How Long Does It Take To Get a Master’s Degree in 2023?

April 26, 2023

how long is a masters degree

The time it takes to get a master’s degree can range widely. It usually tends to take between nine months to three years. However, the length of a master’s degree is really all about your approach to it. Getting a master’s degree is an important milestone in one’s personal trajectory, at any point in life. Whether you’re a college senior or a retiree with a thirst for knowledge, you might be wondering how long it takes to get a master’s. A master’s can help turn your favorite subject into your specialty, and open up tons of professional doors. And, according to Indeed, there’s about a 20% increase in your salary when you hold a graduate degree.

Before anything, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with what a master’s degree is, and if it’s worth your time. Once you decide it’s the thing for you, getting a master’s takes some life-planning ahead of time, starting from how long it will realistically take you. And, more importantly: how long you want it to take you.

Considerations for How Long a Master’s Program Should Take

So just how long are master’s programs? The answer depends on you. The short version is: a master’s can take anywhere from one to over three years. The longer version you’ll find here: there is a lot of flexibility and range based on your interests and needs.

Probably the best resource to help with your planning is an envisioned end-goal. Get that manifesting mood board out and imagine your highest goals and dreams for yourself, in five, ten, or twenty years.

For some, looking at occupations by salary and then choosing a career track to meet those goals can be a sure road to financial freedom. For example: the average pay in 2019 for a computer scientist was $122,840. A computer science master’s degree takes 1-2 years. And if you enroll in an accelerated program, as we’ll discuss below, it’s safe to say that in a few year’s time, you’ll be nearing that salary.

For others, it’s not about the money but about finding a focus that will be satisfying to you. If you’re in this category, it’s important to check out what the actual courses are in each degree. This can give you a better sense of whether or not you really want to spend 2 years of your life coding, or studying Medieval Literature.

So let’s walk through how long a master’s degree will likely take you, given different scenarios.

The High-Speed Approach: 1-2 Years

Are you trying to whiz through your degree and start working as soon as possible? You might look into an accelerated master’s program.

Even before you start a bachelor’s degree, you might consider what’s called a 4+1 or Accelerated Bachelor’s-Master’s program. This is the option for diehards who know exactly what they want to do and are focused enough to get it. That means you’ll have a graduate degree just one year out from college graduation, and save up to two years tuition: not bad!

Accelerated programs are equally desirable if you’ve been out of school for a while. If you’re considering a career change, you can research programs that will take anywhere from 9 months – 21 months. Some online programs might even boast 6 months–but be careful of scam universities.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree (Continued)

There are accelerated Master’s in Business Administration programs, Master’s in Nursing, Master’s in Education, Master’s in Accounting, Master’s in Applied Data Science. As long as you can think of it, there’s probably an accelerated master’s degree for you.

One thing to take into consideration is that accelerated one-year master’s programs are often extremely intensive. To finish that quickly, they include high course loads, long nights, and a low possibility of balancing a job alongside them. On the bright side, after your sleep-deprived year of frantic studying, you emerge reborn with a newly minted degree.

Another option is just bulking up on your course loads in a regular 2-year program. If you take more courses each semester than the average, it’s possible that you can graduate earlier. Just make sure to check first if the program allows early graduation, because some have strict requirements that we will discuss in the next section.

The Average Approach: 2 Years

A master’s can take between 30 and 60 credit hours, meaning that most master’s programs take around two years. Many of these programs structure different experiences into their degrees, which is part of what makes it difficult to rush. You can’t rush research, for example. And you certainly don’t want to rush your master’s thesis–which might make a year even feel like not enough time. Other experiences master’s programs offer can range from internships to fieldwork to teaching.

Another important thing to think about is the requirements for the specific programs that interest you. Some programs require core courses to be taken at particular times, which is part of what makes them longer than others.

A benefit of the two-year master’s degree is that it provides more flexibility with time, electives, and exploration. Sometimes, outside circumstances can get in the way of your performance for a semester, which makes having a cushion of more time helpful. The flexibility of more time is also great if you don’t have a strong academic background in your subject. Using the full time it takes to get your master’s degree allows you to enroll in courses to graduate as fully prepared as possible.

Here is a handy list of the most popular master’s programs, divided by length of time. Don’t forget to check each specific program’s time though:

1-2 Years:

Computer Science (MS or MCS)
Education (MEd)
Engineering (MS or MEng)
Nursing (MSN or MS)
Master of Arts (MA)

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree (Continued)

2 Years:

Business Administration (MBA)
Health Administration (MHA)
Library and Information Science (MLS/MLIS)
Public Administration (MPA)
Public Health (MPH)
Social Work (MSW)
Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA)

The Slow and Steady Approach: 3+ Years

Some master’s programs simply require three years or more and there’s nothing you can do about it. This might even be an attractive thing! If you love being in school, or if the program is funded (a.k.a they pay you instead of the other way around), it might be nice to be at a university and get free access to the university pool and student discounts.

Usually, a master’s program that requires three years to complete will be more specialized in some way, such as Master’s in Engineering programs where you choose a focus midway through the program.

The amount of time you have available affects how long it takes to get a master’s degree. You may want to take even more than three years to finish your master’s, and that’s perfectly fine. If you are balancing a full-time job, or parenting (which can itself be a full-time job), more wiggle room could be crucial.

It’s easy to enroll part-time in master’s programs, which means it will take longer, but will be at a pace you can handle. The average full-time course load is about 9 credit hours per semester, which if you multiply by the amount of outside work spent preparing can turn into a hefty load. For part-time enrollment, credit hours will be lower and more manageable.

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

Another great potential way to increase flexibility is enrolling in an online master’s course. Because these courses aren’t in person, they minimize the time spent traveling to class, and can be easier on your schedule.

An online master’s program will typically take two years to complete, like an in-person program, if you are enrolled full-time. However, if you enroll part-time, an online master’s can be 3-4 years, and a great way to study while balancing family, career, and who knows what other adventures.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree – Final Thoughts

Asking “How long are master’s programs” is a great step in the direction of planning your academic and career future. When figuring out how long you want to spend in school, you might consider how quickly you want to work, or how much time you will realistically need to finish.

One last thing to consider is the boss level of graduate study: the Ph.D. Once again, if you work backward by thinking about the top feeders for your dream Ph.D. program, that could be a way to map out your master’s degree plan.

One of the most commonly asked questions is if you need a master’s degree to complete a Ph.D. The answer is: no! You can start a Ph.D. with only a bachelor’s, because a master’s degree is usually included in your Ph.D. coursework. This can be another sneaky way of getting a master’s degree…just by enrolling in a Ph.D. program itself!

So, to conclude: the best way to start planning is to take control of your time. You can make the time it takes to get a master’s degree work for your life and your priorities. Or you can dedicate your time completely towards your study, and learn some incredible new skills along the way.