Answer: The time it takes to complete a master’s degree in communication will vary based on several factors, including school, specialization, delivery method (on campus vs. online), capstone requirement, and whether students enroll on a full- or part-time basis. A traditional campus-based master’s in communication program with a thesis component typically requires two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study. Online master’s programs in the field might take full-time students anywhere from one to two years to complete, while part-time students can generally finish in two to three years. In most cases, however, students have up to five to seven years to compete their degree, if necessary.
The length of a master’s degree program in communication depends on several factors. Perhaps the most important is whether students decide to pursue their degree on a full- or part-time basis. Full-time students take a larger course load each term, and thus typically complete their degree in fewer years overall. In a part-time program, students take less credits each semester, spreading their studies out over a longer period of time. Part-time programs are a good option for working professionals or other students with busy schedules outside of school, as they tend to offer more flexibility. On the other hand, students who want to complete their degree as fast as possible should opt for full-time study.
Ultimately, the time it takes to earn a master’s degree in communication depends largely on the number of credits one’s particular program requires, as well as the structure of its course of study. Some schools follow alternative academic calendars, with four-, five-, or even eight-week terms. This will greatly influence how long it takes to progress though the curriculum, and when students can enroll in certain courses required for graduation. Additionally, some degree specializations may entail more credits than others at certain schools, requiring a longer commitment from students.
To learn more about the time it takes to complete a master’s degree in communication, check out the sections below.
Full-Time Master’s in Communication Programs
As mentioned earlier, a full-time campus-based master’s degree program in communication generally takes around two years to complete. However, students may need more time (e.g., two and a half or three years) to finish their degree if it requires a thesis, as these involve extensive research and writing. In most cases, a traditional two-year program entails 30 to 45 course credits. Programs may include year-round classes or give students the summer off (or a reduced course load in the summer) to pursue internships or other activities. Full-time students typically take nine credits per semester, but might take more (e.g., 12 credits) if they want to graduate faster and their program allows it. (Note: The number of credits required for full-time enrollment at the graduate level varies by school, but generally ranges from six to 12 credits.)
Some master’s programs have started to introduce alternative academic calendars, with four to six terms per year that range from four, five, or eight weeks in length. In some of these programs, taking one course per four-week or five-week term may constitute full-time enrollment, as it is equivalent to taking three courses over a 15-week semester. Students in certain programs may even be able to complete their degree in two years by taking one course each term with five terms per year.
Online master’s in communication programs are more likely to use alternative calendars, however, there are some campus programs that do as well. Other online programs still maintain the traditional three semester or four quarter academic calendar. Depending on the particular program, students pursuing their degree online may be able to graduate in as little as one year of full-time study. In these cases, students must typically take a full load of courses in Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions. There are also online programs designed to allow full-time students to complete their degree in 12-18 months.
Part-Time Master’s in Communication Programs
A traditional part-time master’s in communication program generally requires two to three years to complete. At many schools, however, students have up to five to seven years to finish their degree requirements, if necessary. Part-time students generally take three to six credits per term, as opposed to the nine or more for a student enrolled full-time. This results in fewer courses per term, but a longer time to completion. Depending on the program, students enrolled part-time may also only take courses in the Fall and Spring semesters instead of year-round. For online or campus-based programs that use an alternative academic calendar, part-time students typically still take fewer courses per term compared to students enrolled full-time. However, for programs where students take one course per four- or five-week term, the distinction between full-time and part-time enrollment is not as clear.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Master’s in Communication Programs
In most cases, schools determine if a program qualifies as full- or part-time enrollment based on how many credit hours students take each term, not the time it takes to complete the program. With modified academic calendars, the distinction between full-time and part-time enrollment has become somewhat blurred. Some programs that take two years to complete may be considered full-time, whereas others that take two years might consider that part-time enrollment, especially if the program can be completed in one year of full-time study.
In order to determine if a master’s in communication program is full- or part-time, students should look at how many credits are typically taken per term, and how long it takes to complete the degree. For students who plan to seek financial aid, it is important to know that there may be eligibility restrictions when enrolling in a program part-time. Prospective students should be sure to ask an admissions advisor how many credits they are required to take per term in order to qualify for financial aid, if it is available. (Note: Financial aid is not guaranteed. Students should consult with the financial aid office at their school of interest to determine eligibility requirements before applying to a program.)
Perhaps the most important factor to consider when deciding between a full- or part-time program is one’s personal and professional commitments. Master’s in communication programs can be quite time intensive, with a significant amount of reading required on a weekly basis. Students often spend 15-20 hours or more per week on a single course. For some students, particularly those with a full-time job or otherwise busy schedule, taking more than one course per term may not be feasible. Students interested in pursuing their degree online should know online degree programs require dedication, self-motivation, and excellent time management skills.
Additional Considerations for Master’s in Communication Programs
A student’s capstone requirement can also affect how long it takes to finish their degree. Most master’s in communication programs require students to complete one of the following types of capstone options in order to graduate: a thesis, an applied project, or a comprehensive exam. Depending on the program, students may be either explicitly required to complete a specific type of capstone (e.g., a thesis) or be given the choice between two or more capstone options (e.g., a thesis or applied project). Completing a thesis generally takes the most time out of the three, requiring extensive research and often resulting in over 100 pages of original writing. As such, students may need additional terms to complete their thesis and earn their degree.
The applied project and comprehensive exam options typically require less time than a thesis, however, applied projects can, in some cases, require a significant amount of time as well. Often, students who choose the exam option will have to take extra coursework in addition to their capstone. This is because completing a thesis generally entails three to six credit hours of thesis work, which non-thesis students make up for with additional courses. Students who complete an applied project may have to take an additional course as well, depending on the program and credit requirements. For programs that require students to pass a comprehensive exam in order to earn their degree, failing the exam may delay graduation, as students will need to take it again. (Note: Some programs require students to pass a comprehensive exam in addition to completing a thesis or applied project.)
Another factor to consider is whether the program utilizes a cohort model. When students begin a cohort program, they are placed in a group with other students and stay with that same group throughout their studies, taking courses simultaneously and sometimes even sharing the same advisors. All of the students in the cohort progress through the program at the same time (with the possible exception of elective courses), and graduate together. Cohorts can be less flexible than other programs, as students take a prearranged number of courses each term in order to graduate in a set period of time. This may mean the program takes longer to complete than a program that does not admit cohorts, where students are potentially able to choose their own course load or progress faster at their own pace.
Additionally, schools that use a cohort model may offer a limited number of start dates each year. This may cause issues for students who need to take a leave of absence during their studies, as they may have to wait to restart the program in order to catch up on the classes they missed. For example, if a program only offers a Fall admission and uses a cohort model, specific classes may only be offered during the Fall, Spring, or Summer semester. If a student misses one of these semesters, they may need to wait an entire year before those courses are offered again. Whether they are in a cohort program or not, students who think they might need to take a leave of absence at any point during their studies should check with program faculty to find out the policies regarding these breaks. Some programs may allow students to take a leave of absence, while others may not.