How Long Does it Take to Get a Masters Degree

how many years does it take to get a master's degree

As technological progression continues to replace technical jobs and employment opportunities, many people are looking into gaining more skills to meet the increasing needs of the labor market.

One way through which this is being achieved is through obtaining higher education degrees such as a Masters Degree.

More and more people are opting to further their education by getting a Masters Degree, and the projections indicate that by 2020, there will be 930,000 people with such degrees in the United States.

Masters degrees are highly useful for various reasons, such as:

  • The degree gives you an edge over your competition in a job position
  • It makes your resume stand out amongst countless others who are only equipped with a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Masters Degrees are guaranteed to increase your starting salary in your employment
  • People who have Masters Degrees have more career opportunities and are promoted faster
  • A Masters Degree gives opportunities for widening your network and allows you to have more prestige in your social circles

If you are considering to make this decision that will impact the rest of the career, you will probably have a lot of questions. One of those questions is how long does it take to get a Masters Degree?

The answer to the question depends on different factors. Depending on your goals and current situation, getting a Masters Degree might take from one to three years, with a maximum cap of six years.

Factors that determine how long does it take to get a Masters Degree

The program or field you choose

Did you know?Students with disabilities take longer to complete their education.

According to recent statistics, only 34% of students with disabilities completed their four year degrees within eight years, compared to 56% of other students who graduated within six years.

If you have completed three to four years to get a Bachelor’s Degree, and you want to get a Masters Degree, the first thing you will have to do is choose the program for which you want to get your degree in. Different programs have different durations.

Getting a degree in business or education will take at least two years due to the high amount of required credits to complete them, which range from 40 to 60 credits.

Degrees in the humanities, computer science, natural science, or liberal arts will be typically from one to three years depending on the specific branch and your background.

If you do not have any working experience on the field you have selected or if your Bachelor’s Degree is completely unrelated to it, you might even be required to take prerequisite courses to gain basic knowledge and grasp important concepts before even starting to take courses with credits that will count towards your degree.

This will lengthen the duration of the Masters Degree, so you have to be careful about choosing your program.

The structure of the program

Full time programs

To accommodate the needs of different people, universities have devised programs that can run for longer or shorter periods of time. If you decide to complete your studies as a full-time student, then as mentioned, it will take one to three years.

Executive or professional program

However, to shorten the duration of Masters Degree length, universities have introduced Executive or Professional programs which are typically 12 months. These programs are highly intensive, especially if your field of study is business or public policy, but you get your degree within the year.

Typically, you will have around five to seven courses per semester for two semesters, with different credits assigned to each. If necessary, you might also be required to take courses during the usual university winter break and summer break.

These courses will most likely be intensive two to four weeks of lectures and final examinations. However, despite the high volume of courses, you will obtain your Masters Degree at the end of the 12 months.

Part time programs

On the other hand, people who want to do a Masters Degree are typically those who have some work experience and more often than not they are currently employed. Leaving a well paying job to go back to school has a high cost since you forego the income that you could have earned at work, and at the same time you have to pay the cost of your education.

That is why a lot of people prefer to stay employed and complete their Masters Degree while working. To fulfill the needs of these people, universities have devised part time programs. Part-time Masters Degrees are typically twice as long or longer than full time programs.

If you choose to enroll in a part time program, the university does not have a minimum credit requirement for the number of courses you need to take, so you can enroll in only one class if you want to.

However, that it not recommended, since most universities have a cap of maximum six years that you can take to complete your degree, so you will most likely end up taking two or three classes per semester. So if you decide for example to complete a part-time MBA, it will take approximately four years to get your degree.

Online or correspondence programs

Another variation of the part-time program is enrolling into an online Masters Degree or correspondence learning. Most online and correspondence degrees do not have a specified limit on how long you have to complete them.

You can study at your own pace for the courses, and will not need to give up on your employment and income. You can squeeze studying time in between lunch breaks and weekends, or even during your morning job commute.

Online and correspondence learning give students a lot of flexibility so if you are getting a Masters Degree through these means, then its duration will be up to you and how much time you can dedicate to studying.

Joint degree program

Besides a full time, part time, and online or correspondence structured Masters Degree program, there is also the option of having a joint degree program. In this case, you would need to specify and choose this option at the beginning of your undergraduate or Bachelor’s Degree program.

This type of Masters Degree combines four years of undergraduate studies and two years of graduate school and gives people the opportunity to complete both within five years. This option works best for students who know that they want to come back to the same university after their undergraduate degree and want to save time and money, and do both at the same time.

These types of programs are usually intense, with students taking both undergraduate and graduate courses to fulfill credit requirements and graduate on time with a Bachelor’s and a Masters Degree.

Location of your studies

Many countries in Europe usually offer Masters Degrees which you can complete for only one year, whereas for the same degree in the United States, you would need much longer, typically two years.

Another factor that impacts how long does it take to get a Masters Degree is the country in which you choose to obtain your degree. Different educational systems have different durations and credit requirements, therefore in some places you can obtain a degree for half the time that you would need in another place.

So depending on your preferences, if you are time constrained, you might choose to complete your degree in a country which requires you to be in school for less time, or in a country where you would enjoy student life and a less intense program.

Thesis or Experiential Learning

The final factor which could impact how long is a Masters Degree is whether at the end of your required courses, you need to do a thesis or complete required hours of experiential learning. Many Masters Degree programs specify that students enrolled will be required to complete a thesis on their field of study in order to be awarded the degree.


In particular, the humanities and most research oriented programs will give students a few months to devise their research plan and write a thesis on it. During that time, students will collect and analyze data, write down their processes, consult with mentors and external sources, and at the end, present their findings in front of a panel chosen by the university.

This might last from one to six months, depending on the field, and for more research oriented programs, it might even be one year.

Experimental learning

Programs which aim to teach students practical and applicable skills might require students to complete an internship or experiential learning during or after their required courses are completed. This might mean that students can complete their internships during their studies, or afterwards complete a project on a problem of their choice.

If you decide to do an MBA for example, you might be given a real world company which has a problem and you will work with stakeholders to examine and provide applicable solutions to it. At the end you will need to present your project to professors or a panel selected by the university.

The duration of experiential learning is similar to a thesis, ranging from one to six months depending on the hours clocked in by the student. Therefore, if your program specifies the need for independent study or research in the form of a thesis or experiential learning, your Masters Degree will take longer to complete.

In summary… How long is a Masters Degree program?

Despite all of these factors, there are many opportunities which universities provide to potential students who wish to complete their Masters Degree. How long does a Masters Degree take is entirely up to you and you can collaborate with the university of your choice to accommodate your needs for a longer or a shorter study time.