How long does an MS or MBA take in America?

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • The Master of Science (MS) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees differ in focus and scope.
  • An MS degree delves deeply into a specific subject, while an MBA offers a broader skill set for business professionals.
  • The length of an MS program varies from 1 to 5 years, typically taking 1.5 to 2 years to complete 36 credits.
  • MBA programs also require an average of 36 credits and can take 1 to 5 years, with accelerated options available.

International students in America on a visa are often strictly limited in the time they have to obtain a degree. This lends a considerable urgency to their quest and restricts their educational options. Those seeking Master of Science or Master of Business Administration degrees require a thorough understanding of the length and intensiveness of their programs if they want to finish in a timely fashion.

The length of MS or MBA programs depends on a number of factors: the institution, type of program, number of classes being taken at a time, and the specific circumstances of the student.

This article provides  an outlook on the length and intensiveness of MS and MBA programs in America, and the requirements international students can expect if they undertake these programs.

Overview of MS and MBA Degrees

Though any Master’s degree involves highly advanced and in-depth knowledge of a subject, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees vary greatly in breadth and subject matter. An MS degree involves studying a very specific topic or subject in great depth, while an MBA involves a more generalized and broader approach.

Master of Science Degrees

A Master of Science degree is suitable for those with clear goals and a thorough understanding of the career path they are taking. There are countless subjects and topics that students can choose to pursue an MS degree in, from business and economics to natural science and engineering. Obtaining an MS typically requires completing 36 credits of graduate courses.

Master of Business Administration Degrees

A Master of Business Administration is for students who seek a skill set more broadly applicable in a business environment, whether they are aspiring entrepreneurs or business managers. As with the Master of Science, an MBA degree requires an average of 36 graduate credits.

How Long is an MS Program?

The length of time involved in completing an MS program can range from 1 to 5 years, with the average full-time student typically completing their MS in 1.5 to 2 years. While the average MS program requires 36 credits, that can also range from 30 to 60 credit hours depending on the requirements of the specific program.

A full-time student typically completes 9-12 credit hours per semester while part-time students complete 6 credit hours per semester, so the length of time it takes to reach the 36-hour threshold depends mostly on how many credit hours a student completes per semester. Those able to take 12 credit hours for the Fall, Winter, and Spring semesters can finish their MS in a single year, while others with greater job and home responsibilities can take much longer.

Understanding the credit requirements for any programs you are considering and contrasting them with the time and energy you are able to invest is an important first step before embarking on the journey to obtain an MS. International students on a visa also must ensure they can complete the requisite credit hours within the time frame of their visa.

How Long is an MBA program?

The time and credit requirements of MBA programs are comparable to MS programs, typically requiring an average of 36 credit hours and 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on how many credits per semester students take on. Part-time students frequently take 3 or 4 years to complete their MBA, while students in accelerated MBA programs can complete their programs in as little as 12-18 months. Although, qualifying for an MBA that quickly can entail six-hour classes per day, an investment that many postgraduate students cannot make.

Can I finish my MS or MBA early?

Since qualifying for an MS or MBA degree is about credit hours completed and not the overall time frame it takes to earn the credits, you can obtain a degree as quickly as you can complete the required credits. While finishing in a single year is all but impossible for those with considerable work or family commitments, those who can dedicate themselves full-time can do so without being penalized.

This also holds true for international students on a visa: those who finish their MS or MBA in a single year will still qualify for both CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training). Such students will also qualify for the H-1B in the Master’s quota cap.


Pursuing an MS or MBA is an excellent avenue international students can take to extend their stay in America and improve their chances of reaching permanent legal status. A graduate degree enhances not just job applications, but also visa applications. The difficulty is fitting in a graduate education and the requisite training within the duration of your visa.

Since the length required to complete an MS or MBA is mostly up to you, it’s important to plan out a detailed time frame based on your particular circumstances and obligations. Graduate classes require a far greater time investment outside of class than undergraduate classes, so students must take more than just credit hours into account. While many immigrants would prefer to finish as quickly as possible, especially if their visa expires in the near-future, completing an MS or MBA within a year or even two is sometimes unrealistic.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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