When people think about the legal field, they often think first of high-powered attorneys. However, the industry needs more than lawyers. Paralegals and legal assistants research cases, prepare documents and provide other assistance to attorneys.
For those interested in law but not in a long stint in law school, paralegal degree programs may be the answer. Associate degree programs in the field can be completed in as little as two years. Those who pursue a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies are often done with school in four years. While not paid as much as lawyers, paralegals still have good income potential.
Even busy adults can pursue a career in the field. Many schools offer online paralegal degrees. However, before signing up for any program, make sure it's from a reputable and recognized school. To help find the best place to study -- on or offline -- keep reading to learn which are the top schools for paralegal studies.
Best Colleges for Paralegal Degree Programs
There are many ways to determine the best schools in the country. To find the best schools for paralegal studies, we used a methodology that looked at factors such as tuition, the ease of admittance and the number of on-campus and online degrees for paralegal studies that are available.
National American University has campuses throughout the country, but it considers its Sioux Falls location to be its most successful. It was established in 1974. Through its College of Legal Studies, students can take classes on campus, online or through a blended format combining the two.
Within the field of paralegal studies, both an associate and bachelor's degree is available. The programs have been approved by the American Bar Association, and graduates are eligible to sit for the Certified Legal Assistant exam offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants.
National American University - Sioux Falls scored sixth for the prominence of its paralegal studies program. It also scored high for its open admission policy, student support services and small student-faculty ratio.
Founded as Union Business College in Philadelphia, this institution accepted its first students in 1865. It would eventually be renamed for its founder, Thomas May Peirce, and expand its educational offerings to diverse fields including legal studies.
Peirce College is notable for offering the only bachelor's degree in paralegal studies in the Philadelphia area that is approved by the American Bar Association. There is also an online paralegal degree option for those who complete four foundational classes on-campus. Those who already have a bachelor's degree in another field can earn a certificate of proficiency in paralegal studies.
Of all the institutions surveyed, Peirce College has the most prominent paralegal studies program. That helped propel it to the number two spot on this list of best colleges for paralegal degree programs.
Although located in Kenner, Louisiana, this school is more commonly known as Herzing University's New Orleans campus. Herzing University prides itself on offering small class sizes and a personalized education. Its paralegal studies program is also one of the few in Louisiana approved by the American Bar Association.
Paralegal students at Herzing University - Kenner can choose from two degrees. Their options are a Bachelor of Science in legal studies or an Associate of Science in legal studies/paralegal. Those looking for online degrees for paralegal studies won't find them here though. These programs must be completed on campus.
Beyond offering one of its state's few ABA-approved programs for paralegals, Herzing University - Kenner pulled in strong scores for its program prominence and academic support services.
National American University has several entries on this list of top schools for paralegal studies. Those include its Independence, Missouri campus which comes in fourth on the list of best colleges for paralegal degree programs.
The Independence campus has been around since 1990 and serves the greater Kansas City metro area. Both on-campus and online classes are available, and students can earn either an Associate of Applied Science or a Bachelor of Science in paralegal studies at the school.
National American University - Independence ranks fourth for the prominence of its paralegal program. It also offers night and weekend classes, academic advising and placement services for graduates.
The Overland Park campus of National American University is another location with a solid paralegal studies program. It ranks eighth for the prominence of its program. What's more, at 9-1, it is tied for the lowest student-faculty ratio on this list.
As at other National American University locations, the Overland Park campus offers both an associate and bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Both programs prepare graduates to seek certification through the Certified Legal Assistant exam offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants or the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.
The paralegal degree programs at National American University - Overland Park provide both legal and technical instruction for work in the field.
Broadview University has been educating students in Utah since 1977. It started as The Bryman School before becoming Utah Career College. In 2010, the school evolved again to become Broadview University.
Its campus in West Jordan is one of the top schools for paralegal degree programs. Within the university's School of Business & Technology, students can choose from either an associate or bachelor's degree in the field. The programs aren't limited to Utah students either. Broadview University - West Jordan offers online paralegal degrees and those enrolled in the bachelor's degree program can finish in as little as 36 months by taking classes year round.
The university ranks ninth for the prominence of its paralegal program. It features an open admissions policy and an array of student support services.
Beckfield College has been an accredited career college since 1984. It serves students on campuses in Kentucky and Ohio as well as online. The Florence campus has the only paralegal program in northern Kentucky that has been approved by the American Bar Association.
Paralegal students at Beckfield College - Florence receive instruction from practicing attorneys and judges who are active in the field. The program also includes an externship to provide students with real-world experience. Graduates earn either an associate degree in paralegal studies, a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies or a post-baccalaureate certificate in paralegal studies.
For this analysis, Beckfield College - Florence ranked high for its open admissions policy, low student-faculty ratio and available student support services.
Another of the best colleges for paralegal degree programs can be found within the State University of New York System. The College of Technology at Canton -- more commonly called SUNY Canton -- offers diverse degree programs to more than 3,000 undergraduate students.
SUNY Canton is one of the schools offering online degrees for paralegal work. Its bachelor's degree in legal studies is among the college's signature online programs. Whether studying on the computer or on-campus, students will learn about legal research and writing as well as the basic principles of a variety of law practices. There is an internship option for those who want to gain real-world experience prior to graduation.
In addition to having a solid legal studies program, SUNY Canton also ranked high for its affordable tuition rate.
The Zona Rosa campus is the final location within National American University to make the list for best schools for paralegal degree programs. Located in the Kansas City metro area, National American University -- Zona Rosa has been open since 2005.
The school has rolling admissions and an open admittance policy which make it easy for people to begin working on their degree immediately. Within the field of paralegal studies, both an associate degree and a bachelor's degree are offered at the Zona Rosa campus. The curriculum includes legal research and writing, professional ethics and law office technology.
Its stellar graduation rate is one reason the school snagged a spot on this list. National American University - Zona Rosa has the ninth best graduation rate among all schools surveyed.
Clayton State University is the most selective school on this list, but students who are admitted get access to a quality paralegal program that has been approved by the American Bar Association. The school is also an excellent value, earning the third best rank for tuition among surveyed institutions.
The Department of Social Sciences within the College of Arts & Sciences administers the university's paralegal program. Students have three options: a bachelor's degree in legal studies, an associate degree in paralegal studies or a paralegal certificate. The certificate is only available to those who already possess a four-year degree or qualifying two-year degree.
Clayton State University is part of the University System of Georgia and has its campus in Morrow.
Paralegal Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Both two-year and four-year paralegal degree programs are intended to prepare students to assist in the work of attorneys. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes many employers prefer to hire those with a bachelor's degree.
Career Outlook for Paralegal Majors
Before committing to any field of study, it's important to know your job prospects after graduation. Here's a closer to look at the career outlook for common occupations pursued by graduates of paralegal degree programs.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants
|Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Paralegal Degree Programs
To help pay for their education, paralegal students may be able to apply for state and federal government aid. Many colleges and universities award their own aid packages as well. These may be based on a student's need, academic merit or a combination of the two. There are some national scholarship programs, such as the NFPA/Thomson Reuters award, for those studying to become a paralegal, and students may also find scholarship programs through regional and state paralegal associations.
Q&A with an expert
Why would you encourage someone to consider becoming a paralegal?
Paralegals play an important role in the delivery of legal services and [the job] offers high marks for job satisfaction, security, pay and benefits. Competition is high among law firms to deliver high-quality and cost-effective legal services. To meet this goal, many firms strategically deploy paralegals to supplant services provided by attorneys. With the specialization of the practice of law growing, paralegals with training in distinct high-profile areas are and will remain in high demand.
How can a student best prepare for paralegal training before they enroll in a program?
If seeking employment in the private sector law firm environment, most firms will require a strong background in IT and computers, as well as proficiency in document management programs and approaches. If you don't have these skills, consider taking continuing education courses, seminars, or workshops, particularly those that certify to proficiency. If seeking to specialize, say for example environmental law, intellectual property or real estate, take courses in those fields. Also, look for internships or externships to provide you with exposure in those fields.
What's something that prospective students should know about the current job market for paralegals?
The current job market is competitive and it is tough to land the ideal paralegal position without prior experience. It is important to be open minded and it may take a willingness to consider any job with a legal employer: receptionist, file clerk, junior paralegal, etc. just to get in the door. From there, you are one step ahead of anyone on the outside trying to get into the firm. Take on those assignments, big or small, that will help you to be visible and recognized for the value you bring to the firm.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015