Part-time graduate programs are popular at law schools and business schools, but are not common in other graduate fields. This is surprising since part-time study offers many benefits, such as:
- allowing students to further their education while working full-time
- reducing the financial burden by distributing costs over a longer period of time
- allowing students more flexibility in scheduling, which is helpful if a student has children or health issues
- permitting students to participate in other activities that full-time students would not have time for
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a part-time program is the ability to gain work experience in your area of interest while you are getting your degree. Obviously having work experience in your desired field greatly benefits you when applying for jobs after graduation, and, since employers view a part-time degree the same as a degree earned through full-time study, the additional time needed to earn your part-time degree won’t adversely affect you as you look for post-graduate employment.
That’s not to say that there aren’t potential drawbacks to a part-time program. Certainly, the more you divide your time between various pursuits the more likely you are to become overworked or distracted from your academic responsibilities. Furthermore, part-time programs take longer to complete, thereby delaying potential increases in income associated with completing a masters program. So if your situation necessitates a part-time program, you must seriously consider whether you can manage your professional career, personal life, and academic duties, and whether the invested time and money are worth it in the long-term.
Education and Engineering programs have the most part-time enrollees, and the many students in part-time programs are either employed in, or have work experience in, a position related to the field of study in question. In fact, the majority of part-time programs will outline specific requirements that candidates must meet prior to applying for (or at least completing) a certain program. For example, Harvard’s Education Masters Part-Time Program application includes several stipulations:
A limited number of students may enroll at HGSE in a Master's program on a part-time basis...Criteria for granting part-time study include child-care responsibilities, work related to study, health, and financial need. Applicants must include a brief statement with their application indicating why they are requesting part-time study.
While some programs like Harvard’s Education Masters program offer part-time enrollment to only a few students, other programs have significantly more part-time students than full-time students. For instance, Columbia’s Teachers College recently reported over 1,350 full-time students and over 3,300 part-time students. And while Columbia is on the high end when it comes to part time students, there are many programs that have nearly equivalent part-time and full-time enrollment numbers.
Perhaps the most important point to take away from this discussion is that there is a tremendous amount of variability in part-time programs, both by school and area of study. So before deciding whether or not you would like to participate in a part-time program for your masters degree, you should check with individual schools in which you are interested to better understand the specific restrictions, requirements, and potential benefits associated with the various programs offered.