If you’re hoping to become a paralegal, you might be surprised to know that a bachelor’s degree isn’t necessarily required. In fact, you may be able to become a paralegal without any completed degree at all.
Accelerated Paralegal Programs
There are multiple routes to becoming a practicing paralegal, including online associate degrees, paralegal bachelor degree online programs, and diploma and certificate programs.
You can click on the type of program you’re most interested in to jump to that section.
- Associate in Paralegal Studies
- Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
- Paralegal Diploma and Certificate Programs
Each of these options provides different career opportunities. Taking accelerated classes can help you get out into the workforce in half the time as a traditional course of study.
Associate in Paralegal Studies
An associate degree is typically a 1 or 2-year degree that can help prepare you to enter a job much quicker than a bachelor’s degree would.
Because it’s typically not as rigorous as a bachelor’s degree program, an associate degree program usually trains for lower-level positions. They can also help prepare you for completing a bachelor’s degree in the future.
You can earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree, or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies.
The difference usually means nothing more than how many science and math classes you’re required to take, and this is at the discretion of the school to decide. Any of these degree programs can help you get the basic training needed to be successful as a paralegal.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
In contrast to the 1 to 2-year training degree programs for an associate degree, a paralegal bachelor’s degree online program usually takes about 3 to 4 years to complete and is more comprehensive.
Bachelor’s degree programs may offer a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS).
Because a bachelor’s degree usually takes longer to complete, you may gain more experience writing mock trial briefs, conducting legal research, and acquiring the skills needed to become an effective paralegal.
You may also have more opportunities through a bachelor’s degree program to intern with law firms or shadow a paralegal or attorney.
One of the primary advantages of choosing a bachelor’s degree over an associate degree is the potential to continue on to law school.
Law schools typically require the completion of a bachelor’s degree for admission. If you have a desire to one day become an attorney, you’ll want to consider pursuing a paralegal bachelor’s degree rather than an associate degree. Doing so could help put you in a much better position to apply to law school in the future.
Paralegal Diploma and Certificate Programs
Online diploma and certificate programs are different from both paralegal associate degree online programs and paralegal bachelor degree online programs. They also differ from online legal secretarial training.
Certificate programs can help you become a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). These online programs are designed to give you the opportunity to take the CLA/CP exam and help you pass it.
Some certification and diploma programs only require a high school diploma or GED to get started.
Many others do require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (in any subject), computer competency, and/or English fluency.
Paralegal certificate courses are intensive courses that last about a year or less. The cost of these programs varies greatly, but students usually pay anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 for the entire program, including books and other materials.
Certificate courses are usually module-based courses, meaning students complete sections at their own pace. They are then assessed at the end of each module before moving on to the next.
A common procedure is that students are paired with instructors (practicing attorneys or instructors with law experience) that serve as graders and mentors. Even though these certificate programs are courses, students won’t really be in a class with others like they might in a paralegal bachelor’s degree online program.
After completing various assessments, which typically include demonstrations of knowledge and intensive writing activities, students can then go on to take the CLA/CP exam. If they pass, become certified paralegals.
Paralegal certification is not mandatory in the United States but is instead a voluntary way to demonstrate paralegal proficiency (similar to an accountant electing to become a CPA). This certification can look impressive on a resume and convey to an employer that you’re serious about your role as a paralegal.
What Exactly Does a Paralegal Do on a Given Day?
The primary role of a paralegal is to assist attorneys in doing their jobs efficiently and ethically.
According to Frankly Legal, employers look for paralegals that possess strong communication, writing, and research skills. They also look for those that are detail-oriented, self-motivated, organized, and able to handle deadlines and urgent demands with ease and sensibility.
Experience in the field and recommendations from former employers, advisors, and mentors can also help you land a paralegal position.
Paralegals are in charge of a variety of duties, including writing briefs and reports, conducting legal research, and organizing witness interviews and depositions. Whatever the lead attorney needs the paralegal to do, that’s what he/she will be assigned to do.
Paralegals move from the office to the courtroom to assist attorneys, so paralegal work can be very mobile and demanding.
Job Outlook for Paralegal Students
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals make on average about $52,920 per year, which is about on par with the national average household income. With a projected 12 % job growth, the field is growing faster than average, so there should be ample opportunities to secure a rewarding career.
The BLS also reports that paralegals are sometimes required to work overtime in order to meet demands. Because of this, the hours of a paralegal may not be as flexible as other career fields.
Other Career Paths
Training to become a paralegal can also help prepare you for other potential careers in the field of law and related fields. If you obtain a degree in Paralegal Studies, becoming a paralegal is not your only career option.
A paralegal associate degree online or a paralegal bachelor degree online can give you the necessary training to pursue a career as a:
- Law clerk
- Claims adjuster
- Occupational specialist
If for some reason, becoming a paralegal doesn’t work out, your investment and training can still help you pursue a variety of other careers.
What Is the Best Paralegal Certification Program?
Most students find that the best paralegal certification programs are those that provided sufficient preparation for the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP) exams through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
Other beneficial attributes to look for are online learning platforms, multiple start dates, and accelerated classes.
What Do You Major in to Become a Paralegal?
The most common bachelor’s level majors taken to pursue a career as a paralegal are:
- Criminal Justice
- Legal Studies
- Liberal Arts
- Paralegal Studies
Some employers may require a degree in paralegal studies, but there is typically no requirement to have one specific degree. You may even be able to become a certified paralegal without a college education.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Paralegal Degree?
That depends on the level of education you want and what type of program you enroll in. If you take accelerated classes, you may be able to finish your associate degree in about a year. You may be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in two years.
If you don’t take accelerated classes, both degrees usually take twice as long.
Are There Any Online ABA Approved Paralegal Programs?
The ABA approves the best online paralegal certificate programs but not fully online degrees. To qualify for ABA approval, an online class has to mirror that of an on-campus program. It needs to provide just as much instruction and has to have a way to ensure that students are completing their own work.
List of Schools Offering Accelerated Paralegal Programs Online
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited, offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format, and have accelerated classes that are 8 weeks or less in duration.
Anne Arundel Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies that is approved by the American Bar Association. This degree can help prepare you to enter the workforce as a paralegal as soon as you graduate. The program also offers a credit certificate for qualified students that have already obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
AACC is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Boston University’s paralegal certificate program is fully online and can usually be completed in just 14 weeks. It consists of seven 2 week modules that cover legal research, legal writing and reasoning, legal technologies, real estate law, business law, litigation, probate, and family law. Students have access to virtual office hours to speak with instructors.
Boston University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Bryant & Stratton College offers an online legal services degree that can help prepare you for work as a paralegal, legal assistant, or legal secretary. Classes include weekly discussions. Students can communicate with instructors via email and with other students via online forums. Online class sizes average 15 to 25 students.
Bryant & Stratton College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
At Central Texas College, you can earn a Paralegal/Legal Assistant Associate of Applied Science degree. The program can be completed online and typically takes 2 years to complete. Coursework covers legal research and writing, civil litigation, contracts, family law, and payroll and business tax accounting. Other topics of study include personal injury law and business correspondence and communication.
Central Texas College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Clayton State University has an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies degree program that is approved by the American Bar Association. A paralegal certificate program is also available for students who already possess an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Some courses are available in the evenings or online.
Clayton State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Columbus State Community College offers a Paralegal Studies AAS, as well as a Paralegal Studies certificate for those who already possess a degree. The curriculum covers the role of a paralegal, litigation practice and procedure, ethical considerations, legal research and writing, and how to prepare legal documents.
Columbus State Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Drury University’s 62-credit-hour paralegal program can be fully completed fully online. There are five start dates each year, and the average class size is just 15 students. There are no set times for classes, which makes it easier for students to complete coursework on their own schedule. The program includes a practicum with a practicing attorney, which can typically be completed locally.
Drury University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Eastern Kentucky University’s paralegal program is 100% online and includes accelerated 8-week terms. The program includes 9 credit hours of synchronous coursework, but the rest of the courses use an asynchronous format, which makes it easier for students to sign in on their own schedule. This program also provides online tutoring and job placement assistance.
EKU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The paralegal program at Edmonds College is an ABA-approved program that is designed to teach skills such as how to prepare legal documents and how conduct legal research. The program offers an associate degree and a paralegal certificate for those that already have a degree. Students can also apply for internships to gain real-world experience.
Edmonds College is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Franklin Pierce University offers an online undergraduate paralegal certificate for adult learners. The program consists of 10 courses, for a total of 30 credit hours. There are five start dates each year, and the program is designed to prepare students for the National Certification Exam. Coursework covers legal analysis, research, and writing, as well as different types of law.
Franklin Pierce University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Greenville Technical College has an ABA-approved paralegal program taught by licensed attorneys. The program offers an associate degree that requires 64 credit hours, as well as an accelerated program for those who already possess a bachelor’s degree. The accelerated program typically takes 1 year to complete and requires 46 credit hours.
Greenville Technical College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Herzing University has a Paralegal/Legal Assistant Associate degree program. The program can usually be completed in 2 years or less. It is available in a fully online format and on campus in both Atlanta and New Orleans. The program is designed to help prepare students for the Certified Paralegal Examination.
Herzing University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Liberty University’s Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies is a 2-year program that covers topics such as legal writing and research, civil practice, and criminal practice and procedures. It is 60 credit hours, and classes are each 8 weeks long. The program is 100% online and is designed for working adults.
Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Madisonville Community College offers both an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Technology and a Paralegal Certificate. The program can help prepare you for work as a paralegal in private law firms, corporations, or government agencies. It usually takes about 2 years to complete. Job placement assistance is available.
Madisonville Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Miami Dade College offers an Associate of Science Degree in Paralegal Studies. This is an on-campus degree program, but general education courses may be taken online. All students must complete an internship or cooperative education experience. The curriculum emphasizes a strong theoretical foundation in understanding law.
Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Middlesex Community College offers both a 60-credit hour Associate in Science in Paralegal Studies and a 27-credit hour Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies. Classes are available on campus and online in both synchronous and asynchronous formats. Both programs feature networking opportunities and virtual career panels.
Middlesex Community College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Nova Southeastern University offers a Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies. Classes are available on campus and synchronously online. Both types of classes are available in the evenings to accommodate working adults. The program is 9 credit hours and can usually be completed in a year or less.
NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Post University’s Certificate in Paralegal Studies program is available both online and on campus. Accelerated classes are available to help students earn their certificates faster. Class sizes are small and include in-depth discussions and collaborative problem-solving. The program covers how to perform legal research, legal document preparation, and client interviews.
Post University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Through its Global Campus, Purdue University offers several online programs for students who want to become paralegals. The options are an Associate of Applied Science in Legal Support and Services, a Bachelor of Science in Legal Support and Services, and a Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate. The curriculum focuses on practical legal knowledge, and there are multiple start dates available.
Purdue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
At Rasmussen University, students can earn either an online associate degree or a certificate to become a paralegal. The associate degree can typically be earned in as few as 18 months, and the certificate can usually be earned in as few as 8 months. Online students have access to campus support and resources.
Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Roger Williams University offers a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies, an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies, and a Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies. The certificate is available in specialty options to work toward becoming a healthcare paralegal or nurse paralegal. Classes are available in on-campus, online synchronous, and online asynchronous formats.
Roger Williams University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers an online Bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies that is 51 credit hours and an associate degree that is 45 credit hours. For those that already have a bachelor’s degree, they offer a paralegal certificate that is just 36 credit hours. Paralegal students at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods have a 90% employment rate after graduation.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Southern New Hampshire University offers a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies with a concentration in Law and Legal Process. This is an on-campus degree program that typically takes 4 years to complete. The program includes an accelerated option for undergraduate students to begin graduate-level coursework early.
Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
St Petersburg College has on-campus degree programs available for students who want to earn an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or bachelor’s certificate in paralegal studies. The associate degree usually takes 2 years to complete, and the bachelor’s degree usually takes 4. The coursework is designed to prepare students for the Certified Paralegal Examination.
SPC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Union County College offers an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies and a paralegal certificate for those who already have a degree. Both of these programs are on campus. The associate degree usually takes 2 years to complete and is 60 credit hours. The program includes a paralegal internship.
Union County College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The University of California—Berkeley offers a fully online certificate program in paralegal studies. It can usually be completed in 6 months to a year and allows students to complete courses at their own pace. The curriculum is designed to teach skills such as how to organize case files, communicate with clients, and perform legal research.
Berkeley is accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges.
The University of Georgia offers an online paralegal certificate that covers legal terminology, ethics, the litigation process, and the rules of evidence and civil procedure. Other topics of study include basic interviewing and investigation techniques, research skills, and how to prepare legal documents. Classes start bi-monthly.
The University of Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Massachusetts—Lowell offers a Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies that is available in online, on-campus, and hybrid formats. The program features a course on Computer Applications for the Legal Profession and a Paralegal Practicum to provide students with real-world experience. Students can also choose electives for a customized experience.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
The University of Phoenix offers an online Associate in Criminal Justice program that usually takes 2 years to complete. It is 60 credit hours, and the courses are just 5 weeks long. Students are typically part-time and take one course at a time. Coursework covers police theory and practice, juvenile justice systems, criminal courts, and corrections.
The University of Phoenix is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The paralegal studies program at the University of Providence is specially tailored for personnel enlisted in the U.S. Army or Air Force. Classes are fully online and flexible. This American Bar Association-approved program provides options to pursue either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.
The University of Providence is accredited by Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
How to Become a Paralegal
These are three steps you can take to pursue a career as a paralegal:
- Earn a degree in a related field and/or graduate from a paralegal certificate program
- Pass your Certified Paralegal Exam
- Interview with law offices
Becoming a paralegal doesn’t require much education, but the more you have, the more valuable you may be to future employers. You can start your career on the right foot by researching paralegal degree programs.
I hope you find this article helpful.