Time/Course Commitment

The online format of distance degrees makes it possible for students to balance personal, professional, and family time commitments. The following information helps students find the right balance between coursework and other responsibilities. 

Time commitment and course load

The number of courses you take during a semester depends on your existing personal, work, and family commitments:

  • The majority of the students in online programs are part-time and take one or two classes per semester.

  • Full-time students typically take three or more classes per semester.

New part-time students should begin by taking one course in the first semester to acclimate to online learning.

MFCS program examples

  • MFCS - Comprehensive - If you take two courses per semester, you could complete the course work in three years. This master’s program is designed to be completed in three to five years.

  • MFCS - Family Financial Planning - Students typically complete the program in three to four years while employed full time (taking only one course each semester). Students who participate in full-time study can shorten the time to finish. The certificate program can be completed in less than two years.

  • MFCS - Gerontology - If you take two courses per semester, including summer, you could complete the course work in two years.

Completion requirements

Most students take 3-6 credits per semester. How long it takes to you complete your degree depends on your program requirements and the number of credits you complete each semester.

  • Most classes are 3 credit hours.

  • There are three semesters per year at ISU, beginning August, January, and May. Partner university academic calendars vary slightly. Students enrolled in GP-IDEA courses taught by faculty at a collaborating institution should check with their campus coordinators about specific course start dates for non-ISU courses.

The following are examples of requirements from the different MFCS programs:

  • Dietetics Master of Family and Consumer Sciences: 36 credits
  • Family Financial Planning Master of Family and Consumer Sciences: 42 credits
  • Family Financial Planning Certificate: 18 credits
  • Financial and Housing Counseling Certificate: 18 credits
  • Gerontology Master of Family and Consumer Sciences: 36 credits
  • Gerontology Certificate: 21 credits
  • Youth Development Master of Family and Consumer Sciences: 36 credits
  • Youth Development Specialist Certificate: 13
  • Youth Program Management and Evaluation Certificate: 13

Online format

On-campus vs. online degree

MFCS - Comprehensive. You can complete your degree entirely off-campus, but you may complete the program sooner by taking on-campus courses as well.

 MFCS specialization. MFCS - Dietetics, Family Financial Planning, Gerontology, and Youth Development degrees can be completed entirely off-campus; specializations in other areas can be completed by a combination of on- and off-campus courses.

GP-IDEA MFCS course format

Whether offered by ISU alone or by one of the GP-IDEA partner institutions, each institution uses an online learning platform to host courses. Student requirements vary by the course but typically include:

  • Reading
  • Discussion board/blogging
  • Online chats
  • Assignments
  • Online exams

You may have the opportunity to work in groups to fulfill some of these requirements. All courses are semester-based, and courses are released in units with specific deadlines throughout the semester.


Online programs don’t require you to report in at specific times during the week to listen to your professor lecture. 

GP-IDEA degrees

Some ISU online degrees, such as some MFCS degrees, are offered by GP-IDEA, which is a consortium of universities that have come together to offer fully online degree programs. These degrees may have different administrative requirements than other online programs offered by ISU alone.