To some, having a master’s degree seems like the pinnacle of higher education. And for many, it can be quite an investment in time and money. So how long does it take to complete a master’s degree program? Though there are many factors to consider, on average, it takes five years for someone with no previous college experience to graduate with a master’s degree.
What is the time commitment to get a Master’s degree? The average student spends 1-2 years pursuing their degree. You also need to factor in the time it takes to find a job. If you’re considering getting your Master’s degree, you should be prepared to spend at least 1-2 years on school and extra time for employment opportunities.
How Long Does a Master’s Degree Take to Earn?
Master’s Degree Formats
Another main factor to consider is the program’s format. Today, master’s degree programs in various subject areas offer students several formats to fit their schedule, lifestyle, and career goals. These formats may allow students to finish their master’s degree faster than a traditional 2-year program. In contrast, others may let students take their time and work around a career, family, or other obligations. No matter the format, many programs set the maximum time limit of a master’s to 5 years. Explore some of the different format options here.
On-campus: 2 Years
On-campus master’s degree programs probably offer the most comprehensive range of subject areas. The majority of these programs are traditional, 2-year programs. Many on-campus programs also include hands-on learning experiences conducted on or near campus. There are still some on-campus programs that may be accelerated and completed in 12 to less than 24 months.
Online: Less than 2 Years
Online master’s degree programs are becoming more common, and many of these online programs can be completed in 2 years or less because of self-paced and/or accelerated options. In addition, online master’s degree programs are commonly offered in subject areas that do not require a lot of hands-on experience. Still, some hybrid programs offer coursework entirely or primarily online and may allow students to complete hands-on learning experiences on-campus or locally in their place of study. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), one-third of graduate students got their degree through distance education.
Part-time: 3 to 5 Years
Part-time master’s degree programs are becoming more common as people pursue their master’s while already working a job, starting a family, and more. These degree programs are available on-campus and online but may be more common online. Some part-time programs may even offer courses in the evenings or on weekends for flexibility. According to the NCES, 43% of students get their master’s degree part-time.
Accelerated: 1 Year
There are two main categories of accelerated master’s degree programs. One is a master’s program usually completed in less than two years (typically in 1 year), and the other is 4+1 bachelor’s and master’s accelerated programs. Accelerated, 1-year master’s degree programs are most commonly offered in areas like business, education, and other liberal arts areas that do not require as much hands-on or clinical work as other subjects, such as the physical sciences. Combined undergraduate and graduate degree programs that can be completed in 5 years may offer a bachelor’s and master’s in the same subject area or a related subject area.
Dual Degrees: 3-4 Years
Dual degrees typically allow students to earn two degrees at the same time faster than pursuing each degree separately. There are many different dual master’s degree programs available and dual master’s and professional degrees, such as a Juris Doctor (JD). Double master’s degree programs can commonly be completed in 3 to 4 years.
Factors that Affect Time
While many academic factors affect how many years you need for a master’s degree, some elements can make the process longer.
Many programs may require a student to develop and defend a master’s thesis that demonstrates competency and expertise in a field. Just as with PhDs, where a student may finish all their classes and be ABD (All but dissertation), many master’s degrees may take longer due to a master’s thesis.
Similar to the requirement to develop a thesis, master’s programs may also require students to do internships in the fields they specialize in. However, gaining these internships may delay completing the degree as some areas may have minimal slots available to students each year.