By OPD Staff
Looking to take that first step and earn an online Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies? If so, you’re in luck! These days, more and more two-year colleges are offering associate’s degree programs in paralegal studies, legal assistant studies, and paralegal technology. Not only are these offered programs incredibly affordable, they’re also conveniently offered entirely online!
Below, we’ve ranked the top 10 most affordable online Associate’s in Paralegal Studies degree programs for 2021. We searched more than 50 applicable programs, then used each program’s official website to determine total program cost. Finally, the programs were ranked in order of estimated total cost. The top 10 cheapest associate’s degrees in paralegal studies are profiled below.
Note: Tuitions listed below represent the estimated program cost for an out-of-state student. While an out-of-state student almost always pays more than an in-state student, those who pursue degrees online tend to live somewhere other than the state in which the college or university is located. If you are a resident of one of the states listed below, know that your estimated program cost may be less. Always check the college’s official website for the most up-to-date information. All numbers are accurate as of November 2020.
#1. Clovis Community College
Online Associate in Applied Science in Legal Assistant Studies
Clovis, New Mexico
Estimated Program Cost: $3,564
The online Associate of Applied Science in Legal Assistant Studies can be completed in just five semesters. The student population is 3,317 and the student to faculty ratio is 16 to 1. The curriculum includes courses like litigation, criminal law, family law, bankruptcy, corporate law, and contract law. Graduates from this program have worked for private law firms, corporations, government, and various legal aid services.
#2. Holmes Community College
Online Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Technology
Estimated Program Cost: $6,090
Mississippi-based Holmes Community College offers an online AAS in Paralegal Technology. The curriculum is based on the National Associate of Legal Assistants, and includes coursework in legal research, family law, and law office management, among other important topics. Uniquely, students are also prepared for the certified paralegal exam through a special problem-solving course.
#3. Tallahassee Community College
Online Associate in Science in Paralegal/Legal Studies
Estimated Program Cost: $6,453
Tallahassee Community College has an open admission policy, and 12,200 students with a 25:1 student to faculty ratio. Tallahassee Community college states that their courses for the paralegal program are offered primarily online, so make sure you check with the school that the courses you need will be available when you need them. Students in this online paralegal degree program will take courses like the law of business, introduction to the legal process, legal research, and wills, trusts, and probate.
#4. Yavapai College
Online Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal Studies
Estimated Program Cost: $8,723
The paralegal studies AAS degree at Yavapai College is designed primarily for students seeking direct employment upon completion. Students wishing to transfer into a paralegal bachelor’s program will need to create a specialized plan with their academic advisor. Yavapai College has an undergraduate population of 7,282 and a 19 to 1 student to faculty ratio. The online AAS in paralegal studies degree includes courses like ethics and law, contracts, civil tort litigation, and legal computer applications.
#5. Hutchinson Community College
Online Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal
Estimated Program Cost: $9,408
Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas offers an online AAS in Paralegal. With 37% of its students enrolled in online programs, Hutchinson is no stranger to distance education. The online associate’s degree includes coursework in legal research, litigation, and legal ethics, among other things. Classes begin monthly, and are flexible for the busy student.
#6. Rio Salado College
Online Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal
Estimated Program Cost: $16,000
Rio Salado College has a student population of 18,636, and a student to faculty ratio of 29 to 1. The online paralegal program offers over 40 start dates, allowing students to begin class on almost any Monday during the year. Students will be eligible for internships once they have completed the core curriculum. Coursework includes classes like ethics, law foundations, fundamentals of litigation, and writing.
#7. National Paralegal College
Online Associate of Paralegal Studies
Estimated Program Cost: $17,507
National Paralegal College is an online paralegal school offering a variety of degree programs, including an Associate of Paralegal Studies. The 60-credit program includes coursework like Introduction to the Law, E-Discovery, and White Collar Crime, to name but three. Though the curriculum sufficiently prepares a student to begin a career as a paralegal, it also makes for a stepping stone into a bachelor’s degree program. Payment plans, with interest, are also available.
#8. Western Piedmont Community College
Online Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal Technology
Morganton, North Carolina
Estimated Program Cost: $17,956
While Western Piedmont Community College does require students to meet face to face for some classes or activities, students can do so through a live video conference. However students local to the program can choose to attend these sessions in person meaning they get the best of both worlds. Despite having a very accessible open admission policy, Western Piedmont Community College as a student population of just 1,789, and a fantastic 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio.
Estimated Program Cost: $19,740
Cerro Coso Community college has 5,136 undergraduate students, and a 26:1 student to faculty ratio. Cerro Coso has an open admission policy. The online Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies includes courses like legal research and writing, civil litigation and procedure, California and federal civil procedure legal forms, worker’s compensation law, and personal injury and tort litigation.
#10. Liberty University
Online Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies
Estimated Program Cost: $23,400
A whopping 90% of Liberty University students are pursuing degrees via the school’s top-ranked online program. Liberty’s online A.A. in Paralegal Studies consists of 60 credit hours and classes like civil practice, legal writing, and legal research. By the end of the program, students will have learned and practiced enough to prepare them for a successful career as a paralegal or legal assistant.
The Role of a Paralegal
Paralegals work under lawyers and perform legal work delegated to them by the lawyer. The lawyer is responsible for the legal work done by the paralegal. Tasks performed by paralegals
are quite varied and can include helping prepare cases, organizing files, drafting documents, conducting legal research, and even investigating the details of cases. Paralegals work in a wide variety of contexts including law firms, courts, corporate legal departments, and government agencies. The work performed by a paralegal can depend on the area of the legal system in which they work. You may see organizations or schools refer to paralegals or legal assistants. These two terms are interchangeable. The American Bar Association uses the same definition for both paralegals and legal assistants.
Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree? What’s the Difference?
Bachelor’s level paralegal programs can pick up where associate’s programs left off. They often provide courses that delve into topics with a more advanced approach and perspective. Another benefit of the bachelor’s degree is the increased level of specialization available. Law firms often deal in niche areas of the legal system. These firms will naturally seek paralegals who have specialized experience or education that matches the firm’s niche. The specialization and advanced knowledge of the field can give students an edge in the competitive job market.
Another thing all firms seek is experienced paralegals. While many associate’s level programs offer an internship opportunity, this is often minimal if it is offered at all. Bachelor’s programs often offer additional internship opportunities to students, increasing the amount of experience they gain in the field before seeking full-time employment.
Paralegal Career Outlook and Earnings Information
The Bureau of Labor Statistics places the median pay for paralegals at $49,500 per year. An associate’s degree is still the typical entry-level education requirement. Bachelor’s degrees have many benefits, but an associate’s degree is still all you need to begin your career. The BLS estimates that there are currently 279,500 people employed as paralegals and expects this number to grow 8%, adding an estimated 21,400 jobs by 2024 which is as fast as the national average. The BLS expects that competition for jobs will be strong, and emphasizes the importance of the competitive edge possessed by formally trained and experienced paralegals.
Paying for Your Paralegal Degree
Community colleges tend to be quite affordable, which gives students loads of options when considering how to pay for the degree. Federal grants and student loans obtained through a FAFSA application is likely the most standard way of paying for the degree. In some cases programs are so affordable a single grant from FAFSA can cover the cost of both tuition and books. This means with a couple grants or loans it’s even possible in some cases cover living expenses while in school. Many states also offer resident students financial incentives to attend community college in the form of scholarships and grants. So don’t neglect the state-level resources, they can save you from having to take out federal loans. There are also, of course, academic scholarships available to those who have a solid GPA in high school or achieve and maintain a good GPA throughout their time at the community college.
Why Community Colleges are a Great Place to Earn your Paralegal Degree
First and foremost, while many 4-year universities offer associate’s degrees, they are also much more expensive than community colleges. Indeed it is often the case that community colleges have lower tuition for out-of-state students than four year public universities for in-state students. Another benefit of starting with an associate’s degree at a community college, even if you plan to earn your bachelor’s degree, is that earning the associate’s in two years allows you to begin working full-time or part-time as a paralegal while you complete your bachelor’s degree. You also complete all your initial education for the first two years, including many general-education courses at a much cheaper rate than a four-year school. Community colleges are a great way to keep your costs low, and enable you to start working as a paralegal as soon as possible.