As Class of 2007 MBA students trade in their backpacks for briefcases, more are opting for careers in real estate (see related story, p. 92). National Real Estate Investor recently talked with some of the country's top industry pros to get their thoughts on valuable lessons they learned in grad school, how MBA programs can be improved and what advice they have for this year's graduating class.

Tom Garbutt is managing director for TIAA-CREF and is responsible for the company's global real estate activities. He earned a master's degree in real estate investment from NYU in 1991.

Lessons learned: Graduate school provided me with a background in various business disciplines, and the ability to apply all of those disciplines in the real world.

Enhancing education: Schools need to inject the global economy and business issues into programs.

Graduate guidance: Work hard and network. Wherever you go, if you work 110% the chips will eventually fall your way.

Mark Rauenhorst is president and CEO of Minneapolis-based The Opus Group. He directs operations for the $1.4 billion real estate development company with 24 million sq. ft. in projects currently underway. Rauenhorst earned his MBA in 1979 at the University of Notre Dame.

Lessons learned: Business is a lot of energy and mountains of common sense.

Enhancing education: Maximize the number of practitioners on the faculty.

Graduate guidance: Never compromise your values.

Cedric Thurman is chief diversity officer for Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle. Thurman earned his MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in 1996.

Lessons learned: I learned to solve problems with a holistic and general approach rather than a narrow or specific subject matter view.

Enhancing education: Students need to learn that real problems rarely have single-discipline solutions.

Graduate guidance: Problem-solving at a managerial level requires a portfolio of skills. Business success depends on honing them all.

Michael Szwajkowski is president of structured finance for Chevy Chase, Md.-based CapitalSource. He earned his MBA from the University of Chicago in 1995.

Lessons learned: Quantitative analytical skills are invaluable on many levels, from making the right investment decisions to developing sound marketing plans. The applicability is incredibly broad.

Enhancing education: Case studies and real life business examples are critical. Providing experiences to unite academic rigor with real world circumstances is key.

Graduate guidance: Recognize that everything we do in business involves risk of one type or another. Being able to quantitatively and confidently assess those risks is a powerful skill.

James M. Underhill oversees the Mid-Atlantic region of New York-based Cushman & Wakefield Inc. He earned his MBA from Harvard in 1981.

Lessons learned: The case-study method at Harvard helped me learn to analyze problems, evaluate personnel situations, set development strategies for the companies and identify resources.

Enhancing education: The business school curriculum needs to focus on the importance of sales skills as well as a sensitivity to the environmental issues and the ethical issues many companies confront.

Graduate guidance: The relationships you build in school aren't just important on a personal level, but also very significant in opening business opportunities in the years ahead.