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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 summer 2000 to spring 2003. Master's degree recipients average two and a half years to complete their degree while doctoral degree recipients average a little over six 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 the graduate school career at CU-Boulder) ranges from 4.9 years in business and 5.6 years in engineering to 8 years in arts and humanities.
  • Degree recipients in the Leeds School of Business (non-MBA programs) have the shortest average time to degree among schools/colleges at both the master's and doctoral level.


Initial population is all master's and doctoral degree recipients from Summer 2000 to Spring 2003, with two categories 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.

We checked back to fall 1988 for the earliest term enrolled as a degree-seeking graduate student. Under 0.5% of the population were enrolled in the fall 1988 term. Some may have started before fall 1988; we used fall 1988 as the entry term for these students as a proxy.

The time to degree for doctoral level students includes ALL of the time from entry as a master's student or as a doctoral student. This is not the time from completion of a the master's degree to the doctoral degree, but from the entry at the graduate level to the doctoral degree.

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.

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

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

Square = Median, Circle = Mean
Excludes MBA programs

Last revision 05/02/16

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