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How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's Degree?

Jun 27, 2023

Many college students and early-career professionals might wonder how long it takes to earn a master’s degree and if the time they spend is worth it. While undergraduate programs provide a foundation for career success, graduate degrees can add to that foundation, opening doors to higher-level job roles and increased earnings.

 More people are earning master’s degrees than before. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of master’s degrees conferred in the U.S. increased by 19% between 2010 and 2021. A sizable number of people during that period considered a master’s degree program a worthy investment for their future. But again, this raises the question: How long does it take to earn a master’s?

 The answer depends on a variety of factors, including an individual’s family and work responsibilities, the program duration and type, educational and career goals, and more. Read on to learn more about types of master’s degree programs, the value of a master’s, and just how long it can take to earn one.

What Is a Master’s Degree?

 A master’s degree is an academic credential granted at the postgraduate level to those who have successfully demonstrated expertise in a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Most master’s programs are similar to bachelor’s programs but emphasize subject depth over breadth. Master’s students typically gain advanced knowledge of theoretical and applied topics related to their field. They also acquire a range of professional skills through highly focused methods of learning and research.

  •  Course structure in a master’s program comes in several forms, including the following.
  •  Conventional on-campus. Courses on campus are attended in-person by full-time students and are taught by a professor.
  •  Online learning. Many master’s programs are available online with coursework available 24/7. Students may complete assignments and tests whenever works best for them.
  • Part-time learning. Whether it’s on a college campus or online, some people prefer a smaller course load over a given term or semester due to other life commitments like work.
  • Evening and weekend classes. Some schools might offer evening or weekend courses to accommodate busier schedules.

Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree

While some people are comfortable finishing their formal education with a bachelor’s degree, others may decide to go further for any number of personal or professional reasons. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Increased job opportunities. Undergraduate degrees can qualify individuals for many entry-level jobs in an organization. However, some higher-level management positions or executive roles can only come by way of a master’s degree. This degree can help applicants stand out among other job candidates as it demonstrates a high level of dedication and career ambition. 
  • More credibility. Anybody who has earned their master’s can expect to become more respected in their field. Completing a master’s degree program imparts a deeper set of knowledge and skills than a bachelor’s. Those with master’s degrees tend to be more qualified for roles that demand more responsibility. 
  • More research options. One reason that students pursue a master’s degree is the research involved in many programs. These programs cater to independent, self-driven individuals who are passionate about furthering the knowledge in their field and preparing for a doctorate degree or a career in academia. 
  • Increased leadership opportunities. For people who aspire to leadership roles in their career, a master’s degree serves as a great credential. For example, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program could teach the particular skill set needed to become a manager or company executive. 

How Long It Takes to Get a Master’s Degree

It typically takes one to three years to complete a master’s degree program through either part-time or full-time study. The exact duration varies depending on the subject, the country in which one studies, and the type of master’s degree chosen. Nowadays, people have a lot of options to earn their master’s. Specific degree paths might include:

  •  Part-time program. Work or family responsibilities—or both—may prevent somebody from studying full-time. A part-time student should expect to be enrolled for anywhere from three to five years, which is around one and a half times longer than the typical full-time student takes.
  • Full-time program. Most master’s programs are traditionally designed to allow full-time students to graduate in two years.
  • Dual-degree program. A combined master’s program can take double the amount of time to complete than a single-focus program. Prospective students can expect to be enrolled for three or four years if they pursue two areas of expertise. Keep in mind that a dual-degree program is usually faster than earning two separate degrees.
  • Online program. The time frame for an online master’s program is typically similar to that of an on-campus option—about two years. However, some online programs may provide ways to accelerate progress and graduate sooner. These programs allow students to navigate coursework at their own pace, with learning materials available at any time of the day or night.
  • Campus program. A campus program is the most traditional format and tends to take two years for full-time students to complete. These programs are administered on university grounds, with set class times and more hands-on learning environments.
  • Accelerated program. Many accelerated programs are designed to be completed in about one year. The target audience for such a program may include students who want to quickly take advantage of a job opportunity or promotion. Coursework in these programs might be denser or more demanding because of the shorter time frame.

Ways to Obtain Your Master’s Degree Quicker

Modern master’s degree programs usually offer flexibility that could allow you to speed through your credits. Here are a few methods for getting your master’s degree faster:

  •  Choose an accelerated master’s program. Depending on what you intend to study, you could opt for an accelerated program and graduate in around a year. Remember, however, that a shorter program could mean more intensified study or more frequent assessments.
  • Take extra credits. Many schools offer opportunities to take extra credits. For example, you might enroll in courses during a spring or summer term between winter and fall semesters. Additionally, some online programs might offer other ways to accelerate. For example, WGU’s competency-based education model is paired with its per-term tuition policy, allowing students to take as many courses per term as they can successfully complete. Whatever you decide, get in touch with a program advisor to ensure you don’t take on more than you can handle.
  • Learn proper time management. Master’s programs require time and effort. Becoming an expert at managing your time can help you earn a degree quicker. But what works for one person might not work for you. Consider how much time you can realistically devote to a program before you begin. You might decide to pause your career to focus all your effort on your degree, or you may choose to simply reorient aspects of your personal life to make room for studying.
  • Transfer credits. If you’ve already completed some master’s program courses in the past but didn’t graduate, it could pay off to transfer those credits to another program. Be sure to check which schools accept transfer credits for graduate programs.

Requirements to Enter a Master’s Degree Program

 When you apply to a master’s program, you’ll need to meet a number of prerequisites, which may differ from program to program. Common requirements include:

  •  Undergraduate degree. Before earning a master’s, you’ll need to complete an undergraduate education, which traditionally takes four years. Online bachelor’s programs could allow you to finish sooner.
  • Minimum grade point average. Some master’s programs require you to achieve a certain GPA. Particularly prestigious programs require a high or perfect GPA.
  • Interviews. When applying to a master’s degree program, you may need to take part in one or more interviews with an admission counselor or faculty member to discuss why the program would be a good fit for you.
  • Application letters. You’ll have to fill out all pertinent information in application forms before being considered for admittance.
  • Letter of intent. This letter is your chance to explain your educational background and career goals to the program leadership. You should also discuss how you plan on meeting your goals if admitted to the program.

Ready to Upgrade Your Knowledge?

While a master’s degree isn’t required for a successful career, it could be a huge boon for advancing a career and opening doors to opportunity. These opportunities might come in the form of a substantial salary increase or a more fulfilling role in the leadership of a company. If you’re determined to see how far you can take your knowledge and skills, consider working toward a master’s.

 An online master’s program in particular is a great way to land your dream career quicker. WGU offers accredited, online master’s degree programs in business, IT, healthcare, and education. And its competency-based education model empowers students to progress as fast as they master the material. It could be just what you need to reach even greater career success.

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