Best Paralegal Associate Degrees

Nov 05, 2021

What is a Paralegal Studies Associate Degree?

Earning an associate level degree in paralegal studies equips students with the knowledge and resources to assist other professionals in the legal field. Generally, paralegal studies associate programs can be completed in two years. Most paralegal studies programs award Associate of Applied Science degrees, though some programs may issue Associate of Science or sometimes Associate of Arts degrees. Most associate degree-seekers will work as paralegals, though students interested in applied legal research or working in other industries may also consider alternative careers for paralegals like positions as special library technicians or legal staffing recruiters. Others may choose to continue their education while gaining experience in the legal profession and eventually become lawyers themselves. In any case, degree-holders are well-situated for negotiating the challenges and rewards of careers in legal work.

The Best Associate Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies

School Tuition* Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Mt San Antonio College $2068 Yes Yes AP Credits
2 San Jacinto Community College $3456 Yes Yes AP Credits
3 Alexandria Technical & Community College $3226 Yes Yes AP Credits
4 De Anza College $3540 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
5 College of the Canyons $9750 Yes Yes AP Credits
6 West Valley College N/A No Yes N/A
7 Santa Rosa Junior College $4510 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
8 San Diego Miramar College $5190 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
9 Fox Valley Technical College $4840 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
10 Lake Superior College $3762 Yes Yes AP Credits
11 Lewis and Clark Community College $19120 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
12 Cuesta College $1561 No Yes AP Credits
13 University of Toledo $8449 Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
14 Dutchess Community College $4874 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
15 The University of Montana $18628 Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
16 Casper College $3390 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
17 Frederick Community College N/A Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
18 William Rainey Harper College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
19 El Camino Community College District $6377 Yes Yes AP Credits
20 Chippewa Valley Technical College $2552 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
21 Des Moines Area Community College $4572 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
22 Hutchinson Community College $4770 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
23 Lakeshore Technical College $2568 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
24 University of Alaska Fairbanks $6962 Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
25 Cuyamaca College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
26 Finger Lakes Community College $1304 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
27 Northeast Wisconsin Technical College $5654 Yes Yes AP Credits
28 Southwestern Community College $4190 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
29 Holmes Community College $5485 Yes Yes AP Credits
30 Virginia Western Community College $1380 No Yes AP / ACE Credits
31 Pasadena City College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
32 Western Technical College $1124 Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
33 Kirkwood Community College $1257 No Yes AP Credits
34 Union County College $15545 Yes Yes AP Credits
35 Sussex County Community College N/A Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
36 Madisonville Community College $1158 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
37 South Puget Sound Community College $3970 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
38 Idaho State University $5928 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
39 Nashua Community College $7250 Yes Yes AP Credits
40 Western Iowa Tech Community College $5378 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
41 Illinois Central College $4324 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
42 Northwest Mississippi Community College $4059 Yes Yes AP Credits
43 Hinds Community College N/A Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
44 Johnston Community College $5514 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
45 Roane State Community College $1330 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
46 Lee College $1220 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
47 College of Eastern Idaho $5328 Yes Yes AP Credits
48 Jefferson Community College $3252 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
49 Northern Michigan University $10758 Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get a Paralegal Studies Associate Degree?

Developing a background in paralegal studies positions students in a field with considerable job growth as well as many avenues for career advancement as paralegals. The need for more legal paraprofessionals is set to grow as law firms increasingly expand the roles and responsibilities of paralegals to more closely resemble those of entry-level attorneys. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals and legal assistants can expect to see a 10 percent increase in employment during the 2019-29 period.

Becoming a paralegal is also a less costly and time-intensive method for those interested in entering the legal field than pursuing a law degree. For those passionate about the law who are considering continuing their education, associate level degree-seekers can determine if specializing in legal language and knowledge is right for them through two years of dedicated coursework and learning the ins and outs of work in law firms. Professionals who are determined to work as paralegals may increase their attractiveness for upward mobility by earning a two-year degree rather than a certificate.

How to Choose a Paralegal Studies Associate Program

Prospective students of paralegal studies should consider accreditation one of the most important factors in determining what program to attend. Program accreditation will ensure that their paralegal education meets the standards of potential employers and that students have earned sufficient experience and knowledge to be comfortable as they begin or continue their careers as paraprofessionals in the legal field. The American Bar Association ABA) is the gold standard for paralegal program accreditation. Interested students should make certain that their program is fully accredited before pursuing further information.

Another important consideration for many students is how to begin their career once they have earned their degrees. Programs that feature internships can help develop a student's professional network while they familiarize themselves with the standard practices of work in a law firm. After graduation, students who have completed internships may have an advantage over competitors with less practical experience. Some programs may also include job placement or employment resources for graduates. Two-year programs are career oriented, and as such, many schools offer a wide variety of career support resources like demo interviews, hosting job fairs, or resume workshops. Prospective students should carefully research any potential internship or placement opportunities that their programs offer through school websites or by contacting the program department or their school's student outreach organizations.

Application and Admissions for Paralegal Studies Associate Degree Programs

Paralegal studies programs at the associate level are typically open admission, so there are fewer requirements for students seeking enrollment. In a general sense, students should have graduated high school or hold a General Educational Diploma (GED), though it is not always required. High school transcripts may be required, and any college-level coursework that students wish to use as transfer credits must be verified by providing official college transcripts. Students must usually complete some form of placement test through the school. Some schools may require SAT or ACT test scores, but they are not typically necessary for admission. Students should be prepared to complete an application, pay all relevant fees, declare a major, apply for financial aid and attend orientation to be fully enrolled in most two-year paralegal studies programs.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Paralegal Studies Associate Degree?

Most associate-level programs in paralegal studies can be completed in two years with full-time enrollment. Part-time enrollment may take longer. Most schools allow for part-time students to finish their programs in up to five years. Usually, a program will require the completion of 60-62 credit hours. Some coursework will satisfy the general educational requirements for a two-year degree such as general English coursework. In most programs, about half of the required hours will be legal coursework.

How Much Does an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies Cost?

Per credit hour cost will vary significantly according to the school. In-state or in-district students can expect to pay between $46 to $137 per credit hour in most programs. Attending an out of state school or even one out of district can greatly increase the cost of tuition. Students who are not local may pay between $135 to $335 per unit. At 60 credit hours, in-state students may expect to pay between $2,700 to $8,200 in tuition over the course of earning their degree. Students should also consider any additional costs such as textbooks and school supplies or parking. Some schools may also assess additional technology fees or registration fees.

Paralegal Studies Associate Degree Coursework

After earning a degree in paralegal studies, students will be able to understand and prepare legal documents, conduct legal research, perform investigative and discovery tasks and ably assist lawyers in the practice of law in various specialized fields. Students will also complete various general education requirements that may include math or science coursework, social sciences and English composition classes. Students may also have to satisfy multicultural or foreign language requirements as part of their general education for a two-year degree.

Common paralegal courses include:

  • Introduction to Legal Studies
  • Tort Law
  • Investigation & Discovery Coursework
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Court System & Court History Courses

How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies?

The most common career for paralegal studies graduates is paralegal work in law firms. In May 2020, the BLS reported that the average wage for paralegals was $56,610. In the same year, the top ten percent of earners were paid $85,160 while the bottom ten percent took home $32,900. Paralegals looking to increase their salary may prefer working in the federal executive branch or in companies. Those in the federal executive branch earned $72,930 on average while paralegals employed by companies and other enterprises reported an average wage of $74,390.

Some paralegal associate degree-holders may also choose to continue their education and pursue careers as lawyers, in legal staffing or as library technicians. Those who do may generally expect to earn more on average than those who finish their education at the two-year level.

Begin a Career as a Paralegal

As the role of paralegals broadens, greater opportunities arise for those who seek to enter the field. Paralegals assist lawyers in preparing and organizing legal documents, scheduling meetings and communicating with clients, conducting legal research, gathering evidence and preparing affidavits. While most paralegals seek work in law firms, some work in the corporate sector staffing in-house legal teams, and others find profitable positions with the government.

To become a paralegal, specialized paralegal training requirements typically begin with a sufficient legal education. Those who already hold a bachelor's degree may earn a certificate through an ABA-approved certificate program. Others may choose to earn a two-year degree in paralegal studies. An associate degree in paralegal studies is an excellent starting point for a career as a paralegal because it provides significant legal training in the shortest time frame, so students may begin their careers quickly and efficiently.

Begin a Career as a Lawyer

While becoming a lawyer presents a significant investment in time and money spent on continuing education, it can also be a profitable and compelling career for individuals dedicated to the legal profession. The BLS reported that the average salary for lawyers was $148,910 in May 2020. Paralegals who choose to become lawyers can offset the expense of law school by earning more as paralegals than the average student, and they can develop a professional network that may improve their opportunity for timely placement in a law firm of their choosing after graduation.

The first step to becoming a lawyer requires earning a four-year degree and then entering law school. Students may prefer earning degrees with associated majors such as pre-law, legal or paralegal studies, communication or English. Most law schools require students to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law students will complete law school with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and then may sit for their state's bar exam to practice law in their state.

What Is the Difference Between a Law Clerk and a Paralegal?

The differences between legal titles and responsibilities can sometimes be confusing. For many people, what law clerks versus paralegals do is not clear because the titles sound similar. Both positions require some of the same legal skill sets such as extensive legal research, the preparation of legal documents, maintaining a schedule for legal proceedings, working closely with other legal professionals and solid communication skills. However, these two titles represent two quite different careers with their own unique educational backgrounds, duties, challenges and benefits.

One of the primary differences between law clerks and paralegals is the field that they work in. Though both careers involve the legal system, law clerks usually work in federal or state courts while paralegals typically work for private firms. Law clerks typically work closely with judges while paralegals support the work of lawyers.

Law clerks also usually require more education than paralegals and may have graduated law school, especially for the most competitive positions in the federal court system. Prospective students interested in both positions should carefully consider the various differences between each role before determining which field is the right choice for them.

Certifications & Licensure for Paralegals

Armed with an overview of the paralegal profession, it is easy to see why many individuals are drawn to work as paralegals. As more individuals pursue paralegal positions, some candidates may choose to acquire greater professionalization of their skills in order to stand out to potential employers. One method to ensure a more attractive resume among competitors is to become certified as a paralegal.

In a general sense, becoming a certified paralegal requires meeting certain educational or experience requirements and taking an exam. Two of the most popular certification exams are the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the Certified Paralegal credential exam from the National Association of Legal Assistants. Both exams feature comprehensive multiple-choice sections, charge an exam fee, and require the exam-taker fill out an application to verify their educational or experiential credentials before taking the exam. Specific requirements for both exams may be found on their respective websites.

Accreditation for Paralegal Studies Associate Degree Programs

As stated earlier, the standard accreditation body for paralegal studies programs is the American Bar Association. The ABA currently accredits over 260 paralegal programs at the baccalaureate, associate, and certificate level. Students can use the Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs on the ABA website to search for approved programs by their institution, program director or program name. Prospective students looking for more information on ABA-approved programs in their area can also use the directory to search by city or state. Since accreditation is crucial to employers in the legal profession, it is best for students to ascertain that a program is fully ABA-accredited before committing to a degree plan.

What Are Other Paralegal Studies Degree Options?

Paralegal studies is a flexible career choice with many different avenues to beginning a career as a paralegal. Certificate programs in paralegal studies may be the choice of those who already hold bachelor's degrees while two-year programs are the most common entry point. There are fewer programs for paralegal studies after the two-year level. Postgraduate degrees in paralegal studies are uncommon since most graduate students interested in the law choose to pursue law degrees, and there are relatively few programs awarding bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies. Students after the two-year level may choose to pursue alternate but related degrees.

Bachelor's Degrees in Paralegal Studies

Though there are fewer programs that offer bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies, students pursuing a four-year degree may have an advantage in the career market over two-year degree holders since some employers prefer four-year degrees. Interested students who encounter difficulty finding an appropriate four-year degree program in paralegal studies may also choose to major in a legal studies program that offers a paralegal concentration. Earning a bachelor's degree in legal or paralegal studies typically takes about four years to complete.

Master's Degrees in Paralegal Studies

Paralegal studies programs after the four-year level are extremely uncommon. Students who are interested in continuing their legal education but do not desire to sit for their state's bar examination or practice as lawyers may choose to pursue a master's program in legal studies. Degrees are generally conferred as Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degrees and can take between 30 to 22 credit hours to complete after earning a bachelor's degree. Degree programs are relevant to non-lawyers who want to specialize their knowledge and expand their legal understanding and are not intended as pre-law coursework.

Doctoral Degrees in Paralegal Studies

There are no programs that offer doctoral degrees in paralegal studies. At the doctoral level, most students seek Juris Doctors (JD) and become practicing lawyers. PhDs in law or related topics are typically considered research degrees and are highly competitive programs. Students will likely have already earned a JD, but they may also be master's degree-holders. Since there are no doctoral programs for paralegal studies, postgraduate students may choose related degrees such as criminal justice, public policy, ethical and legal studies or the law.

Certificate Programs in Paralegal Studies

Certificate programs in paralegal studies allow those who have already earned a degree in another area of study to quickly gain access to a career as a paralegal. Length of program varies, but they are often between 24 to 40 credit hours and can be completed in one or two semesters with full course loads. To be considered, students must have completed a certain amount of college credit or earned a degree. Some programs may require a bachelor's degree, but many programs require associate degrees for admission.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Paralegal Studies Degrees

Students should always begin their search for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA identifies any federal aid sources that may assist students meet the financial burden of their education. Students can complete the application online and must provide pertinent information, such as financial, household and personal information. Dependent students will need to provide employment and financial information for their parents or guardians, so it may be best to complete the application with any relevant parties present. Students should also contact their school's financial aid department to identify any institution specific aid that may be applicable to them.

Paralegal studies students should also seek out paralegal specific scholarships through local or national paralegal professional associations. For instance, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) awards an annual scholarship of $1,500 to the winner of the Lex Scholarship Competition. Students must be enrolled in a school that has a Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) chapter, be in good academic standing, and submit a short answer essay. The runner-up is also awarded $500. Interested students should always apply early in order to increases their odds of receiving aid.

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