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The exact definitions of and distinctions between a real estate agent and a real estate broker vary among states. Generally, however, anyone who earns a basic real estate license (which involves taking a certain number of accredited courses and passing an exam) can be called a real estate agent. A real estate agent is essentially a salesperson, qualified to help consumers buy or sell a property.
Timing is important at this step. Make sure you are following the application process with your state so you can sit for your real estate agent exam soon after you finish your real estate licensing classes. This process will be state-specific and include a fee. Check with your state’s real estate regulatory authority for complete details. Some states require you submit fingerprints and pass a background check. This can take weeks to process. In many states, the application process must be complete before you can register or schedule your exam date.  Don’t let the paperwork become a roadblock to getting started in your new real estate career.  
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
Don't expect to waltz in and collect an hourly salary: Most brokerages pay their agents only by commission. In other words, you get paid only when you complete a transaction, and you typically won't receive benefits. Due to this pay structure, brokerages are typically eager to welcome new agents, since it comes at no cost to the company. So be sure to find a brokerage you like, one that is open to taking you on so you can receive some on-the-job training.
There are variety of ways you can choose to complete your real estate prelicensing education requirements, from live classroom locations at local real estate schools, some realty firms, universities and technical schools offer real estate licensing programs, home-study, and online real estate education. This is an important decision in your journey. Make sure you enroll with a school that has a good reputation, offers quality content and instructors, and is focused on positive student outcomes. Your real estate licensing education will be difficult and comprehensive, but it will also be the springboard to a successful career as a real estate professional.
In order to become a real estate agent and legally practice real estate, you must work under a supervising broker. Brokers are licensed by the state to oversee real estate transactions and ensure that real estate salespeople (that's you!) are adhering to the required legal and ethical standards.Think of it as a similar safeguard to how stockbrokers must work at a licensed firm to trade stocks, rather than just winging it on their own. Eventually, you could also apply for a license to become a real estate broker as well, but you will first want to get a few years as an agent under your belt.
Brokers typically own a firm or a franchise. They can be solo practitioners, but they must attain another higher-level license if they want to hire agents or other brokers to work under them. As mentioned earlier, a real estate agent usually cannot work alone but instead must operate through a real estate broker; the exception is in states such as Colorado and New Mexico, which mandate that every real estate professional be licensed as a broker.  Usually, though, agents work for brokers and split commissions with them.
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