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Before we dive deep into the what you need to know about master’s degree programs, let’s get the question of credit hours out of the way. It typically takes between 30 and 40 credit hours of course study to complete a master’s degree.

Seems easy enough, right? But when you’re comparing master’s degree programs and which one is right for your needs, there’s more to it than just counting hours. But, let’s start there:

How Many Credits Does It Take?

A credit hour — a unit of measurement assigned to completing some level of achievement in your education — can mean different things for different courses. Every master’s degree program is unique, as is every course. The more advanced the material covered, the more credit hours you’ll earn for that course. And, there’s a time component, too. A course requiring more time spent studying often equates to more credit hours earned.

When it comes to determining how many credits you need for a master’s degree, consider the average. Most schools require about 30 credit hours with more complex and in-depth programs increasing this to as much as 40. On the other hand, a few schools require significantly less.

Timing Matters to Many Master’s Students

One way to compare your options is to consider the length of the course of study instead of just the credit hours. If you are hoping to move through your master’s degree courses quickly so you can get on with your career, think twice. As noted, those harder courses can slow you down. At the same time, there are some programs designed to push you through with a high-quality education in just 14 months.

Make sure to compare both the type of educational benefits of any program as well as the credits and time to complete before enrolling in any program.

At a Master’s Level, Learning Is Valuable

Many people go back to earn their master’s after having spent some time in their chosen field of study. This can be a very good thing. Unlike that math class you took your freshman year of college or that pesky gym class you were required to take senior year, in a master’s degree program the courses should all have valuable benefits to offer to you and your future.

As you compare programs, then, take a look at the required courses. How well do these courses fit your plan of study in the long term? Do they offer you information and education in areas that are valuable to your future? When comparing programs, take a closer look at what each one of those credit hours are going to do for your career. If a course doesn’t seem valuable enough towards meeting your specific long-term goals, see if there’s another option with better information that’s geared towards where you want to be in a few years. It’s more valuable to you when you do so.

What Type of Classes Are a Part of Master’s Degree Programs?

Most master’s degree programs start with creating a foundation and adding essentials to your chosen area of study. They then build upwards to give you more complex subjects as well as advanced aspects in your chosen field. Initially, you may be taking courses that seem fundamental, but this is the groundwork for building a more advanced knowledge-base down the road.

Another key change you should notice as you move into more advanced courses is a change in how you are learning. In those beginning courses, you’ll gain fundamental knowledge — memorization and studying material. Later on, you are developing skills that are less specific. For example, you’ll focus on more creative components and idea development in higher levels of marketing programs. Or, in a sector like healthcare, you’ll be talking more about ethics and focusing on future solutions for the industry. These are critical thinking and decision-making skills that will prove valuable in your career.

Comparing Programs and Information They Offer

One of the best steps to take when choosing any type of master’s program, then, is to fully understand what you are learning every step of the way. There’s no benefit to taking courses that simply regurgitate information you already know. You want every day to be spent learning, not just repeating. For that reason, work closely with your counselor to ensure your coursework is as comprehensive and as well-planned from the start as possible.

Also look at how modern the program is. Imagine you’re taking a marketing degree. You want one that focuses on modern methods, not exclusively on those used 20 years ago. The same is true for every sector, including business. Find out when the coursework was updated and just how modern or cutting edge the material is. This makes any master’s degree program more valuable to you.

Specialized schools can also provide some avenue of help here. When evaluating master’s degree programs, learn a bit more about the school itself. Is it offering an in-depth level of education to you because the school is one of the most innovative in that field? Does the school engage in research that helps it to always offer the most advanced education possible? At this level of education, these factors are critical.

How Long Will It Take You to Get Your Master’s Degree?

Considering all of this information, you likely have a lot to think about when it comes to choosing a master’s degree program. The length of time it takes you to complete those 30 credit hours, though, is more flexible than you think. With flexible scheduling options, along with online learning and accelerated programs, you can find ways to shorten your time to graduation.

Take the time now to evaluate several programs that may be right for you. Then, work to create a schedule that allows you to cut off some of the time it takes for you to complete your education. It’s worth the investment.