How To Get A Masters Degree: Your Step-By-Step Guide

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Whether you have your bachelor’s degree already or not, you may be thinking about getting a master’s degree. Higher education works in tiers that follow this general path: associate’s degree (optional), bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and finally, a doctorate. While there are different ways as to how to get a master’s degree, regardless of the route you choose, you’ll have to start with a bachelor’s degree.


Don’t worry — the hard work will pay off! Obtaining a master’s degree will open many doors for your future and allow you to excel in a specific subject area. Here, we will break down everything you need to know about what a master’s degree is and how you can get one.



Man in a graduation gown and cap
Photo by Muhammad Rizwan on Unsplash



What Is A Master’s Degree And What’s Required?

A master’s degree is a graduate-level degree that demonstrates mastery in a subject. There are different types of master’s degrees catered to the subject you want to study, including:

  • Master of Arts (humanities-related)
  • Master of Science (science-related)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Law (LLM)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Engineering (ME)
  • Master of Education (MEd)

The time it takes to earn a master’s degree can vary, but it generally takes about one and a half to two years of studying. For part-time students, it may even take up to five or six years. Timing depends on your enrollment status. This is because a master’s degree typically requires anywhere from 36 to 54 semester units for completion.


To enroll in a master’s degree program, there are certain requirements. All institutions may slightly differ in these requirements, but for the most part, you’ll tend to be asked for some or all of the following:

  • Standardized Tests (i.e. GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc.)
  • Transcripts (proof of Bachelor’s degree and grades)
  • Letters Of Recommendation (from professors or employers)
  • Writing Samples (some may ask for writing samples from your undergraduate degree)
  • Personal Statement (a required essay with a given prompt by the institution)


Reasons To Get A Master’s Degree

There are a variety of reasons to earn a master’s degree. Here are some commonly cited motives for those who graduate with their master’s:

  • Increased employability
  • Career change
  • Increased knowledge
  • Enhanced job security
  • Meet job requirements
  • Contribute to research
  • For the love of learning
  • Affordable or company subsidized
  • Increased salary


Popular Careers That Require A Master’s

Sometimes, you’ll look to earn your master’s degree simply because the ends justify the means. Namely, you’ll want a career in a field that requires a master’s degree to land a job.


For the most part, the following career paths will require that you obtain a master’s degree before you can enter the workplace.



1. Post-Secondary Educators/Administrators


Professors and higher education teachers need to first earn their Master’s of Education. You can do this online at institutions like the University of the People or at a traditional college campus.



2. Social Workers


Social workers help to improve patients and clients by supporting their needs.



3. Counselors


There are many different types of counselors, such as marriage, family, rehabilitation, and mental health counselors. Counselors work with those in need to listen to their problems and offer their expertise.



4. Healthcare Workers


Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and the like all need to earn their master’s degrees before entering their respective fields.



5. Biostatisticians


Those interested in applying statistics to public health issues can become biostatisticians. They help to create experiments and surveys to construct and use data in an effort to better public health.



6. Political Scientists


Political scientists use their education to research political ideas, trends, and government policies.



7. Economists


To study the distribution and use of resources, economists use research, trend analysis, and problem-solving techniques to evaluate the economy.


Step-By-Step Guide: How To Get A Master’s Degree

Earning a degree of any kind takes patience, motivation, effort, time, and financial planning. In order to earn your master’s degree and stay focused, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you plan for the years of study:



1. Build A Support System


If you have a family or dependents, make sure they are on board and aligned with your goals. One way to help ensure this is to share the reasons why you want to earn your master’s with them and manage their expectations.



2. Leverage Free Help


There are a variety of resources to help you through the educational journey. From academic advisors at schools to online tutors, you can always obtain help when you need it.



3. Schedule Milestones


Scheduling milestones is especially useful for those who are attending a master’s program part-time. When it takes many years to earn your master’s, you can set milestones other than graduation to keep you motivated.



4. Set A Schedule That Works For You


Allow yourself flexibility when earning your higher degree. A master’s degree is unlike high school or a bachelor’s degree. It will require more time management and research. You’ll often work on your own. Especially if you earn your master’s degree online, you should design a schedule that works best for you.



5. Get Organized


Keep your files and life organized. Separating both work and play will require responsibility and organization, like: using a schedule, creating a place for work only, labeling files, etc.



6. Talk To Professors


Don’t be afraid to ask your professors for help or just to run ideas past them. Professors often become mentors in the process of earning a master’s degree.



7. Keep The Goal In Sight


No matter when the going gets tough, keep your end goal in sight. Whether you enrolled in a program to land a job, expand your knowledge, increase your salary requirements, or challenge yourself, you should remain focused on your goal. This will always keep you motivated to do your best.



Common Pitfalls Students Face

As mentioned, earning a master’s degree isn’t easy work, but it is certainly doable! Often, students struggle with the following pitfalls. Understanding where others have a hard time may help you be better prepared.

  • Falling Behind: Staying on track falls in your own hands. Outline the classes you need to take and see when your program offers them. Design a schedule that is doable.
  • Struggling With Coursework: When coursework gets hard, reach out for help. You have a support system.
  • Writing Skills: Master’s degrees require a lot of research and writing. Writing is a skill that gets better with practice, so don’t give up on yourself and practice often. Here are some tips and tricks for how to write a research paper.
  • Expecting Too Much Hand Holding: Don’t expect your master’s program to be like any previous education you’ve had. You often create your own schedule and even your own research.


How To Find The Right Program For You

Before enrolling in any master’s program, take stock of the following important considerations:

  • The cost of the program
  • Your interests
  • How much a degree will increase your earning potential
  • Your career goals
  • If your employer will help pay for the degree
  • If you need it in your field of choice


Man studying at a cafe with laptop, phone and book
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash



Working And Going To School?

Some people enter a master’s program directly after earning their bachelor’s degree. Others take time to work first and gain experience. Many people also work while earning their master’s degree. This is doable, but it requires great time management skills and the right program.


For those who want to attend school and continue at their job or raise a family during their studies, the University of the People may be the perfect option. The University of the People offers master’s degrees in Business Administration and Education that are entirely online and tuition-free. Our programs are designed for both flexibility and accessibility.



The Bottom Line

Earning a master’s degree requires time and effort. Before enrolling in a program, list your motivational factors and what aspects of a program are most important to you. Once you find the program that is right for you, you can gather the required documentation and apply. Once accepted, keep your eye on the prize and ask for help when you need it.


Earning a master’s degree is a worthwhile and grand achievement. You will open the door to more job possibilities, better job security, and a whole new world of information where you can become an expert in your field of choice.