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

Master’s degree programs are popular among individuals looking to advance their career, increase their earning potential, or learn more about a particular subject. From business to fine arts to education, there’s countless graduate programs available. But exactly how long does it take to get a master’s degree? We’ll break it down for you in this guide. 

Related: What is a master’s degree?

How long does it take to get a master’s degree? 

The short answer is that it typically takes 1.5 to 2 years to earn a master’s degree. However, that’s just an average. Some students may earn their degree in as little as seven months, while others may take up to seven years. It all depends on the type of program, the number of credit hours involved, and your enrollment status. Here are the key factors to consider: 

1. Number of credit hours

One of the biggest factors to consider is the number of required credit hours. The more credit hours, the longer your program will take to complete. Most master’s degrees require the completion of 30 to 60 credit hours. To put this in perspective, four-year bachelor’s programs typically involve 120 credit hours. 

Credit hour requirements vary by degree type and institution. If you’re considering a 60-credit hour Master of Business Administration program, you’re likely looking at two years of full-time study. Meanwhile, a 30-credit hour Master of Education program can be completed in as little as seven months. Credit hour requirements also vary slightly between universities. For instance, NC State’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program requires the completion of 60 credit hours, while UC Berkeley requires 54 credit hours for the same degree. 

Some programs may allow you to graduate ahead of time if you complete all credits before the allotted number of semesters. To do this, you’ll need to overload credits and take a very heavy course load. Also keep in mind that certain programs have additional requirements that may extend your time in school. Programs that require a thesis, internship, field experience, or independent research typically take longer to complete. 

2. Enrollment status 

Some programs offer full-time and part-time enrollment options. This gives  students the flexibility to decide how quickly they want to earn their degree. Full-time enrollment is obviously the fastest way to complete your program. However, part-time enrollment is an attractive option for students who have other commitments. Completing one or two classes at a time may be more manageable for students balancing work and family commitments. Part-time study allows students to determine the pace at which they’re willing to complete courses. For instance, Northeastern University allows its graduate students up to seven years to complete their program. Universities have different policies regarding enrollment status, so be sure to check with your institution. 

3. Online learning options 

Many institutions offer online and hybrid learning options. Online learning gives students the flexibility to determine where, how, and when they complete their coursework. These program formats are great options for students balancing other life commitments. Some students may be able to take on a heavier course load by taking at least some of their classes online. As a result, students have the potential to complete their program in a shorter amount of time.

4. Accelerated and dual degree programs 

Accelerated master’s degree programs allow students to streamline their education and graduate faster. These programs usually condense an entire master’s degree curriculum into one year of full-time study. They have slightly lower credit hour requirements, heavier per-semester course loads, and less flexibility in choosing electives. 

Dual degree programs allow students to pursue both their undergraduate and graduate degrees simultaneously. Students receive dual credit for classes they take as an undergraduate, meaning a single course can count towards their bachelor’s and master’s degree. Both accelerated and dual degree programs are ideal for students looking to save time and money. 

Related: Getting into Graduate School with a Low GPA

Considering a master’s degree

If you’re thinking about getting a master’s degree but you’re unsure about the time commitment, ask yourself the following  questions:

  1. Will this degree help you achieve your goal? 
  2. How much time are you willing to commit to earn this degree? 
  3. Will the benefits of the program outweigh the time, effort, and financial resources you dedicate to it? 
  4. Can you handle a full-time course load, or would you prefer the flexibility of part-time enrollment? 
  5. Would you prefer to take on-campus or online classes? 

If you think that earning your master’s degree is the right move, check out how you can finance your grad school education.

Next steps

If you are looking to further your education, remember that a master’s degree isn’t your only option. You can look into coding bootcamps, PhD programs, and certificate programs. If you do decide to earn a master’s, one of your first steps will be to learn how to fill out the FAFSA for grad school. And if you’re considering pursuing an MBA, make sure to check out our list of scholarship opportunities!