By OPD Staff
If you’re looking to earn your online associate’s degree in paralegal studies (also called legal assistant studies, and paralegal technology) you’re in luck! Many community colleges around the country have begun offering their degree programs online and we’ve ranked the ten online associate’s-level paralegal degrees on the market.
The programs are ranked according to their in-state prices but in many cases they’re still very affordable for out-of-state students. After the ranking we’ll talk more about paralegal degrees, the paralegal profession, and what a great return on investment an associate’s degree in paralegal studies offers. There are over 50 online associate’s degrees in paralegal studies and here we rank the ten most affordable of all those programs.
#1. Clovis Community College
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. Cerro Coso Community College
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’s 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.
#3. Tallahassee Community College
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. Rio Salado College
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 multiple starts with 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 which includes classes like ethics, law foundations, fundamentals of litigation, and writing.
#5. Mohave Community College
Mohave Community College has an open admission policy, a student population of 4,230 and a 13:1 student to faculty ratio. Mohave College offers both online synchronous and online asynchronous options for earning the 63-credit AAS paralegal degree. Graduates from this program are qualified for numerous positions including court clerk, title examiner, trust officer, contract clerk, legal investigator, and law firm administrator.
#6. Yavapai College
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.
#7. Western Piedmont Community College
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.
#8. Itawamba Community College
In addition to the online AAS in paralegal technology, Itawamba Community College offers a 30-credit certificate of completion in paralegal technology designed for students who already have a degree in another field. Itawamba has a student population of 5,425 and a 17 to 1 student to faculty ratio. Students will take courses like real property, torts, law office management, legal research, and wills and estates. Students will also engage in a 3-credit paralegal internship.
#9. Columbus Technical College
CTC has a student population of 3,228 with a student to faculty ratio of 15 to 1 with an open admission policy. The 66-credit AAS in paralegal studies program includes a six-credit internship experience and courses like law office management, criminal law and criminal proceedings, introduction to law and ethics, constitutional law, and bankruptcy/debtor-creditor relations.
#10. Holmes Community College
Holmes Community College has 5,756 undergraduate students and a 19 to 1 student to faculty ratio. The associate of applied science degree in paralegal technology includes courses on bankruptcy, civil litigation, law office management, legal research, family law, real property I&II, wills and estates, and special problems in paralegal technology. The curriculum is based on the standards developed by the national association of legal assistants.
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 between 2014 and 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.