The length of time it takes to get a master’s degree is as varied as the many types of grad students there are. The general rule is that if you go full time, straight through (on campus or online) it should take approximately 2 years to complete. But with an average age of 33, factors such as the program of study, the institution where a student enrolls, and the personal life stage of the individual all affect the length of time it may take for someone to graduate.
Time is money
Your financial situation is an important factor to consider when deciding how long your master’s degree should take. Going full time and completing your degree in the estimated 2-year time frame means that working full time may be unrealistic and usually is not recommended. You must ask yourself whether you can afford not to work or only work part time for the duration.
Check with the individual programs you’re applying to. They may offer assistantship opportunities or stipends to help offset financial costs and salary losses. If you’re already in the workforce, check with your company about the possibility of tuition reimbursement. If they offer such a program, it’s worth taking advantage; however, you will have to adhere to the requirements, which may affect the time frame for degree completion.
Every master’s program is different
The subject of your field of study and the institution where it is offered may determine how long the program will take. For example, considering how many MBA students are already working in the business world, many programs offer executive or professional programs which are condensed and may take only 12 months to complete. While these programs are very intensive, they’re much shorter than a traditional MBA. Less time out of the professional world is necessary if you choose to take time off while you pursue your degree. Before selecting a program, consider that some programs offer flexible learning environments that allow you to work at your own pace, while others have fixed situations which may or may not match with your learning criteria.
Part time vs. full time
In 2021, there were 1.7 million full-time graduate students and 1.3 million part-time graduate students enrolled in the United States. The type of institution (i.e., public, private nonprofit or private for-profit) played a role in what student demographic participated in what type of program1. Most students aged 30 and over attended private for-profit programs on a part-time basis, allowing them to take as long as they needed to receive their master’s degree, since most of those institutions didn’t have time restraints on degree completion.
As for full-time students attending public or private nonprofit institutions, the majority were aged 29 or under. Thirty-eight percent of graduate students attending full-time programs at public institutions were under the age of 25, indicating these students are typically going right from undergrad to grad school for the traditional 2-year program2.
Different learning formats
Most institutions put a 6-year cap on receiving a master’s degree, however, some completely online programs (mainly for-profit institutions) don’t always impose that limitation. This allows you to take courses and complete your degree at your own pace and without sacrificing work experience or income.
While the majority of graduate students at public and private nonprofit institutions attend their programs in-person, online and hybrid learning formats have become more common in the post-pandemic higher ed environment3.
Bottom line: There’s an old saying that says, “With time and money you can do anything.” This is also true when choosing a grad school program. As you search for a graduate program, make sure you prioritize the learning format and schedule that works best for you.
3 Number and percentage of students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by distance education participation, location of student, level of enrollment, and control and level of institution: Fall 2018 and Fall 2019