The decision to go to graduate school involves, at least in my experience, a realistic evaluation of how much time you have on a daily basis to dedicate to a program. The nice thing about master's programs in general, and marriage and family therapy programs in particular, is there tends to be more of an awareness that master's-level students are more likely than undergraduates to have very busy lives--often involving full-time employment and/or families.
This means that master's programs are offered in a wide variety of format options. Whatever schedule you want, there is a program for you. Want to get in and out in the least amount of time? You can pick a full-time program with a daytime schedule that will most likely get you graduated in two years. You could also pick a full-time program with a choose-your-own schedule and just pile on as many classes as you can handle.
A caveat here--when I first realized that CSUN's schedule involved classes from 4pm-10pm two days per week, and was still somehow a full-time program, I felt like I was getting away with something. I thought it would be so easy to work during the days and just go to school a couple nights a week. LOL. Let me just say, a full-time class load means a full-time workload, even if you're not PHYSICALLY in class every day. You've been warned. (If you want to read more about what my classes were like in my first semester, check out my post on that here.)
If you're trying to juggle a master's program with other life commitments, like work or family, you may want to consider a truly part-time program. These programs can often get you graduated in 4-6 years (be careful, though, because this generally increases your overall tuition amount). You may only take one or two classes at a time. A evenings/weekends-only program may give you the flexibility to maintain your day job while still getting your master's.
Finally, there are always online programs to consider. There's, of course, wild debate about online programs. Some people think they're every bit as good as brick-and-mortar programs, but others make the (well-made, IMO) point that if you're trying to get training in a profession that is ALL ABOUT FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION, why would you choose training that's online? It's truly hard to tell what the reputation of online schools is--I don't have much evidence to show, unfortunately, but like all careers, it seems there is some sort of stigma attached to degrees from online universities. And bear in mind, even with an online program, you MUST conduct in-person direct client-contact hours; these field placements are usually obtained in the student's local community.
From my personal experience, I want to say that perhaps the most invaluable part of my education so far has been getting to know my classmates. They are truly wonderful people who will be friends and colleagues for life. I feel like I'm building a very important professional (and personal) network that will be critical for my success in the future. I honestly don't think I'd have this opportunity in an online program. For more of my thoughts on why I think program location is an important factor to take into consideration when deciding on an MFT program, check out my longer post about that.
On MFT California, the site I created that catalogs MFT master's programs across the state of California, I've made an effort to make each program's format options clear. Let's take a look at some examples of the different formats you can choose from:
San Diego State University
At one end of the spectrum, you can attend a full-time program like SDSU. You can be finished with this program in only TWO YEARS, but it will need to be your main life priority while you're there. The program begins with online courses during the first part of summer, followed by day-long classes during the second part of summer. Then, they jump right into fieldwork (in addition to all other classes) in the fall. It's intense, but it also means you spend less time overall in a program. At a program that is affordable to begin with, that makes this program a pretty good deal--if you can afford to spend two years focused solely on school.
Antioch University - Santa Barbara
This program is much more amenable to the needs to working students. If you want a full-time course load, the AUSB full-time option involves class one day per week over 24 months of full-time study. Students can also opt to go at their own pace, taking as many or as few units as they desire--as long as they complete the degree in five years.
If you're interested in an online program, NU makes it very easy to start. Students can enroll and begin classes almost any time (start dates occur several times per month). NU is COAMFTE-accredited (read my post on accreditation to find out why--and if--that should matter to you). The only thing students need to do in-person are their client contact hours, and the thing I appreciate about NU is that they make sure students understand how this works at the point of applying to the school; this ensures that students are not caught off-guard when they realize they will be responsible for procuring their own fieldwork site (read more about how that works in my post on fieldwork).
This program exemplifies all possible format options. On the one hand, Pepperdine offers a full-time format--students attend the Malibu campus during the day and the course schedule is lockstep and predetermined. A flexible part-time program is also available; not only are classes offered during evenings and weekends, but they are offered at three different campuses across the Los Angeles area, and students are allowed to take courses at any or all of these locations. Finally, Pepperdine even offers an online-only option. The drawback, however, is cost. Estimated total program tuition for the online-only option is $92,690 - $101,660, roughly the same as that of the full-time program tuition. The evening-format estimated total program tuition, however, is only $71,700 - $78,870.
Hope this post has helped clear up what sort of format options you have as an MFT graduate student.