How Long Does Graduate School Take?

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Updated: February 13, 2024, Reading time: 6 minutes

graduate school

The number of years it takes to complete graduate school can vary widely depending on the type and field of degree. Because studying the humanities and social sciences usually tends toward developing original research, those subjects typically require research or the writing and defending of a dissertation along with coursework.

Professional graduate programs often require students to complete coursework without a thesis or research project. Medical school, which is graduate school, in the sense that applicants have completed undergraduate education, is usually called “medical school” rather than graduate school. Law school and business school likewise are often called by their name rather than graduate school and are professional graduate schools as well.

Although research degrees tend to take longer, it may help to remember that they are more likely to be awarded a fellowship or assistantship than their fellow professional graduate degree programs. The following list breaks down a bit more the general amount of time it takes to complete a doctoral degree.

Master’s of Business Administration

The Master’s of Business Administration or MBA is the most popular graduate degree on the academic market. Keeping our country’s businesses on their toes, more and more Americans are finding higher education an asset to managing and organizing in the workplace.

The Master of Business Administration usually requires the completion of forty to sixty credits. This makes the MBA a more extensive and sought-after degree program than other related master’s degrees, which usually require only thirty credits such as the Master of Finance, Master of Science in Management or Marketing, and Master of Economics.

Forty to sixty credits can usually be completed in 2 full-time years of school. However, as with many programs on this list, many business schools offer distance learning, full-time and part-time programs that are tailored to the needs of working adults. students may often choose to complete the MBA in less or more time than is commonly prescribed. The range of time it may take to complete an MBA is from 18 months to 5 years.

Master of Science

After the MBA, the Master of Science, or MS is the degree most often awarded. Often awarded to graduate students in medicine, mathematical studies, or engineering, the MS is usually a two-year degree for full-time students. It also typically requires the writing and defending of a thesis or research project. The Master of Science degree usually consists of 30-40 credits.

Again, online or executive programs may give students an option to complete an MS in more or less time: anywhere from 1 year to 5. Also, each discipline within the Master of Science degree may require a varying amount of credits with some disciplines requiring around 30 credits and others closer to 40 or more.

Master of Arts or Fine Arts

The Master of Arts, usually awarded in the humanities and social sciences, is a degree oriented more toward analysis and creativity. Like the Master of Science, a full-time enrollee in a Master of Arts degree will complete the degree in 2 academic years. Many institutions will offer online or accelerated MA programs that allow students to complete the degree sooner or take more time in order to keep working.

The applied arts, which are often studied in an MFA or Master of Fine Arts program, may vary slightly from the MA program. They typically take one to three years to complete and require a high level of commitment and concentration to the art one is studying.

Juris Doctor

Although some schools offer J.D. programs that can be completed at an accelerated pace, a typical, full-time Juris Doctor degree takes three years to complete. However, the degree is often completed in four years since three-year law programs have the reputation of being highly demanding.

Students can expect the average Juris Doctor program to be around 90 credits. Although some schools may offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete those credits in 24 months, there are also extended study options that take over 7 years to finish.

Doctor of Medicine

Acquiring an MD or Doctor of Medicine degree is just one of the steps to becoming a medical doctor or specialist. An MD is obtained by attending medical school after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

Medical school usually requires students around 60 semester credits. A medical degree is usually obtained in 4 years of full-time study. Some schools may offer a combined bachelor’s and doctor of medicine that can be completed in 6-7 years.

After completing an MD, graduates must become licensed as well as complete a residency program in order to become a medical doctor. Other options for graduates include the pursuit of further medical training in a specialty of their choice such as pediatric or internal medicine.

Doctor of Business Administration

A doctorate in business can be pursued through the Doctor of Business Administration or a Ph.D. in Business. The Doctor of Business Administration is a professional degree that usually takes around 4 years to complete.

Typically consisting of 60 credits, the degree is sometimes offered in an accelerated format allowing students to finish the doctorate in as little as 3 years. If a program requires a written dissertation or internship, the time to completion may be affected.

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree that requires a specialized focus on a field of knowledge and a pass/fail display of that knowledge through the writing of a dissertation. A Ph.D. dissertation must exhibit a student’s grasp and understanding of their topic and also the ability to branch out into new areas of research.

The classwork required in a Ph.D. program is around 60 credits which can be completed in as little as 3 years or, in an extended program, up to 6 years. However, once classwork is finished, students begin their dissertations which can take them 2-3 years.

According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, the median amount of time it took students to earn a Ph.D. in the humanities and arts in 2017 was 7.1 years. This makes the Ph.D. one of the longest and most intensive academic experiences.

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