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How Many Years Is a Master’s Degree?

You have two options after finishing your bachelor's degree: launch yourself into the world of work, or enroll in higher education via a master's degree program.

But whether it's in law, engineering, business, or something else, a master's degree is a big commitment. Having just completed your bachelor's degree, you'll be required to wait to kickstart your career.

However, there are benefits to studying for a master's degree. Graduate education will make you more competitive in the job market and lead to more career options than for undergraduate students.

Before you enroll, you need to ask yourself: how long does it take to complete a master's degree, and am I prepared to make that commitment?

Read on to find out:

  • How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's Degree?
  • Key Factors That Affect The Length Of Your Master's Degree
  • How Long is Business School?
  • How Many Years are Specialized Business Master's Programs?
  • Is a Graduate Degree Worth It?

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

The exact length of your master's degree depends on the type of degree you choose, and there's a wide range of options depending on your career goals. However, most master's degree programs follow a similar timeline.

Globally, around one year is the common length of time it takes to get a master's degree. However, this can vary from 18 months to two years for some intensive master's programs.

On some master's programs, how long it takes you to complete prerequisite coursework will affect how long it takes you to complete your graduate degree. If you are good at managing your time and classes, you may finish your master's degree early.

Let's have a look at some of the most common master's degrees and how long it typically takes to complete them.

If you're a budding lawyer and want to make yourself attractive to law firms, you may decide to enroll in a Master of Laws (LLM). If you do, you'll be looking at a further one or two years of study.

The same is true for a Master in Engineering. There's a mixture of one- and two-year courses available, with the majority requiring two years so you are fully prepared for the job market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Engineering – considered one of the best schools in the world for engineers – requires its master's students to complete their studies over an 18-month to two-year period, depending on the time it takes to complete their final thesis.

For medical master's students, there's an array of different programs available with specializations across the whole medical landscape. However, most courses have similar lengths. Harvard Medical School has master's degrees in subjects including bioethics and healthcare quality and safety, which are taught over one or two years.

These examples show just how varied master's degrees can be. Across all master's types, program lengths differ from school to school, and some may offer part-time or online master's programs with more flexibility, but which typically take longer.

Key Factors That Affect The Length Of Your Master's Degree

There are lots of factors that could affect the length of your master's degree. We've already looked at how different master's programs have different lengths; here are a few more ways that your program length will change.

Curriculum

Around the world, most master's programs are measured in credit hours. One credit hour equates to a certain amount of work you need to do to finish a piece of work for your program. These are used as a way for graduate students to gauge how much work is required for a master's programs; more credit hours equals a heavier course load.

For example, in the US, master's programs require around 30-50 credit hours to complete. For example, the Master in Quantitative Finance at NYU Stern consists of 36 credit hours. The Master of Accounting at USC Marshall specifies a range of between 30 and 48 credit hours depending on whether students complete the degree in 9 or 12 months.

In Europe, graduate programs are evaluated using the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). One year of graduate study is normally 60 ECTS, equating to 30 ECTS per semester. Just one course is either 5 or 10 ECTS. One ECTS equals approximately 28 hours of work.

By looking at how many credits is required for your master's degree, you'll be able to work out how long it'll take you to complete it.

It's worth noting that credit hours aren't typically used in the UK, but you may see some programs offer an ECTS equivalent for international students.

Full-time or Part-time Master's Programs

Most students will complete their graduate programs full-time. As a full-time student, you will study intensively and finish your program in the normal allotted time.

However, part-time students are becoming more common as more students pursue work alongside their course. Part-time programs take longer to complete, sometimes up to a year longer. The course load will be the same for both a full-time and part-time program, but on a part-time course you will have fewer contact hours.

Distance Learning

There's been increased interest in online programs in recent years, as they allow students to continue working full-time while studying at their own pace. However, compared to on campus programs, online programs will take longer to complete.

For example, the online Master in Business Analytics at Imperial College Business School is taught part-time with approximately 10-15 hours of study per week. In total, it takes most students two years to complete.

Other online graduate programs may take even longer. For example, the world's best distance learning MBA at Warwick Business School can be extended to up to four years.

Accelerated Degree Programs

Accelerated master's programs allow students to study for both a bachelor's program and a master's degree at the same time. By working towards both degrees simultaneously, you can complete your bachelor's and master's programs in just five years.

Internships

Whether or not you complete an internship as part of your master's program can also affect the length of time it takes.

Some master's programs will add an additional length of time onto the end of your degree for you to complete an internship. This could range from a few months up to a whole year. On other programs, such as the two-year MBA, full-time students will typically complete an internship in their summer break. This means it won't affect the total amount of time it takes to complete your degree program.

How Long is Business School?

If you dream of a career in business, with a Big Three consulting firm, a multinational bank, or a big tech company; you may choose to enroll in a business master's graduate degree program.

If you do, there are a range of options available, and the length of time it takes for you to complete business school will depend on the master's program you choose.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The original business master's degree, the Master in Business Administration (MBA) covers business fundamentals and is usually taught full-time over two years.

However, you will also find one-year versions of the MBA program, which are typically more popular in Europe. These accelerated programs will help you earn your master's degree faster and follow the same syllabus as a traditional two-year MBA program.

Accelerated programs or one-year MBAs are growing in popularity, as students are able to return to full-time work quicker.

Some MBAs don't strictly adhere to a one-year or two-year model. For example, you may see programs that last for 24 months, 18 months, or much less. IE Business School's International MBA can be completed in just 11 months.

Master in Management

While the MBA is aimed at professionals with anywhere from two to five years of work experience, students with less experience can enroll in a Master in Management (MiM) degree. This generalist Master's degree is typically taught over one or two years, depending on your program and study destination of choice.

To illustrate differences in master's program durations, the Financial Times' top-ranked MiM program, offered by University of St Gallen, can be completed in 18 months. Other top programs offered by schools like London Business School and HEC Paris take two years to complete.

“Providing students with an outstanding and exhaustive training in management requires two years,” says Sophie Dimich-Louvet, HEC Paris' associate director of student recruitment.

HEC Paris' first year syllabus teaches fundamental business practices while the second includes 20 specializations and dual degree options giving students an entirely different experience, she adds.

Bachelor's Degree in Business

If you're in the very early stages of your business career, you might opt for a bachelor's degree in business. As with graduate programs, these degrees will vary in length depending on where you study.

Many bachelor's degrees in the UK are typically three of four years long, depending on if they include a work placement year. In the US, most bachelor's programs are four years long, with the first two years focused on general knowledge courses such as math and history.

The length of your bachelor's degree will typically depend on the number of credit hours required.

How Many Years are Specialized Business Master's Programs?

If you want to develop your career in one specific sector or industry, then you might turn to a specialized business master's degree. A specialized graduate program typically follows a similar timeline to other master's programs.

Master of Finance

Master in Finance (MiF) degrees vary in length, with a one-year degree being the most common.

Schools like HEC Paris and EDHEC Business School offer one-year MiF degrees, while there are also shorter options available, like the nine-month program offered by University of Oxford Saïd Business School.

There's also the option of a longer program, offering a less intense experience with more in-depth study and opportunities for internships and longer research projects. China's Tsinghua School of Economics and Management offers a full-time degree with two and three-year options.

Master of Business Analytics

Currently one of the most sought-after business degrees, the Master in Business Analytics (MSBA) is typically a one-year course.

Two-year degrees, which include internships, international trips, and research projects are however a popular option in Europe. HEC Paris offers one such program in partnership with Ecole Polytechnique, while partners ESSEC Business School and Centrale Supelec offer a similar two-year degree.

Master of Marketing

Master's in Marketing are typically one-year programs. The likes of Imperial College Business SchoolColumbia Business School, and ESADE Business School are ranked among the best programs in the world by QS. All offer intensive one-year degrees.

If you choose to study in Europe though, you're more likely to find a longer program. ESCP Business School's Master in Marketing and Creativity takes between 18 and 21-months to complete, while HEC Paris offers a two-year program.

Master of Accounting

The Master in Accounting (MAcc) degree is often a precursor to the Certified Public Accountancy (CPA) Exam, so you may have more work to do after graduation before launching your accounting career.

But your initial degree is likely to take one or two years to complete, depending on your chosen school. New York University's Stern School of Business offers a well-regarded one-year MAcc in the US, while the UK's prestigious Cambridge Judge Business School offers an extended two-year program.

Is a Graduate Degree Worth It?

When deciding if a master's degree is worth it, it's important to consider the long-term impact the program may have on your career.

Master's degrees open up a wealth of opportunities, and master's graduates often enter the workplace at a higher level than undergrads. This means higher salaries and a faster route to more senior positions. 

Whether you choose a master's in business, medicine, or law, it's unlikely that your degree will stretch beyond two-years. If you'd prefer to graduate earlier, you also have the option of one-year and accelerated courses.

The relatively short length of time you need to set aside for a master's degree means you should see a strong return on your investment further down the line. It may seem like a big commitment now, but in the long run, a master's degree will enhance your career long term.

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