The paralegal profession is made up of people with all types of legal experience and educational backgrounds. There are many different ways to become a paralegal, which makes it possible for many people to pursue a career as a paralegal. Just as the people within the profession vary widely, so too do the options for paralegal schools. According to the American Bar Association, there are over 1,000 institutions across the United States which offer paralegal educational programs. Paralegal programs are offered by community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, online schools, and business schools. The wide variety of paralegal schools available gives the potential paralegal student a lot of options to choose from. It also increases gives you added convenience and flexibility in your efforts to obtain a degree.
Choosing Your Paralegal School
Once decided that attending paralegal school is your next step, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of choices you have for schooling. When weighing one school against another, there are many important things to consider. The list below includes some of the factors you may wish to consider.
- Admission requirements: some schools require a high school diploma, minimum GPA, or prerequisite courses.
- Type of degree offered: Different paralegal schools offer different degrees including certificates, associates, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees
- Length of Program: The time it takes to complete a program will depend upon the school and program type
- Online or In-Person: Some schools offer classes solely online while other require in-person attendance
- ABA Approval: Paralegal schools can voluntarily seek approval of the American Bar Association, while not necessary, it does provide assurance that the school will provide a quality relevant paralegal education
- Graduation Requirements: These vary between programs, but it may be helpful to consider the types of courses required. Some schools also require students to complete an internship before graduation
- Graduation Rate and Job Placement Statistics: While these statistics do not guarantee you a diploma or a job, it can help to attend a program with a high student success rate
With over 1,000 options available for paralegal education, it is important to identify which factors are most important to you so that you can find the best program that will help you succeed as a student.
Paralegal Schools Online
One of the most convenient and more affordable ways to pursue a paralegal degree is through an online paralegal school. Taking classes online can be especially helpful for the working professional who is pursuing a paralegal degree, as he or she can continue working during the day and take classes online during evenings and weekends. There are online programs available for paralegal certificates, paralegal associates degrees, and paralegal bachelor’s degrees.
There are different types of online courses. Some courses are faculty led, meaning that the pace is set by the instructor. These courses will have specific deadlines for exams and assignments. They may also include some live discussions or lectures, and may be a bit less flexible than self-paced courses. In a self-paced course, the material is available to you at your own pace. You watch lectures, complete, assignments, and take tests as you are able, and complete the course within your own timeline. Some paralegal schools offer both types of classes. It is important to discuss what will be expected of you with a representative from an online school before you enroll. If you are unable to participate in online discussions at certain times in the day, a school with more self-paced courses may be right for you. On the other hand, if you have trouble keeping yourself motivated to do your schoolwork, faculty-led courses may be more beneficial.
The convenience of online paralegal school is a very important factor. If you have a computer and reliable internet access, you have the tools you need to pursue an online paralegal degree. Online schools are especially useful if you have full-time commitments during the day such as work or family care and are unable to attend on-campus classes. Online paralegal schools all have differing application and enrollment requirements, so it is important to look carefully into what is required for your school of choice before making a final decision.
For more information about online paralegal schools and certification please visit “Online Paralegal Certificate.”
Types of paralegal degrees
Unlike attorneys, paralegals are not required to obtain a certain degree or pass a standardized test in order to work. Paralegals are able to obtain differing levels of education and several different types of degrees. Paralegal educational programs can take as little as 9 months (for paralegal certification) to as long as 4 or more years (for bachelor’s and master’s programs).
Certificate: The quickest paralegal education program to complete is usually the paralegal certification program. These programs are geared towards individuals who have completed a two or four year degree in the past in any field. They are designed to quickly provide the basics of a paralegal education in order to help someone gain the necessary education to begin the journey towards a career as a paralegal. They can be obtained through online education as well as through some community and junior colleges or business schools.
Associates Degree: Another possible option for paralegal school is an associates degree. These degrees are traditionally set up for a two year time-frame until complete. These are a good option if you do not have any prior college education and would like to finish more quickly than the typical four years. Assocaites degrees are offered online and on campus at many different schools.
Bachelor’s Degree: A Bachelor of Science degree in Paralegal Studies or Legal Studies is a good degree to obtain if you are interested in becoming a paralegal and also have the time and resources to complete your four-year degree. A Bachelor’s degree can offer more in-depth study into various legal fields and also provides opportunity to take a wide variety of classes.
Master’s Degree: For students who have already completed an undergraduate degree in any field and who are interested in gaining more advanced paralegal knowledge, a Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies, Legal Studies, or Legal Administration may be of interest. A master’s degree can provide the opportunity for more specialization in a particular legal field and can also give you a more competitive edge in the job market.
For more in-depth discussion of the different types of paralegal degrees available please refer to “Paralegal Studies”.
How long is paralegal school?
As mentioned above, the length that it takes you to complete your paralegal schooling program depends on many different factors. For instance, a paralegal certificate can be obtained in as little as 9 months. If you decided to obtain your bachelor’s degree and then continue on to get a master’s degree, it could take as long as a combined 6 years. The length of time will also vary depending on how much time you have to devote to schoolwork. It will go more quickly if you are doing full-time school while part-time programs will take longer. In the end, it depends on your resources, how much time you have available, whether you are schooling online or on-campus, and what type of degree you are working towards.
What is ABA Approval?
The American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary professional organization made up of lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals. The ABA has established its own set of guidelines for paralegal programs to “promote high standards of quality for the education of paralegals.” ABA approval is voluntary and not required in order for a school to offer paralegal instruction. Paralegal schools may seek ABA approval as a way to distinguish themselves from other schools and as a way to show that they offer a quality educational program. Just because a program does not have ABA approval does not make it a program of lesser quality because seeking ABA approval is completely voluntary on the part of the institutions which do so.
Paralegal Certificate vs. Certified Paralegals
One of the more common confusions when describing a paralegal’s status and education is confusing the difference between a certified paralegal and a paralegal certificate. A paralegal certificate verifies that a student has completed a particular paralegal education program. A certified paralegal is someone who has taken and passed a specific paralegal certification exam offered by several different paralegal associations around the country. Taking this is exam is completely voluntary and is not required to be a paralegal; it is simply a secondary validation of a paralegal’s knowledge and education.