How long is a typical Master’s program in Physics?

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Typical Master’s Degree

Regardless of the major, the average graduate program is two years. However, several factors affect the length of time to reach graduation. Some programs have a mandatory practicum, a period of supervised, hands-on experience in your field of study. Some offer accelerated formats wherein you may complete the coursework in less than 24 months. Another factor is transferrable credits that will also reduce the workload.

Published reports indicate that graduate programs in public health, social work, public administration, business, and health administration average two years. Education, computer science, and engineering fall into the 1-2 year category.

Below are examples of learning institutions with typical and atypical completion times for their master’s in physics.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences (Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois) has a Master of Science in Physics. The program prepares students for further academic advancement into a Ph.D. program. There are two options: the Standard Path and the Broad Path. The average time for the former is 4.5 quarters and five quarters for the latter. Translated into months, the Broad Path typically takes 15 months, and the Standard takes 12.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) has a long and reputable history in physics, as it awarded its first Ph.D. in this discipline in 1899. The physics department has flourished over the years into an impressive list of research groups. Examples are:

  • Astrophysics
  • Nuclear
  • Plasma
  • Subatomic
  • Quantum
  • Atomic, Molecular & Optical
  • Cosmology
  • Biophysics

UW’s Master of Science in Physics has two choices depending on your ambition to pursue a doctorate. The Research option is only available for Ph.D. candidates. This program requires completing a directed master’s project and thesis in the student’s interest area, including 30 credits of graduate work. Also, you must pass the qualifying examination at the master’s level.  The school does not state a timeframe for the research program, but the other choice, the Quantum Computing option, can be finished in one calendar year.

The 30-credit program provides students with a foundation in quantum information, quantum computing, quantum theory, quantum gates, algorithms, and quantum error correction. Graduates will have the knowledge and skills to enter careers as researchers or program managers in a quantum computing or quantum technologies enterprise. Degree earners may also proceed into a physics doctoral program or related area.

The College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia has an M.S. in Physics with the standard two academic years to finish. Applicants for this program require a bachelor’s degree in physics or a related field from an accredited American school. Your undergraduate studies must include classical mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical physics, and quantum mechanics – all with a 3.0 average.

The University of Washington Seattle has a customizable Master of Science in Physics for students who prefer a part-time format. By taking one class per quarter, you can reach graduation in 36 months. There is the option to take more courses each quarter to complete the 36 credits sooner than three years. Students will need to attend evening classes at the UW Seattle campus.

In no hurry to earn a master’s degree? Then the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences online M.S. in Applied Physics is a possibility. The non-thesis 45 units’ program is available to suit part-time students who may take 3-5 years to complete. Five years is the maximum time allowed to meet the 45 units’ requirement.

The above material focuses specifically on physics. Some individual’s interests may lie in specialties under the banner of physics, like health physics. Again, the two-year completion time is typical. For example, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University (LSU) has a 33-credit M.S. in Health Physics. The average completion is two years for the total credits, plus six hours of thesis research. The program concentrates on radiation detection, instrumentation, radiation biology, and nuclear science pertaining to clinical healthcare and research.

LSU offers a similar graduate degree in Medical Physics that centers on many of the M.S. in Health Physics topics. This 36-credit program takes three years to complete the required credits, clinical work, and a minimum six-hour thesis. Graduates will be qualified to pursue a career as a professional medical physicist in a clinical setting or research laboratory. The former requires the completion of a medical physics residency.

Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago has a Master of Science in Health Physics consisting of only 31 credits. The school does not publish a completion timeframe, but conceivably, you could reach graduation in 18 months.


As stated in the first paragraph, several factors influence the completion time for a master’s degree. Part-time versus full-time, campus or online, general physics or a specialty, curriculum, and personal preferences, such as employment, affect the months of study to earn your degree. However, there are choices to accelerate the degree or drag it out for up to five years.

Additional Resources:

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What undergraduate degrees, other than in Physics, will help my acceptance into a Physics Master’s program?

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