How to Finish a Master of Education Degree in 3 Months or Less
On August 1, 2020, I began my Master of Education program through Western Governors University. 78 days later, on October 17, 2020, I submitted my final capstone project and completed all of the requirements for my online degree.
Yes, it is possible to get a regionally accredited (this is the highest level of accreditation) master's degree in under 3 months. And, now that I’m done, I know it’s possible to go even faster.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly how the degree program worked, how long each class took, how much the master's degree cost, and a handful of other key takeaways to help other aspiring (and current) students succeed.
Why I Chose Western Governors University
I’m one of those weird people who has always loved school. The smell of new supplies on the first day, the odd quirks of your favorite teachers, the rush of excitement and anxiety you get right before a test – I love all of it.
I completed my bachelor's degree in 2012 and my first master's (in religion) in 2016. Since then, I worked in higher education and eventually transitioned into writing full-time. A mix of both personal and professional events, which were magnified by the pandemic, led me to want to go back to school.
But I didn’t want to do it the same way I had in the past: by accruing thousands of dollars of debt, chaining myself to a multi-year commitment, and blindly hoping that the return-on-investment would be worth it.
I wanted something faster, cheaper, and that would clearly benefit my career. I remembered, from my time working in college settings, that there were organizations challenging the status quo by offering innovative solutions. So, I got to work researching and soon found exactly what I was looking for.
WGU is a university based in Salt Lake City, Utah. It founded in 1997 by a collection of U.S. governors who were dissatisfied with the current educational system. Their alternative was built upon a competency-based model. They define this model as follows:
“What is competency-based education? Simply put, it measures skills and learning rather than time. Students progress through courses as soon as they can prove they’ve mastered the material, rather than advancing only when the semester or term ends. If a student can learn faster, spend more time on schoolwork, or lean on knowledge they already have from previous work or school experience, they can accelerate.” (Source)
Early on, there was some debate concerning the effectiveness of this model. However, recent studies, such as this one published on Forbes, have shown conclusively that students who learn through competency-based education are equally, if not better, prepared for the workforce than their traditionally-educated peers.
The opportunity to accelerate my studies using their model was the primary reason I chose WGU. Acceleration allows you to not only complete the degree in less time but also for less money since they charge tuition by term rather than by individual courses.
Their faculty and staff makeup is also unique.
- Every student is assigned a mentor – a real human to help answer your questions, keep you on track, and troubleshoot any challenges.
- Every course has a collection of professors – you will primarily interact with only one, but you can access any of them at any time (this is especially great when you need help and your professor is off work that day).
- Every assignment is graded by a team of evaluators – so your professors can focus on teaching and you can trust that the grades are as objective as possible.
To sum up, here are all of the reasons that led me to choose Western Governors University for my Master of Education degree.
- It would only cost $3,385 if I could finish in one-term.
- I could finish quickly.
- There was no GRE required for my degree program.
- As far as online schools go, WGU was rated very positively.
Master of Education Degree by the Numbers
The competency-based education model felt like a challenge to me, so I decided to measure a few key workload statistics during my program. As I’ve mentioned this to other people, the one number they’ve been most interested in was the total hour commitment from start to finish.
People are used to hearing how long college degree take to complete in terms of years. I wanted to answer that question in terms of hours.
Total hours to complete M.Ed. at WGU: 264.5
On average, I took every weekend off except for making minor edits to a submission or responding to email. This left me with approximately 53 workdays during the 78 days it took from the start of the term until when I submitted my final capstone project.
During those 53 days, I worked an average of 5 hours per day exclusively on WGU material. It’s worth noting that I am a very focused worker. You have to be when you choose to go the self-employment route. When I say 5 hours of schoolwork, I don’t mean two hours of reading, an hour of writing, and two more hours of random distractions.
Every time I took a break, I stopped the clock. Consequently, 5 hours a day of schoolwork translates to roughly 6.5-7 hours of time per day (lunch breaks, phone calls, miscellaneous chores, etc.).
Hours Spent Per Course
Next, here is a breakdown of those hours by individual course. The Master of Education in Instructional Design program I chose consisted of 13 courses covering the topics of instructional design, educational research, and measurement and evaluation.
The number of hours by course:
Foundations of Instructional Design (IDC1) – 27
Instructional Design Analysis (JNT2) – 18
Issues in Instructional Design (JOT2) – 16
Instructional Design Production (JPT2) – 18
Foundations of Measurement and Evaluation (MEC1) – 16.5
Issues in Measurement and Evaluation (JQT2) – 8.5
Evaluation Methodology and Instrumentation (JRT2) – 12.5
Evaluation Process and Recommendation (JST2) – 7.5
Research Foundations (C224) – 31.5
Research Design and Analysis (C226) – 12.5
Research Questions and Literature Review (C225) – 32
Research Proposals (C227) – 12.5
MED, Instructional Design Capstone (C636) – 52
As a point of comparison, my first master’s degree was a MA in Religion and consisted of 21 courses for a total of 57 credits. The program was specifically built to function as a pre-PhD onramp. However, I believe if I had the opportunity to accelerate through that program, I would have seen a similar trend in hours per course spent. The only difference is that those courses were spread over a 2-year window.
Total Writing and Reading Statistics
As far as the amount of reading and writing that was required for each class, I didn’t do as great of a job capturing the data for every individual course. However, I do have some approximate numbers for the degree as a whole.
Total number of pages read for M.Ed. at WGU: 1,933
Total number of pages written for M.Ed. at WGU: 176
The pages read number does not count all of the course material read through the online LMS. I simply tracked textbook pages, supplementary materials, and research articles I read throughout the program. If I kept better track of everything, I’d estimate that number would be closer to 3,000.
As for pages written, this was the total number of written pages I submitted for the various tasks throughout the program. It doesn’t include the 300+ pages of written notes I took (seriously, I filled up 3 complete 100-page spiral notebooks with handwritten notes), the small amount of text I wrote for slide/presentation-related tasks, or the emails and discussion posts.
At this point, you might be asking, “But how well did you do by moving that quickly?”
At WGU, they occasionally give out Excellence Awards (EA) for submitted assignments which display an “exceptional nature” of quality. And they are rare.
When I ran a poll in two of the WGU-affiliated Facebook groups only 19% of Teachers College students received 2 or more awards during their degree program. That number dropped down to only 9% for students enrolled in my specific Instructional Design program.
WGU's official claim on these awards is, "only one to two percent of eligible student submissions are recognized, making receipt of an EA quite an honor." (Source)
This data makes the 2 Excellence Awards I received a little more enjoyable and provides evidence that you can both move quickly and produce high-quality work.
Resources for Future WGU Students
My hope is that some of the information in this post might be used to help, motivate, and guide future WGU students. Especially those enrolled in the MEDID program.
First, let’s spell out the minimum number of hours you would have to dedicate over a 6-month period in order to complete your Master of Education degree in only 1-term and for under $3,400.
- Let’s say you enroll on January 1st and have until June 30th to complete your program.
- This would give you approximately 124 workdays or business days.
- If the degree took the same number of hours as it did for me, you would only have to commit 2.1 hours per day for 6 months in order to reach your goal.
- If you chose to only work on weekends, you would have 52 days and would need to dedicate 5.1 hours per day to finish.
No matter how you break it down, this degree is 100% doable within 1-term for a disciplined student.
Next, here are some miscellaneous links I found VERY helpful.
- WGU’s Capstone Archive – a list of excellent capstones by previous students to show you what the standards are.
- Free APA Citation Generator – it’s easy to use, free, and I never got dinged on my APA for any tasks.
- Title Capitalization Tool – I didn’t use this until my literature review and capstone, but it was honestly very helpful.
Now, a few tips for those looking to accelerate.
- As soon as your course opens, schedule a call with your instructor. Every 15-minute call I had easily saved me 2-3 hours of work.
- Call your mentor before you ask a question in a Facebook group. Although I met some incredible humans through the groups, mentors are there for their expertise (as well as their ability to actually solve problems on your behalf).
- Buy your textbooks through Print on Demand. I prefer to read the text in paperback form + they only cost $25-30 for each textbook + they will function as great reference materials once you’re in your career.
Overall, my experience at Western Governors University was excellent. The staff were knowledgeable and kind. The instructors were not only experts in their fields but also able to clarify the information effectively. And the students were motivated professionals with clear career goals.
Going forward, I plan to use my degree to open new writing opportunities in the field of learning and development.
If WGU ever does step into the doctorate game, as the space is currently undergoing radical experimentation to keep students interested, I would seriously consider pursuing that option.
Thank you for reading all the way to the end of this article. Good luck on your educational journey!