How long does a masters degree take?

Updated March 23, 2017

A graduate student can earn a Master of Arts (MA) degree or a Master of Science (MS) degree. There are a number of subfields from which students can select, including, but not limited to, a Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Students pursuing a Master of Arts degree complete coursework in the humanities or social sciences, whereas students working toward a Master of Science degree want to work in a science or math related field. Subfields of study also offer numerous options for specialisation.

Credit Hours

The master's degree is a post-baccalaureate degree awarded after completing an average of 30 to 36 hours of graduate credits. Counselling degrees often require more hours, perhaps as many as 60 credit hours. In addition to the required core courses, graduate students, particularly those enrolled in counselling programs, are training to work in a specific area of expertise.

Academic Discipline

No matter which graduate program a student enters, earning a master's degree in a specific academic discipline demonstrates the student's mastery in a particular field of study qualifying him to work in a certain profession. Earning a master's degree is also a prerequisite for entering a doctoral program.

Average Length of Study

On average, it takes most students one to three years to complete a graduate program of study after earning a bachelor's degree. Classes involve more discussion than at the undergraduate level, with most programs requiring the completion of related research and a master's thesis. However, data collected by the U. S. Department of Labor Statistics shows that having a master's degree increases an individual's earning potential, suggesting that earning a graduate degree may be worth the time it takes.

Factors Affecting Completion

A number of factors can affect the length of time it takes to earn a master's degree, including the area of study and school attended. Graduate courses are more difficult than undergraduate classes, so they can require significantly more study time. The amount of time it takes to complete a master's degree program also depends on whether you are a full-time student and if you take any classes during the summer sessions. Many graduate students work full-time, which means they can pursue a graduate degree only part-time.

Part-Time Students

Although most people complete the program requirements for a master's degree within 18 months to two years, students who take classes part-time are typically allowed up to seven years to complete their programs of study. Graduate students generally schedule between six and nine credit hours of study each semester, although nine credits hours is considered full-time.

Undergraduate Prerequisites

It generally is recommended that students entering graduate programs have completed specific undergraduate courses in that same area of academic study. However, in some cases, students who choose to enter a graduate program in a field different from their undergraduate major may do so if they successfully satisfy the prerequisite undergraduate courses.


Most graduate programs require students to maintain a cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or better to graduate. In certain fields of study, such as teaching, graduate students also must complete a specified number of hours of field experience that relates directly to their area of specialisation.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.