How Many Years Does It Take to Get a Masters Degree?

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How many years does it take to get a masters degree? The answer depends on a number of factors, but earning a masters degree is a great way to develop specialized knowledge and prepare yourself for career advancement opportunities.

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Obtaining a master’s degree may help you secure higher salaries, learn new facets of knowledge to contribute to your professional growth, and help connect you to an extensive professional network.

In your pursuit of a masters level education, it helps to have an idea of the topic you want to study, how you want to study it, and the length of time you can commit to completing your degree.

How Many Years Does It Take to Get a Masters Degree?

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How long is grad school? The length of time it takes to complete a master’s degree depends on a number of factors.

While getting a masters degree generally requires you to complete around 36 credit hours, the length of time it will take you to complete those credit hours can vary greatly.

Full-Time Campus Program

Attending a masters degree program on a traditional schedule, completing two 16 week semesters per calendar year, generally takes 2 years from start to finish.

The time frame may fluctuate, though, depending on the program’s specific structure and graduation requirements. Full-time campus programs generally require the completion of 30 to 60 credit hours. Programs that do not require you to complete a thesis in order to graduate may be completed in less time.

Part-Time Campus Program

Masters Degree students studying together in university library

While availability may vary from school to school, some programs may allow you to complete your masters degree on a part-time basis.

This would allow you to take a reduced course load each semester, which would extend the amount of time required to complete your degree from 2 years to 3 or 4 years. A part-time masters program structure may allow you to balance work or family responsibilities while completing your education.

Online Program

Attending an online master’s program may make your graduate-level education more accessible by allowing you to complete coursework on your own schedule without traveling to campus.

These programs generally follow a similar framework to full-time campus programs, following a traditional structure of two 16 week semesters per year. Depending on the school you choose to attend, you may be able to complete an accelerated masters program online as well.

1 Year Program

Masters degree student studying in library

Some schools may offer master’s degree programs that can be completed in only 1 year. These programs may require you to take a heavier course load than a traditional masters education in order to finish all credit hours within the limited timeframe.

In most cases, 1 year masters degree programs require you to complete 36 credit hours of coursework and do not have a thesis component.

How to Earn Your Master’s Degree in Less Time

It can be appealing to look for ways to complete your masters degree in less time, and there are a few ways that can be accomplished.

Some ways to earn your masters in less time may include choosing a masters degree program that does not require a thesis or one that offers alternative attendance structures.

  • Select a Program Without a Thesis Requirement. The research and writing for a thesis paper can often take a year or more to complete. So, choosing a program that doesn’t require you to complete a thesis can speed up the process of obtaining a master’s degree.

Programs that focus more on application and hands-on experience may not require you to complete a thesis in order to earn your degree. Examples may include masters in education, masters in leadership, or masters in nursing programs.

  • Stay Continuously Enrolled. While many masters degree programs maintain a 2 semester per year schedule, it may be possible for you to stay enrolled continuously throughout an entire year in order to complete your masters in less time.

This would mean attending classes or completing thesis work during winter, fall, and summer semesters without taking an annual break.

  • Select an Accelerated Program. Accelerated masters programs are another option to obtain your masters degree in less time.

These programs generally offer courses online that run for approximately 8 weeks. If the accelerated program requires 36 credit hours to be completed, then you may be able to finish the entire program in 1 year or less.

Master’s Degree Benefits

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There are a number of potential benefits to completing a master’s degree program. Some of these benefits may include:

  1. Expertise in your field or profession. A master’s education allows you to develop a more in-depth and advanced understanding of specific topics and can help you become an expert in your field.
  2. Qualification for advancement opportunities. With a master’s degree, you may be more qualified for career advancement, including opportunities for management and leadership positions.
  3. Building an extensive professional network. Master’s degree programs allow you to connect with other like-minded professionals and build relationships that can benefit you personally and professionally.

Depending on the master’s program you choose to enroll in, other benefits could include greater employability and increased earnings potential. You may also experience a more flexible career path since a master’s degree may qualify you for a greater variety of positions and professional opportunities.

Typical Master’s Degree Requirements

To successfully graduate from a masters degree program, you’ll need to meet a number of degree requirements.

Some common requirements include completing a specific number of credit hours, finalizing a thesis (if applicable), earning a specific GPA, or completing a capstone project.

  • Credit Hours. While each masters degree program varies, the number of credit hours required to graduate from a program is generally between 30 to 60 hours. It is common to see programs that require 36 credit hours to graduate.
  • Thesis vs. Non-Thesis. For programs that have a thesis as part of the curriculum, finalization of that thesis—including research, writing, submission, and final evaluation—will be required in order to successfully graduate.
  • GPA. Many programs have a predetermined minimum GPA requirement that you must achieve in order to earn your final degree.
  • Capstone Project. In some cases, particularly when your program has no thesis requirement, you may be required to complete a capstone project to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in topics covered throughout the program.

Requirements for earning a masters degree will of course vary from school to school.

How to Choose a Master’s Degree Program

Masters degree students studying together

Not all master programs are made equal, and there are a number of key factors to consider before choosing the right one for you.

  • Accreditation status. Accreditation status can impact the perception of your education by potential employers and affect your ability to transfer credits to another institution. It’s also important if you want to register with a professional association.
  • Full-time and part-time options. Enrolling in part-time studies may take longer, but it can allow you to balance other life responsibilities.
  • Online vs. in-class learning. Online learning may provide a more convenient learning experience, or you may prefer learning in-person with fewer distractions.
  • Future educational goals. While completing a thesis may take more time, it may be beneficial if you’re interested in pursuing further education, such as a PhD, down the road.

Other important considerations include factors that impact program length, such as the number of credits required, whether or not a thesis is needed, and if an accelerated option is available.

Applying to Graduate Degree Programs

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Application requirements for masters degree programs may vary from school to school. Certain masters degree programs may require you to have previously completed a bachelors degree program. Depending on the masters program, it may be preferred that the bachelors degree be completed in a specific academic area or specialty.

You may even pursue a master’s degree years after completing your undergraduate degree. An increasing number of schools no longer require GRE and GMAT scores, but some schools may still request these scores and require that they meet a specific threshold for admission.

Some formal applications for admission may require you to provide writing samples or letters of reference.

Is a Masters Degree Worth It?

regional planner talking to a client

Yes, a masters degree is worth it for many students. With an average salary of $76,180 and 15% job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a masters degree can help you launch a lucrative and rewarding career.

Common masters level careers include urban and regional planner, computer and information research scientist, school and career counselor, marriage and family therapist, and economist.

In addition to being an entry-level requirement for specific positions, earning your masters degree may also help you advance to higher-level positions, such as management or leadership positions.

Getting Your Masters Degree Online

Getting Your Masters Degree Online

Choosing a masters program is a very important decision. Paying attention to various factors— like thesis requirements, number of credit hours, and attendance schedule options—can help you find the program that best fits your preferences and career goals.

You may also take your future educational goals into account when deciding whether you’d like to complete a thesis or non-thesis program. Researching specific programs can help you discover the different types of accredited programs that are available in your field of interest and can start you on your journey to your masters degree.

Brenda Pyzik
WRITTEN BY
Brenda Pyzik
Brenda earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda’s focus is on employment, entrepreneurship, business, and training and development.