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

Published March 20, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    If you're in college, about to graduate, or have already graduated, you may be considering furthering your education and pursuing a master's degree. But how long does it take to secure a master's degree?

    The amount of time it takes to earn a master's degree will vary depending on the program and the pace you decide to progress through a particular program.

    Typically, full-time students take one to two years to complete a master's degree. Part-time students may take two years or longer to finish the degree.

    Additionally, some programs may offer accelerated tracks that allow students to complete their degree in less time. It's best to check with the university and program you're interested in for more specific information on the various tracks you might be able to take to complete a specific master's degree.

    Continue reading to learn more about master's degrees and what you should consider before pursuing one.

    What are the different types of master's degrees?

    There's a large range of master's degrees students can pursue. Some common master's degrees include:

    • Master of Arts (MA): Typically awarded in fields such as humanities, social sciences, and fine arts
    • Master of Science (MS): Commonly awarded in fields such as engineering, computer science, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science
    • Master of Business Administration (MBA): Focuses on business and management skills, often with a practical and industry-oriented approach
    • Master of Education (MEd): Focused on education and teaching, often including coursework in curriculum development and educational leadership
    • Master of Public Health (MPH): Concentrated in public health issues, epidemiology, biostatistics, and health policy
    • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): Emphasizes creative and artistic disciplines such as visual arts, creative writing, and performing arts
    • Master of Social Work (MSW): Geared toward social work practice and mental health topics

    These are just a few examples — there are many other specialized master's degrees in various fields, such as engineering, healthcare, technology, and more. Each type of master's degree is designed to provide advanced knowledge and skills in a specific area of study.

    What are the admission requirements for a master's degree program?

    Admissions requirements for a master's degree will vary, but below are eligibility requirements and pieces you should expect to supply with your application, generally speaking:

    • A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and your transcript
    • The master's program may have a grade point average (GPA) requirement for admissions
    • Letters of recommendation
    • A personal statement
    • Standardized test scores (such as the GRE or GMAT)
    • A resume
    • Application fees
    • Some programs may also require specific prerequisites or relevant work experience

    Keep in mind that admission requirements will vary by program and school, sometimes quite substantially.

    Common FAQs about master's degrees

    What's the difference between a full-time student and a part-time student in a master's degree program?

    The main difference between a full-time student and a part-time student in a master's degree program is the number of courses they take per semester and the time it'll take them to complete a program. There may also be differences regarding access to financial aid and other resources.

    Full-time master's degree students

    Full-time students typically take a heavier course load than part-time students, often enrolling in nine or more credits per semester, depending on the program's requirements. Full-time master's degree students typically complete the degree in a year, although it can take longer depending on the exact degree. Full-time students may also have access to certain benefits such as financial aid, health insurance, and campus resources.

    Part-time master's degree students

    Part-time students tend to take a lighter course load than full-time students, often balancing their studies with work or other commitments. They may enroll in less than six credits per semester, extending the time it takes them to complete the degree. Part-time students typically complete their degree in two years (although it can take longer). Additionally, the availability of certain financial aid, scholarships, and campus resources may differ for part-time students compared to full-time students.

    Can I complete my master's degree online?

    With the rise of online classes, many schools offer master's degree programs that can be completed entirely online. Online master's degree programs may provide flexibility for students with work or family commitments that make attending traditional on-campus classes challenging. These programs often use a combination of virtual lectures, discussion forums, and online assignments to deliver course content.

    When considering an online master's program, it's important to ensure that the program is accredited and meets your academic and career goals. Additionally, you may want to consider factors such as the quality of the program's online learning platform, the availability of support services for online students, and the potential for networking and collaboration with classmates and faculty.

    It's also important to note that some online master's degree programs may require hands-on training or laboratory work, even for those completing most of their coursework online. Be sure to research specific programs carefully and contact admissions offices for more information about online master's degree programs to ensure that a program will meet your needs.

    Is a master's degree worth it?

    Whether obtaining a master's degree will ultimately be worth it depends on your goals and circumstances. A master's degree may lead to career advancement, higher earning potential, and specialized knowledge in a particular field. It can also provide networking opportunities and help you stand out in a competitive job market.

    However, it's important to consider the cost of the degree, the potential return on investment it offers, and whether it aligns with your career aspirations. It's a good idea to research the specific field you're interested in and speak with professionals in that field to determine if a master's degree will be beneficial for your career goals.

    Beyond career goals, you should also weigh how personally valuable you think the program is to you and how passionate you are about a specific program.

    Final thoughts

    Whether to pursue an advanced degree – like a master's degree — is a big decision. You'll need to decide if you have the time to pursue the degree among your other commitments, whether it's affordable and a good investment, and whether it feels worth it to you. Take your time making the decision, reach out to mentors for guidance on the choice, and contact schools you're considering to learn more about the programs you're interested in.