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Elapsed Time to Degree for Master's and Doctoral Degrees

How long does it take?


The Office of Data Analytics examined the elapsed time to degree for master's and doctoral degree recipients from fiscal year 2005-06 to fiscal year 2007-08. Master's degree recipients averaged a little under two and a half years to complete their degree while doctoral degree recipients averaged five and a half years.

There is a wide variance in the results by discipline college and degree program, especially at the doctoral level.

Additional results

  • Generally, the median time to degree is lower than the mean because there are a few extreme high values that increase the average. See below for the distribution of time to degree by degree level.
  • The average time to a doctoral degree (from start of their doctoral career at CU-Boulder) ranges from 4.9 years in journalism and engineering to 6.7 years in arts and humanities.


Initial population is all master's and doctoral degree recipients from fiscal year 2005-06 to fiscal year 2007-08. The first term enrolled in the same level AND program was used as the starting point. Two categories of students were excluded:

  • Graduate level students who had no on-campus enrollment in regular courses prior to earning their degree. They may have had enrollment in Continuing Education.
  • Students who were in the combined bachelor's/master's degree programs.

This method relies on accurate coding of student and program intention at entry, as doctoral vs. master's. If students generally enter as master's students even if seeking doctorates, the apparent time to degree will be lower. This was the case for Integrated Physiology for some entry years.

Some students may have done graduate level work before their first term at CU-Boulder in a master's or doctoral program at another insitution, as a non-degree seeking student at CU-Boulder, or as an undergraduate student. This time is NOT counted.

In counting elapsed time, three terms (fall, spring, summer) are counted as one year.

  • One year plus one term = 1.3 years
  • One year plus two terms = 1.7 years

Distribution plot of time to degree by degree level

Square = Median, Circle = Mean

Also see our previous posting on master's and doctoral time to degree...

Last revision 05/02/16

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