A master's degree takes anywhere from one to three years to complete, depending on the type of degree and the amount of time you can devote to your studies. It's a sizable investment of time and money, but in many professional fields, it's the degree that can open doors. In some fields, such as human services and education, it's a minimum requirement for anything but the most menial jobs. Holders of a master's degree typically make almost 30 percent more each year than those with only a bachelor's degree.

Traditional Master's Degree Programs

A traditional master's degree program takes one or two years to complete. You'll be required to take anywhere from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework, write an original thesis based on research in your field and pass final or certification exams. For a part-time student, this will obviously take longer, and most universities put a limit on how long you can take. Six or seven years is a typical limit, but most part-timers manage to finish in three to five years. Many schools offer evening or online courses to accommodate students with busy lives.

Longer Master's Degree Programs

In some fields, an internship or practicum is an expected part of earning a master's degree. These may begin while you're still doing classwork or be required at the end of your studies. Education or health-care jobs that require a certificate often have an internship component, which can add up to a year to the time you'll need. Some specializations require extensive fieldwork and original research for thesis completion.

Accelerated Master's Degree Programs

Some universities and programs offer undergraduates what's often called a "4+1," the option of beginning work toward a master's while finishing up a four-year degree, which can take a year off the time required to get the advanced degree. Such programs begin in the second or third year of undergraduate studies. Other schools offer flexible online study components that will allow a student to progress at her own pace.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Be extremely wary of any institution offering you a master's degree practically overnight or based solely on credit for your life experience. These diploma mills may indeed take your money and send you an official-looking piece of paper, but it won't reflect genuine mastery and gain you the professional status you're after. Some reputable institutions offer credits based on competency or assessment of life experience, but you should expect to have to complete some coursework and research too. Always check certifications carefully.