How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master’s Degree?

How long does it take to earn a master’s degree? This can seem like a simple question, but you may not realize how complex it is. A common answer would be “4 years.” While this is not incorrect, do you know what goes into graduate school? Whether it’s Master of Business Administration, Master of Science or Master of Arts, students face a road map of milestones and specific achievements they need in order to finish their studies on time.

Asking how long it will take to get your master’s degree begs the question of whether you’re talking about a traditional or flexible program. Traditional programs are similar to undergraduate programs. They have a set curriculum and a set due date: usually, in two years for a master of arts or three for a master of science, though sometimes they are completed in more than four years if borrowers take out additional loans to pay for more semesters of schooling. In general, traditional programs allow students to pay tuition as they progress through the degree program.

Every year, thousands of full-time students earn master’s degrees from accredited colleges and universities. These highly specialized programs take 2 to 3 years to complete on average, though some distance learning students can complete their degree much faster than this. To earn a master’s degree, students must complete and defend a thesis or finish requirements for an extensive body of coursework.

A master’s degree can open doors to more advanced professional opportunities. However, how long does it take to obtain a master’s degree? It depends on factors such as the school, program, area of study, and the student’s previous coursework. Most students complete their master’s degree within one to three years, completing an average of 32-36 credits. 

Here are some factors you should consider when determining how long it will take you to earn your master’s degree.

Number of Program Credits Required

The number of credit hours required to complete the program’s curriculum is the first factor that will determine how quickly you can earn your master’s degree. Simply put, the greater the number of credit hours required, the longer the program will take. While the number of credits required varies by degree and institution, most master’s degrees require 30 to 60 credit hours.

This figure can have a significant impact on the length of your studies. A 30-credit hour Master of Science in Accounting program, for example, can be completed in as little as seven months, whereas a 60-credit hour Master of Business Administration program will take at least two years to complete, depending on your enrollment status and the number of courses you take each semester.

Specific program requirements may also lengthen your graduate education. Programs that require a thesis, lab work, or independent research typically take longer to complete than programs that do not.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

Many students want to finish their master’s program as soon as possible. Therefore, they may choose to enroll in full-time classes. Others enjoy working and don’t want to give that up while earning their master’s degree. They opt for part-time classes.

There is a common misconception that going to school part-time means you are going to finish your degree more quickly than someone going full-time. In reality, working professionals enrolled in a part-time program may have a longer time frame for earning their master’s degree than those taking a full course load. Because you take one class at a time, there is no benefit to taking more than one course in a semester. For example, if one of your classes meets two evening hours each week for four months (eight total class meetings), you can count on having eight months until the end of the semester.

When deciding between full-time and part-time, it’s important to consider the different courses and experiences both options offer. Being a master’s student will require more time to complete your program than a traditional bachelor’s degree, with up to seven years from the start of your first term of enrollment.

Each institution defines what constitutes full-time versus part-time enrollment, so be sure to read the policy of your prospective university. Full-time students in Northeastern graduate programs, for example, are those who are enrolled in at least nine (and up to 16) credit hours per quarter. Many Northeastern programs also allow students to enroll part-time, with students required to take at least three credit hours per quarter to maintain their enrollment status.

Online Learning Options

Full-time master’s programs with an online component allow students to take classes on their own schedule and save time and money. Many of these programs also provide the same expert instruction as their full-time counterparts. Hybrid programs combine a mix of traditional courses, independent study, and online learning. Students enrolled in a hybrid program typically attend two or three days each week at a local campus, while spending the rest of the week completing independent assignments.

With the growing popularity of online learning, more and more graduate programs are offering the flexibility of an online degree program. Whether you’re looking for a career change, or simply want to bolster your education, there are a number of graduate degrees in a wide variety of fields taught 100 percent online.

Graduate and Professional degrees can be extremely beneficial, but you need to find a program that definitely fits your needs. All universities offer various formats for their courses- online, semesters, quarter based systems and more. Each format has its pros and cons. Some students find that the flexibility of online courses allows them to take on a heavier course load than what would’ve been possible if in-person attendance was required . Other students prefer the classroom setting of small classes where discussions with other students are encouraged.

As an online student, you might be commuting to campus for in-person classes but often will not have the time to sit through a TV class or finish assignments that are posted on busy academic calendars. Students who currently work full-time or who are raising families might find that the flexibility of online programs allows them to take on a heavier course load.

Accelerated Master’s Degree Programs

When you enroll in an accelerated master’s degree program, you are likely to complete your graduate coursework in less time. Some programs even allow you to complete your master’s degree on a part-time basis while continuing to work or commute full time. If the accelerated, dual-track approach sounds appealing, read on to learn more about some of the most popular types of masters degree programs.

An accelerated degree program allows you to complete courses sooner than a traditional degree. This can be helpful if you’re unable to take your classes at the same time as your classmates. Many accelerated programs require you to take a full-time workload, though some options do exist for part-time students. Programs differ widely in terms of their course requirements and individual campus rules.

Accelerated or fast-tracked master’s degrees allow students to earn a master’s degree in one academic year, compared to the average two years required for full-time study. In some accelerated programs, students can complete coursework while they are still undergraduates.

Accelerated master’s degrees can benefit you, whether you want to finish your masters faster than expected or earn two degrees in less time than it would take to earn them separately. Some programs in this category might cost more, but the shorter timeframe could be worthwhile if you have school loans to pay and are looking for employment opportunities with your new degree.

Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

Many students pursue graduate studies in order to expand their professional opportunities and salary potential. While earnings vary greatly by field, a graduate degree usually leads to higher earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, master’s degree holders earn $1,497 per week, while bachelor’s degree holders earn $1,248 per week.

A master’s degree is commonly required for positions in a variety of fields, including psychology, academia, and certain healthcare sectors. In fields where a master’s degree is not typically required, such as business and information technology, a graduate degree often makes it easier for professionals to advance to high-paying leadership roles.

How to Pay for a Master’s Degree

Most students rely on scholarships and student loans to help pay for their bachelor’s degree. Scholarships are typically reserved for students from certain backgrounds, such as a particular major, state or region. Others are available to individuals pursuing specific careers, which can be beneficial if you know your desired profession in the future. Private student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court and may not cover all of your expenses, but they do allow you to defer payments until six months after graduation.

The cost of a master’s degree can be upwards of $20,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there may be available funding that can help pay for your graduate studies. Much of the financial assistance available to students is specific to individual schools or programs.

Those attending a graduate school can check into available funding opportunities. A number of students choose to take out student loans to help pay for school. Graduate school is an investment in your future and loans can be used as part of that investment. It is important to understand the terms, costs and repayment options associated with any loan you consider taking out. There may also be additional grants available for those who qualify.

Graduate students may be eligible for additional funding, such as fellowships and grants. Many of these opportunities are limited to specific schools or programs. Graduate programs frequently include graduate teaching or research assistantships, which provide tuition funding as well as a stipend to cover living expenses. Although assistantships are frequently competitive, they can be a valuable source of funding for master’s students.

Flexibility of Master’s Programs

A Master’s degree doesn’t always have to be that way — and in fact, there are a number of Master’s programs around the country that give you the flexibility to continue working while earning your degree, so you can finish in less time and with potentially a lot less debt.

There are different types of Master’s programs that you can get out there. But the point of doing a program in the first place is to prepare yourself for a specific career field. Each one of the options that you can choose from offers great flexibility to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your preferred career field.

One of the main factors to consider before enrolling in a graduate degree program, whether online or on-campus, is the flexibility that your program will offer you. The level of flexibility will have a huge impact on your ability to complete your degree in a timely manner and also the cost. An online master’s degree does not mean you lack flexibility. There are many programs that will give you the same opportunities as an on-campus master’s program.

Transfer Credits

Students can usually transfer credits between institutions to avoid having to retake courses they’ve already taken. Graduate programs, on the other hand, generally have more stringent transfer credit policies than undergraduate programs. Graduate programs, even within the same field of study, frequently have different curriculum requirements. Because of the specialized nature of graduate work, graduate credits may not transfer as easily as undergraduate credits.

Most colleges assess graduate transfer credits on an individual basis, and students may consult with faculty and advisors to determine credit equivalencies. Credit transferability varies greatly between institutions, but most master’s programs only accept credits from regionally accredited institutions. Students should attend an accredited school to ensure that their credits and degrees are recognized by other institutions and employers.

Applying for a Master’s Program

Master’s programs are often geared towards candidates who already have bachelor’s degrees. These students are often pursuing further education for professional development, or to strengthen a resume for career advancement. Application requirements vary somewhat by field of study and institution, but many programs require applicants to submit a number of transcripts and letters of recommendation. Applicants may also be required to take entrance exams such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), though test waiver programs are available for candidates with strong undergraduate GPAs and previous graduate coursework. Many schools include an application fee, but some waive fees based on financial need or other factors.

All master’s programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school; however, the applicant’s undergraduate degree may or may not need to be in the same field as the graduate program. For example, an engineering program may allow students to apply for admission with a degree in biology – provided their GPA is at a certain level. Other schools evaluate applications holistically, and do not require a minimum GPA.

When applying to a graduate program, admissions officers rely on various components of your application, including your resume and personal statements. But one component that can give an immediate insight into your abilities is the graduate-level test score.

In addition to grades and personal statements, graduate programs often require applicants to submit scores from graduate-level exams, such as the GRE or MAT. These tests measure verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. The GMAT or the LSAT may be required for certain programs, depending upon the field.

Applying to a master’s degree program is a rigorous process that requires specific application materials as well as additional letters of recommendation. Applicants normally need to submit at least one essay and two letters of recommendation, and the admissions committee usually wants these documents within a short period of time once initial application materials are received.

Popular Master’s Degrees

A master’s degree can be obtained in almost any professional or academic field. The most popular master’s degrees, on the other hand, are in common career fields such as business, education, and healthcare. This section provides an overview of three of the most common master’s degrees, highlighting typical curriculum requirements and career outcomes.