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How Long Does it Take to Complete a Master’s Program?

how long does it take to get a masters degree

A master’s degree program may take as little as 10 months or as much as 5 years. A website for the International Affairs Office of the Department of Education (USNEI) at states that the degree usually takes two years of full-time work. However, different approaches to earning credits can shorten or lengthen the time required. Options for obtaining a master’s degree include attending an on campus program or using a computer at home for distance learning. Each option allows participation on a full-time or part-time basis.

[See our list of the Fastest Online Master’s Degree Programs.]

Getting a Master’s On Campus

On campus study offers opportunities for face-to-face interaction with professors that some students prefer. Attending class under the supervision of an instructor can make it easier to participate in class, and it may provide motivation to complete assignments on time. Interacting with instructors and other students in classroom-based lectures, seminars and activities is a feature of the on campus experience.

• Enjoying Access to Facilities
Using laboratories for high tech or specialized equipment on campus adds to the time required to complete a campus degree. However, it is a convenience for certain degrees such as those in graphic, performing or medical arts. The ease of accessing libraries and the pleasure of attending extracurricular activities contributes to the graduate student experience when haste in completing a degree is not a primary goal.

• Meeting a Fixed Schedule
Completing a master’s program on campus in less than two years is hampered by the structure of the university. On campus colleges offer classes on a schedule that is fixed, allowing students limited flexibility. Failing to take a required class when it is available may result in having to spend another semester on campus.

• Working and Studying
Students whose employment limits the ability to attend classes during the day may choose a part-time schedule. Reducing a class load to one or two courses per semester can result in the addition of two or three years to the time required to earn a degree.

Taking a Distance Learning Approach

Comparing the advantages of getting an online degree to attending an on campus college favors flexibility in class attendance. The opportunity to go to school at lunch, before work, after work or on weekends appeals to workers who choose to keep a full-time job. The cost of living on campus as well as the loss of income while earning a degree makes distance learning a viable option for some students.

• Saving Time with an Online Master’s Degree
Commuting to and from college takes student time without returning any educational benefit. Avoiding an hour or two of driving and waiting in traffic provides time to study or take a class. Credit hours required for a master’s may vary from one college to another, but they must meet the DOE’s standard.

The USNEI site describes the typical school year for higher education institutions as “an academic year divided into two equal semesters of 15-16 weeks’ duration, with a winter break of 2-3 weeks and a summer session of 10-12 weeks”. Online colleges present 16 week sessions as well as accelerated courses of approximately half that length. Online students have the opportunity to fulfill curriculum requirements more rapidly than is usually possible at on campus colleges.

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Michael Templeton
Managing Editor

Kacey Reynolds Schedler
Contributing Editor