How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree can be a huge asset in the workforce. It can increase your earning potential, set you apart from the competition, and open up the number of jobs you might be eligible for. Because of that, it’s no surprise that these degrees are rising in popularity. Roughly 785,000 master’s degrees were awarded during the 2015-16 school year, up 60,000 from just five years earlier.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that number is projected to increase to 930,000 by 2022. 

But a master’s degree is also a significant time investment, and many students find themselves wondering how long it will take to get their degree. We’re breaking down how long master’s degree programs take and what factors might affect your timeline.

How Many Years Is a Master’s Degree?

The amount of time it takes to complete your master’s degree will depend on various factors, including the type of degree you’re seeking, the program you choose, and whether you attend part-time or full-time. Here are completing timelines for some of the more popular master’s degrees. For professionals looking to work full-time while attending school, programs may take a bit longer.

Program TypeTypical Amount of Time to Complete
Master of Education (MEd or MSEd)Two years
Master of Business Administration (MBA)Two years
Master of Arts (MA)1-2 years
Master of Science (MS or MSc)1-2 years
Master of Research (MRes)1-2 years
Master of Library Science (MLS, MLIS, MSLS)1-2 years
Master of Public Administration (MPA)Two years
Master of Public Health (MPH)Two years
Master of Social Work (MSW)Two years
Master of Engineering (MEng)Two years
Master of Nursing (MSN)Two years
Master of Health Administration (MHA)2-3 years

Master’s degree credit hours required

For each master’s degree program, you’ll have to complete a specific number of credits to graduate. Most master’s degree programs require between 30 and 60 credit hours. The credit hours required may vary from one type of master’s degree to the next. 

Even within a specific type of degree, the credit hours required may vary depending on the program you choose. One MBA program might require 36 credits, while another requires 60. It’s important to consider credit hours when evaluating different master’s programs.

Online options

Many schools offer online master’s degree programs where students can complete their degrees without attending in-person studies. These programs are often more flexible and are well-suited to working professionals who want to go to school while working full-time. Affordability is another factor that can benefit those looking for an online alternative since they require fewer school resources.

While online programs offer the same curriculum as in-person programs, they may not offer all of the same services. Professors may not be as accessible as they would be if you saw them in class, and you’re unable to network with your professors and classmates in the same ways.

Part-time vs. full-time enrollment

Master’s degree programs can be completed on either a part-time or full-time basis. Part-time programs are often preferable for students who are working full-time while attending school. Full-time programs are best for those coming directly from their undergraduate program or those who can step away from the workforce temporarily to complete their program.

Keep in mind that the less time you can devote to your studies, the longer your program will take. A two-year program can easily take four years for a part-time student. On the other hand, this option allows you to continue to earn an income while earning your degree.

Dual-degree programs

A dual-degree program allows students to work toward two different master’s degrees at the same time. Schools often design these programs to pair two complementary degree programs together. These programs are more labor-intensive since you have to take courses toward both degrees. These programs are best suited for students who can focus on their studies full-time rather than part-time students.

How Can I Finish My Master’s Degree Ahead of Schedule?

There are some opportunities to finish your master’s degree ahead of schedule. There may be certain prerequisites you must meet, and you’ll need plenty of time to devote to your studies. 

Accelerated master’s degree programs

An accelerated master’s degree program allows you to complete your studies in a shorter time than the program would typically take. These programs often require more intensive coursework. These programs may require fewer credits and be specifically designed for those with a certain undergraduate degree or career experience.

Overloading credits

Some schools may allow students to take overload credits, which are credits above and beyond the typical maximum per semester. To overload credits, students generally need advisor approval. As a result, this opportunity may only be available to students who have shown they can handle the extra work. There are pros and cons to this option.

Pros:

  • Completion of your degree head of schedule
  • Opportunity to join the workforce earlier, resulting in more earning potential
  • Saving money by finishing a semester early

Cons:

  • Requires a larger time commitment
  • May be too much for some students to handle
  • Pay the per-credit rate for overload credits

Other Factors That Affect How Long It Takes to Get a Master’s Degree

There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to get a master’s degree and choosing a program. Here are a couple of other factors to keep in mind.

Master’s thesis

Your thesis is the paper you’ll write and submit during your final year of graduate school. Completing your thesis can be a time-intensive process, and you should budget plenty of time for it into your schedule. If you fail to complete your thesis alongside your other work, it may extend the amount of time it takes you to graduate.

Internship requirements

Some master’s degree programs ask that students complete an internship as a part of their graduation requirements. Before you start the program, make sure you understand how the internship affects the completion time. In some cases, the internship might be accounted for in the estimated completion time, and your program may even place you in an internship. In other cases, you have to find your own internship and complete it on your own time.

Answering Your Questions About How Long it Takes to Get Your Master’s Degree 


  • Can you get your master’s in 2 years?

    Many master’s degree programs are designed to be completed within two years if you attend full-time. Some programs may be slightly longer, and part-time students may require more than two years.


  • Can you get a master’s in 4 years?

    Most master’s degree programs can be completed in significantly less than four years, but those completing their program on a limited part-time basis might take longer.


  • How fast can I get a master’s degree?

    The speed at which you can get a master’s degree depends on a few factors, including the program you’re enrolled in and whether you’re attending on a part-time or full-time basis. If you’re attending full-time, you can typically get a master’s degree within one or two years.


  • What is the quickest master’s degree program?

    The quickest master’s degree can be completed in as little as six months. Keep in mind that programs less than one year are typically accelerated programs that require students to have specific prerequisites.


  • Can you finish your master’s in 1 year?

    Many master’s degree programs are designed to be completed within one year, as long as you attend on a full-time basis. With enough research, you can find one that fits your timeline.


Choosing a Master’s Program

Master’s degrees have become very popular in recent years and the trend towards getting the degree shows no sign of abating. If you think that a master’s degree is the right choice for you there are numerous options to consider. How long it will take you to complete a master’s degree depends primarily upon which program you want to pursue and whether you want to attend class on a full- or part-time basis.

Erin Gobler picture

Erin Gobler

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Erin Gobler is a contributing writer who covers higher education, online graduate programs, college planning, and more for Grad School Hub. Her writing has also appeared in The Simple Dollar, Robinhood, and The Balance.

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