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

Thinking about even more school after your bachelor’s?

Deciding to head back to school to get your master’s is a huge decision. Maybe you need more schooling for your career. Or maybe you found the perfect program to help you get a leg up against all the other students hunting for jobs. Regardless, deciding to sign up for another X amount of years of school is a daunting prospect.

So before you start sending out those applications for graduate school, check out the general timeline for getting your master’s, along with tons of other questions you’re probably already asking. That way, you can make an informed decision before pulling the trigger.

What Is A Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is an academic degree at the graduate level for individuals who have demonstrated a high level of expertise in a specific field of study or research. You can apply for a master’s program once you have received your bachelor’s degree from a four-year university.

Upon receiving a master’s degree, you will be able to demonstrate an advanced knowledge of various topics within your field, a range of professional skills, and research applications as well. Many employers highly value masters’ degrees, so you’re going to want to do plenty of research to see if it would be beneficial to your career to go back to get your master’s.

The highest-valued master’s degrees are:

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Science in Nursing
  • Master of Engineering Management
  • Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering
  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Master of Arts in Political Science
  • Master of Science in Computer Science
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

How Long Does It Take To Get A Master’s Degree?

The length of your master’s degree varies widely depending on the school you decide to attend and the program you’re enrolled in. A master’s degree can take anywhere from 1-6 years. The average length, however, is about 1-3 years.

Most graduate programs require anywhere from 30 to 60 credit hours to complete. That rounds out to an average of 3 or so years. Most graduate students’ course loads is 9 to 15 hours per semester. It’s up to you to determine how rigorous of a course load you want to take while working through your degree.

You’ll also want to consider whether you want to be a full or part-time master’s student. With full-time, you obviously get your coursework done faster, but you won’t be able to work while you pursue your degree. As a part-time student, you can fund your master’s program easier, but it will take more time to finish.

What Comes After A Master’s Degree?

For some fields, like fine arts, a master’s degree is the highest level of education you can achieve. For others, the next step in postgraduate education is a doctoral degree. Doctoral degrees, the most common of which is a Ph.D., can take up to 8 years to finish. Again, a lot of this depends on your program, with the average Ph.D. taking about 4 to 6 years.

Deciding to get your Ph.D. is a huge undertaking. While most Ph.D. programs are fully funded (or you work for the college you’re attending in order to pay for your degree), it’s another potentially 6 or more years of school.

If you’re looking to get out into the workforce ASAP, getting your Ph.D. isn’t the best plan. But some fields, like medicine, require it. You’ll just want to weigh your options (and consider your finances) before deciding to go for a doctoral degree.

How Much Is A Master’s Degree?

As with most other factors relating to your master’s program, it varies. The average cost for a master’s degree is around $30,000 per year—no small fee, especially if you already have a lot of student debts.

A typical price range for a master’s degree is between $44,000 and $57,000 per year. Some programs, however, can cost upwards of $60,000 per year. That’s why it’s important to find plenty of financial aid options or apply for a fully funded master’s degree program.

If you are dead set on getting your master’s degree, there are plenty of resources available to help you fund your schooling:

  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Federal aid
  • Fully funded programs

Can You Get FAFSA For Grad School?

Yes, you can still apply for the FAFSA, even as a graduate student. The main difference is that you will omit your parent’s financial information when filling out the application. Otherwise, the process for receiving federal aid is exactly the same as when you were an undergraduate student.

Getting FAFSA For A Master’s Degree

For more information on getting your FAFSA all squared away for a master’s degree, check out the following resources from

When To Apply For Master’s Programs

Most master’s programs have their applications due somewhere between October and December. That means you should be applying about 6 months before the application is actually due. A master’s application is much more extensive than applying for a bachelor’s so plan accordingly.

Later winter and early spring, or even a year before the application is due, is when you need to start rounding up all your application materials. You’ll need to send in the following:

  • You college transcript
  • 1 (or more) letter(s) of recommendation
  • Some schools require taking the GRE and submitting your scores
  • Your resumé or CV

However, some colleges do their admissions on a rolling basis. If that’s the case, the earlier you send in your application, the better. You have a higher likelihood of getting accepted into the program if you apply earlier than everyone else.

Bachelor’s v. Master’s Degree

While signing up for another few years of school might not feel that different from what you’re already doing, there are some key differences between getting your bachelor’s degree and getting your master’s degree:

  • Bachelor’s
    • Prerequisites: high school diploma or GED
    • Timeline: 4 years
    • Tuition cost: $8,600 (public) to $34,920 (private)
    • Coursework: about 120 credit hours
  • Master’s
    • Prerequisites: bachelor’s degree + prerequisite coursework in chosen field of study
    • Timeline: 1-6 years
    • Tuition cost: $8,850 (public) to $30,450 (private)
    • Coursework: about 45 credit hours of specialized courses

Looking for more advice on getting a graduate degree? Check out our post on everything you need to know about grad school.