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Find the Right Paralegal Degree and Program

With such a variety of paralegal degree programs available, how do you go about picking the one that’s right for you?

The type of paralegal program you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as your current level of education, previous work experience, specialty interests, or the availability of part-time paralegal training. Here is a description of the different kinds of paralegal degree programs available.

Certificate Programs

The widest variety of paralegal training is available through certificate or diploma programs offered by business or vocational schools, community colleges, and some larger universities. Paralegal certificate programs can range from just three to 24 months, and some are intended for students who already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Shorter programs typically provide paralegal courses in law, legal research, and other fundamentals, while longer programs usually include both general education and paralegal courses, similar to associate’s degree programs.

Associate’s Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies

Associate’s degrees in paralegal studies can typically be completed in two years of full-time study. These programs are available at business or vocational schools, 2-year community colleges, and some 4-year colleges and universities.

According to a 2015 survey by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), 73% of paralegals have an associate’s degree. In some employment markets, this is considered the appropriate level of paralegal training for recent high school graduates or others without secondary degrees to enter the field.

Bachelor’s Programs in Paralegal Studies

Bachelor’s degree programs in paralegal studies are not as commonly available as associate’s degrees or certificate programs. However, even if 4-year colleges and universities near you do not have a major in paralegal studies, they may offer a minor in the area, or a concentration within another major, such as criminal justice.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations has adopted a policy urging future paralegals to obtain bachelor’s degrees (and their 2015 salary and job statistics survey cites 48% hold a bachelor’s degree), but many employers still consider associate’s degrees or certificate programs adequate preparation for entry level work as a paralegal, especially if the prospective employee has pertinent legal work experience.

Advanced Paralegal Degree Programs

If you can afford the time and money to obtain your master’s degree in paralegal studies, you will set yourself apart from many other paralegals seeking employment or advancement.

Master’s degree programs are offered by 4-year colleges and graduate schools, and are typically conferred as master of arts, or science degrees in law, legal studies, or legal administration. Master’s-level paralegal programs usually take a minimum of two years to complete.