours).
This explains why some prospective agents can completely fulfill their state’s hours within just seven days, while the process may take several weeks in other states.
The majority of states will require agents to complete a basic “salesperson pre-licensing course” that reviews all of the pertinent topics that real estate agents must know in that particular state.
These are condensed courses and take the guesswork out of choosing the right class.
However, some states, typically those requiring 80+ hours of pre-licensing, will divide these long hours into several different courses.
Other states may add short courses on top of the simple pre-licensing course to highlight a certain topic most relevant in the area.
Examples of additional courses during pre-licensing include:
- Contract writing
- Principles & practices of real estate
- Real estate law
- Buying & listing practices
- Real estate fundamentals
Typically, there are no workarounds when your state lists specific courses that you must complete to be eligible to take the state exam. However, like California, some states will give you the choice of several extra classes to fulfill the mandatory hours.
If taking 135-180 hours of pre-licensing classes seems exceptionally time-consuming, you’re in good company. Many prospective agents go in with the grand idea of speed running online coursework in an attempt to fast-track pre-licensing completion.
Why spend six months taking in-person courses and slowly chipping away at those 180 hours when you can condense them into 15 12-hour days?
It’s a great idea, but it’s not entirely possible.
Many states have caught on to this trick and, as a result, have put a strict limit on the number of hours of schooling you can put in per day.
States that have these safeguards in place will put the daily hour limit at 6-10 hours.
Completing Your Pre-Licensing
Pre-licensing coursework is non-negotiable in the majority of U.S. states. Luckily, in some states, you do have somewhat of a say in how you complete this schooling.
Your options will run the gamut, but typically include:
- Traditional in-person classes
- Online real estate schools
- College credits and degrees
Let’s delve into the basics of each of these styles so that you can make the best choice for you.
Traditional In-Person Classes
Traditional real estate license courses will be held at a local brokerage office, community college, or other classroom-like settings. These in-person courses are usually delivered lecture-style by a licensed real estate agent with plenty of years in the business.
- Have your questions answered by an experienced agent on-the-spot
- Build a network of other agents-in-training (your classmates)
- Hear first-hand accounts of the real estate industry
- Some people learn better when taking notes and highlighting a textbook
- Unless you flat-out don’t show up, you can’t procrastinate your learning
- Little freedom with scheduling (nights, days, or weekends)
- The pace of the class depends on your peers’ understanding
- Some sessions last a seemingly never-ending eight hours
Online Real Estate Schools
Online real estate schools (like Mbition, Real Estate Express, and The CE Shop) will allow you to complete all of your pre-licensing training through an online module. You can complete your coursework from your own home when it fits into your own schedule and at your own pace. (Don’t fall for the online course where an instructor is video taped giving the same course they would have delivered in a classroom. This technique is not as effective as the purpose built online courses that the schools above offer.)
- Squeeze in hours when it fits your schedule (breaks, nights, weekends, etc.)
- Complete your hours and courses more quickly
- You control the pace and can spend more time on areas of confusion
- Save money and get more bang for your buck
- Many programs come with exam prep tools and end-of-unit practice tests
- Not for people that are easily distracted
- No opportunity to learn from your peers or hear their questions
- Responses from your instructor may take 24 hours or more
Are you torn between in-person courses and online courses? Take a look at this clip that briefly compares the two educational methods, including each’s pros and cons:
College Credits and Degrees
Many states will accept college credits and degrees in place of (or in conjunction with) the typical pre-licensing courses. While it’s not a financially intelligent decision to pursue a degree in real estate (or a related field), you’ll leave with a far greater depth of knowledge.
- Many big-name colleges offer comprehensive real estate programs
- Even if you pursue another path, you still have a degree to your name
- Spend more time on topics and have a greater understanding
- Take other relevant coursework (like business, psychology, and marketing)
- No state mandates college credits for real estate agents
- May spend ten times more than you would on regular pre-licensing
- Lagged hour completion due to summer, fall, and holiday breaks
A degree in real estate isn’t for everybody. In the video below, you’ll see some reasons why some people decide to pursue a degree:
How to Know if a Real Estate School Is Legitimate
You should never put blind trust into a real estate school.
That’s because you want to be sure that your state will accept training from a particular real estate school before you dedicate hours and hundreds of dollars to the schooling.
Make sure that any school you attend has a license number for your state. This verifies the program’s legitimacy and that you won’t find out after the fact that your state doesn’t accept credit from that particular school.
Additionally, look at your state’s requirements. If you live in a state that requires strictly in-person coursework, but somehow found an online-only pre-licensing program for your state, something isn’t right. Trust your state’s official website and never take the word of a real estate school.
Lastly, look at reviews to see that the school is either run by a terrific instructor or has unique tools and features in place to ensure all students succeed.
This is your time and money—make the most of it!
The Pre-Licensing Course Final Exam
Many new agents complete their state’s pre-licensing requirements and then assume they’re ready to move on and register for the state real estate exam.
That would sure be convenient, but it’s not the case!
You won’t officially receive credit for completing your state’s hours and courses until you pass the end-of-course final exam.
Here’s what you need to know about this exam:
- The test is generally closed-book, and no smartphones are permitted.
- Both online and in-person proctoring solutions may be available for candidates.
- You may face an additional proctoring fee (usually about $25).
- Failing more than once may force you to re-take your state’s pre-licensing course.
- You will be allowed access to a calculator and scratch paper.
Once you pass your post-course exam, you’ll be eligible to move onto the next licensure steps, which is likely your state real estate exam.
The official exam cannot be taken from the comfort of your own home.
Does Your State Allow for Online Real Estate Agent Schooling?
The good news is that most U.S. states will accept—and even prefer—online pre-licensing training for prospective real estate agents. However, there are still quite a few states that currently mandate the traditional in-person real estate coursework.
If you’re getting your license in any of these states, prepare to enroll in an in-person course:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Do you live in one of the other 40 states (or the District of Columbia)?
If so, you’ll have the option between a state-approved in-person real estate school and an online pre-licensing program. For most up-and-coming real estate agents, online coursework is more convenient, affordable, and allows for quicker licensure.
Real Estate Agent School to Keep Your License
Once you complete your pre-licensing education, pass your real estate exam, and get your license in-hand, your state may permit you to hit the ground running. But some states require a bit more schooling during the beginning stages of licensure in your first renewal period.
This is sometimes known as “post-licensing.”
You may have to attend 25-40 additional post-licensing salesperson hours in your first six months to two years.
It’s important to note that failure to do so on time (or at all) will cost you big. Your license may lapse and return to an “inactive status.” If that occurs, you may have to pursue additional fees, coursework, or testing to reactivate your license to continue practicing.
As confusing as the pre-licensing requirements may be from state to state, the concept of pre-licensing is pretty straightforward.
Complete your state’s mandatory hours and courses through a state-approved school (either online or in-person, although online is typically considered the better option).
Take some time to study the material in-depth before registering for a live proctored final exam. Once you pass that with flying colors, it’s time to ace your state’s real estate exam.
You’re well on your way to getting your license!