Welcome to the Online Paralegal Degree Center! Our goal is to help to learn what you need to know about getting a paralegal degree or certificate and launching your career in this growing field.
If you are detail oriented and interested in the law, and if you envision a career that is challenging and rewarding, consider the paralegal field. While many individuals enter the field with a paralegal certificate, others pursue higher learning in the form of associate’s, bachelor’s, and even master’s degrees. Others use paralegal experience and education as a stepping stone to a law degree and a career as an attorney.
Entry into the field can begin with a paralegal certificate. This certificate is issued following successful completion of a brief course of study and can be achieved in as little as 15 months. The certificate also allows for entry level access to the legal profession, including corporate or government agency work. A great benefit of a paralegal certificate is that it provides a foundation that will help you to advance in both educational and professional pursuits. According to many sources, the average cost to obtain a paralegal certificate is $1,700 to $1,900.
Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
An associate’s degree in paralegal studies is generally completed in two years. An associate’s degree can also provide the foundation for further academic study, including a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. An associate’s degree from an ABA approved school can cost $20,000.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
A bachelor’s degree typically involves four years of study, or two additional years beyond an associate’s degree. This degree provides for a greater range of career opportunities and higher salary. A bachelor’s degree is a must for those who want to pursue a master’s in paralegal studies. It is also a good choice for individuals who are interested in pursuing a law degree. A four-year bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies can cost upwards of $100,000 or more.
How to Find the Top Online Paralegal Degree and Certification
There are several factors to consider when searching for the best online paralegal degree or certification program. If you can, consider a program that’s approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). These programs are held to a high standard, and graduates can be highly sought-after by employers. (Note that because ABA approved programs require face-to-face interaction between students and instructors, online-only programs cannot be ABA approved.) Make sure the program offered is a quality program that is frequently updated to meet the real world demands of the marketplace. Evaluate the resources available to enrolled students, including access to library resources, instructors, and career placement services. Rigorous programs will require some type of practical assignments, along with general education requirements in math and science. Also, inquire about the school’s status in major ranking reports such as U.S. News and World Report. As a starting point, see our selection of the top online paralegal degree programs.
Choosing an accredited institution is important on a number of levels. First, schools that are accredited hold themselves to a higher standard of education. Second, your credits are more likely to transfer in the event that you change institutions or go on to pursue a higher degree. Third, employers tend to value degrees from accredited institutions more highly.
Careers and Salaries for Individuals With Paralegal Education
The job market opportunities for those with a paralegal certificate and degreed paralegals with certification is wide ranging. Paralegal skill sets are required in business management, associations, corporations and many government agencies.
In the U.S., two major organization offer paralegal certification: National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal job and employment growth rates are predicted to be at 18% over the next 7 years; this translates to better-than-average demand for paralegals. In nearly every type of corporation or agency, as with working in a law firm, you can expect to conduct research, analyze statutes, legal decisions, articles, or briefs, among many other tasks. For details about growth opportunities in specific industries, see our article What Is the Job Outlook for Paralegals?
Salary compensation for paralegal work is determined by level of degree and work experience. Other factors that may influence salary are the size of the company and its location in the country. Typically, the larger the company and the more urban the location, the higher the salary.
Average entry level paralegals can expect to earn $18,000 to $20,000 annually while those with an associate degree may expect around $30,000 per year. With a bachelor’s degree, median salary is $40,000. At the highest levels, individuals with a master’s degree and significant experience, a paralegal can expect to earn between $75,000 and $100,000 annually.
Perhaps the reasons to consider becoming a paralegal are the increasing salary compensations or the widely expanding job market. Maybe the idea of ease of career entry and the intellectual challenge are strong motivators.