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

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Graduate Degree May Open Doors to Opportunity, More Pay

Picture your future. What do you want for yourself and your family? With a master’s degree, you may have more career opportunities and better pay. For some, a master’s is a step toward a Ph.D. and an academic career. For others, the master’s builds on the undergraduate degree to deepen knowledge and prepare for specific career goals. Earning a master’s means a significant investment in time and money, so before embarking on a course of study, it’s important learn about the degree program and where it can take you.

How Long Does It Take?

A master’s degree usually requires 36 to 54 semester hours of credits (or 60 to 90 quarter-credits) and takes approximately 18 months to two years of full-time study to complete. Other factors to consider include:

  • Will you attend classes full- or part-time?
  • Will you take classes in residence, online or a combination of both?
  • Do you have a bachelor’s degree in the same subject area, or will you need to complete prerequisites?

What Do You Need to Do?

First, decide where your interests and aptitudes lie. Graduate courses are more focused than courses at the undergraduate level, so you want to be sure to choose a subject area that excites you.

Once you’ve decided on a course of study, talk with an academic advisor. If you’re planning to attend a local university, you should schedule an appointment to visit the campus. In addition to speaking with an advisor, speak with faculty members and other graduate students in the department. You want to make sure the institution and the program of study are a good fit for you.

Distance learning can increase your options since you can attend classes anywhere in the world without leaving home, a significant plus for working mothers. Find out about programs by doing a keyword search in Google. Use terms such as “distance learning master’s” or “online master’s” with the name of your chosen field of study, such as “education” or “psychology.” Speak to an advisor by phone or video chat. Try to find faculty members and other graduate students who are willing to answer questions via phone or email.

The Admissions Packet

You’ll need to complete a graduate school application. Begin by filling out the required forms, which you can usually find on a school’s website under the “Graduate Admissions” tab. Find out what else you need to include with the application and allow yourself plenty of time to assemble the requisite materials. Application fees typically range from $40 to $150. Some schools offer waivers for students with financial hardship, so check with the admissions office if you think you may qualify.

Most schools ask for three letters of recommendation. Request these from undergraduate professors and/or employers who know you well and can attest to your intellectual curiosity and work ethic. You’ll need to order transcripts from all the schools you attended after high school. These will be sent directly from the institution to the graduate admissions office for a fee, usually $5 to $15 each. You’ll also need to have your test scores sent to the school if your graduate programs requires it. The most common test is the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), which assesses the knowledge and skills needed for graduate school success. Most programs ask you to write a personal essay about your goals and the reasons you’re interested in the field of study.

What Are Some Careers Requiring a Master’s Degree?

It’s a mistake to assume that a master’s degree will automatically open doors to good jobs and higher salaries. You also must have the knowledge and skills employers are looking for. A number of master’s degree programs prepare you for specific careers, and you can’t get the job without one. Positions that require a minimum of a master’s degree include:

  • Archivist
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Historian
  • Librarian
  • Mathematician
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physician Assistant
  • Political Scientist
  • School Administrator
  • School or Career Counselor
  • Urban Planner

If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, be sure to do some research to find the program that’s right for you. Find out what’s required for the application process. Talk with financial aid and career advisors to help you plan for school and your future post-graduation.