Legal studies is an academic field designed for students who plan to enter careers in law, law enforcement, and criminal justice. This interdisciplinary field explores the historical impacts of laws and legal decisions, as well as contemporary trends and issues within the justice system. Legal studies draws on a wide range of social sciences, including criminal justice, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, and economics. Most degree programs in legal studies are exclusively offered at the undergraduate level, although enrollment numbers in this academic subject are relatively low; according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), fewer than 1,800 bachelor’s degrees in legal studies were conferred during the 2011-12 school year.
Bachelor’s degree in legal studies coursework includes foundational studies in law and ethics, criminal justice, criminal justice, and social sciences. Many bachelor’s in legal studies programs culminate in a capstone course, and internships may be included in the curriculum, as well. Many of today’s students choose to earn their bachelor’s degree in legal studies online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to similar job opportunities after the degree requirements have been completed. The asynchronous (or self-paced) format of most online bachelor’s in legal studies programs is also ideal for students with other commitments that may interfere with campus-based education, such as part-time employment or family obligations.
Learn more about what you can do with an online bachelor’s in legal studies and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
A bachelor’s degree in legal studies will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in this demanding ― yet often rewarding ― professional field. The curriculum includes extensive studies in the legal and ethical policies guiding the U.S. justice system, as well as the laws and legal implications found in other countries. Additionally, coursework will introduce students to theories in sociology, economics, and political science that inform how laws are crafted, implemented, and enforced.
WILL AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Online bachelor’s in legal studies programs offer a flexible, user-friendly alternative to traditional college education. Students can to download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors ― all from the comfort of their home computer. Current technology also allows them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable devices with Wi-Fi capabilities.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES?
A bachelor’s in legal studies online will not be sufficient for students planning to become lawyers; a master’s and doctoral law degree are required to practice in most U.S. states. However, the legal studies bachelor’s degree may serve as a good stepping-stone toward advanced law studies. Common job titles for those who finish their legal studies education at the undergraduate level include paralegals and legal assistants, court clerks, court reporters, arbitrators, mediators, conciliators, and legal secretaries.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online bachelor’s in legal studies programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online bachelor’s degree in legal studies, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.
Accredited Online Bachelor’s in Legal Studies Programs
|Rank||School Name||Ranking Score||Relative Cost||Graduation Rate||Location||Description|
|1||Liberty University||72.86||/5||46%||Lynchburg, VA||
Liberty University offers its students -- including 94,000 distance learners -- an academically rigorous education rooted in Christian principles. Liberty is the largest college in Virginia and the largest Christian university in the world, but with a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio, learners won’t get lost in the crowd. The school offers more than 500 degrees, many of which are available fully online. Liberty's online programs boast some of the most affordable tuition rates among the nation's online schools. Students can also take advantage of flexible payment plans, scholarship opportunities, and credit for prior learning and military experience. Military students benefit from reduced tuition, and in-state and out-of-state students pay the same rate.
One entirely online program is the 120-credit bachelor of science in government with a pre-law concentration. This unique program emphasizes ethical interpretation of the law and the development of students’ biblical worldview. Through the pre-law concentration, students are prepared for further study in the field. Alongside their studies, students benefit from access to resources such as Liberty Landing (an online student community), webinars and tutorials, ministry tools, and an online writing center.
The curriculum of Liberty's online legal studies degree covers the judicial process, criminal law, constitutional law, persuasive argumentation, and jurisprudence, among other subjects. Requirements for degree completion are 39 to 42 hours of general education, including Christian life and thought, and a major, which comprises 15 hours of core classes and 33 hours of concentration. The program generally takes four years to complete.
Aside from general education requirements, students must take 24 credits of the major and concentration through Liberty (learners can transfer other credits from regionally and nationally accredited institutions if eligible). Transferring in more than 45 credits will also waive Christian life and thought competency requirements. To apply to the online bachelor’s degree in legal studies, students must have a 2.0 cumulative GPA or higher from high school and all accredited universities attended. Liberty programs have several acceptance deadlines per year for flexibility in start date.
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|2||Brandman University||63.93||/5||30%||Irvine, CA||
Brandman, situated in Irvine, California, prides itself on being a military-friendly institution that excels at providing the educational needs of working professionals. The university offers a range of self-paced online degrees with year-round sessions, including its 120-credit bachelor of arts in legal studies. This program provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the legal system in a democratic society. Faculty have also developed courses according to the school's signature Brandman iDEAL (Instructional Design for Engaged Adult Learning) model, which promises online students the same quality and rigorous education that students receive on campus.
Areas of study in the program's 33-credit core include white-collar crime, torts, litigation and trial advocacy, and a legal studies capstone course. As students dissect Supreme Court decisions in this online bachelor's degree in legal studies, they examine topics like the correctional systems, conflict resolution, and forensic psychology. Within the program, Brandman offers a 12-credit paralegal concentration, in which students study contemporary legal studies, law practice management, and electronic discovery and legal technology. As well as a minor in legal studies, the school makes available a paralegal profession concentration for students interested in a paralegal studies degree.
Brandman's faculty delivers online coursework through Blackboard, with which students also access course-specific resources. The school also makes a variety of resources available to assist with online learning, such as a virtual library and bookstore and free online writing and math tutoring services.
Admission requirements for Brandman's online legal studies degree include a minimum of 12 transferable baccalaureate credits and official transcripts from all colleges previously attended. Students may only transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions and Brandman University itself is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. Approximately 20% of Brandman’s students serve or previously served in the military, for which the university compensates with special course transfer opportunities and discounted tuition rates. For all other students, tuition is the same regardless of location.
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|3||University of Maryland-University College||62.50||/5||8%||Adelphi, MD||
For more than 65 years, UMUC has dedicated itself to providing working professionals with the flexible academic programs they need to advance their education and career. The university delivers more than 90 degrees, specializations, and certifications in a range of disciplines, each with multiple start dates per semester and all designed to fit busy lifestyles. UMUC is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
UMUC's 120-credit bachelor of science in legal studies is available entirely online and as a minor if required. The program produces professionals versed in legal analysis, legal research, and legal document drafting. The school designed its accredited online legal studies degree curriculum — with input from scholars, employers, and experts — to provide students with an in-depth understanding of theoretical concepts through the lens of real-world application. Core courses broadly examine processes of institutions in the American legal system, the role of the paralegal, and legal ethics. Specific areas of study in the major include criminal law and procedures, litigation, contract law, domestic relations, and torts. Forty-six credits of minor and/or elective coursework, as well as general education courses, are also required.
The university recommends that undergraduate students pursue professional experience in a law firm or court while studying at UMUC. Students can also expect extensive support services including academic advising, resume writing and career planning advice, online academic clubs and honor societies, free programs in coding and software development, and free tutoring and writing help. The school also features a Veterans Resource Center which provides assistance in adjusting to civilian life.
Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward the UMUC's online bachelor’s degree in legal studies program (30 must be taken at the school). Additionally, the university provides reduced tuition rates for its 50,000-plus military students, their dependents, and federal employees. Students who start taking courses in the summer may be eligible for UMUC’s Summer Term Scholarship.
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|4||Bellevue University||59.29||/5||31%||Bellevue, NE||
Since its founding in 1966, Bellevue has educated working professionals through curricula that integrate academic rigor with flexibility and hands-on learning. The school is based in Nebraska, but serves students at 15 other locations and online. Bellevue delivers 70 undergraduate and graduate programs to 10,000 students each year. The university's online bachelor's of science in legal studies is a 127-credit program designed for students preparing for a range of careers in the public and private sectors or seeking entrance into graduate school.
A standout among accredited online legal studies degrees, this is an accelerated program that interweaves theoretical concepts in law with their real-world applications. The program also integrates political science, economics, public administration, finance, accounting, and management. Areas of study in the 40-credit major include the theory and practice of law, the criminal and civil legal systems, constitutional law, and legal research and writing. Along with major requirements, students must complete nine credits in the school's unique Kirkpatrick Signature Series, which focuses on successful institutions and traditions grounded in Western culture. This distinct three-course series entails American vision and values, tradition and change, and freedom and responsibility. The remaining 78 credits in the online bachelor’s degree in legal studies involve general education and electives.
Enrolled students benefit from the opportunity to attend online guest lectures, and to visit law schools, legislative sessions, and shareholders meetings provided by recognized experts and legal professionals. Seasoned faculty draw from real-world knowledge in the field. In addition to programmatic support, the university provides writing and tutoring services, career services, and interactive math and science labs.
To be eligible for admission, applicants must have at least 60 credits or an associate degree from an accredited institution with a grade of C or above. Tuition and fees are the same in-class or online, and Bellevue also offers military-exclusive tuition rates.
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|5||Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||57.50||/5||60%||Fort Lauderdale, FL||
Serving students at locations throughout Florida and online, Keiser’s distance learning format incorporates a key tenet of the the institution's mission: hands-on learning in small class environments. The university's bachelor of arts in legal studies prepares students for various careers in legal and law-related fields, as well as for entry into law school.
This accredited online legal studies degree covers a variety of subject areas, including family law, civil litigation, legal interviewing and investigation, and immigration law. Students also take courses in management information systems, critical thinking, and workforce diversity. The curriculum is divided into lower and upper division major and general education courses, and culminates in a legal studies capstone project. Students must complete all lower division courses before moving on to the upper division. To graduate, learners must complete 120 credits in total.
Keiser provides a full suite of financial aid options, including scholarships and grants based on financial and academic criteria. About 81% of students enrolled at the Fort Lauderdale campus receive federal financial aid (and in terms of tuition and fees, all distance learners are charged the same per semester whether in or out of state). The university also offers resources to assist students outside of the virtual classroom, including resume writing, interview coaching, professional development support, and access to the school's online career center.
Keiser requires no prerequisites for major courses of the online legal studies degree. To apply, students must simply provide GED scores and proof of high school graduation. Students may transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions (or non-regionally accredited if the course or degree is similar in content) as long as they complete the final 25% of the program at Keiser.
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What Else Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor’s in Legal Studies Program?
Requirements for earning a legal studies degree online can differ considerably between schools and programs. Along with core coursework, some colleges offer academic concentrations that allow students to develop specialized knowledge and skills as they earn their bachelor’s in legal studies.
CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES
|Concentration||Description||Careers this concentration prepares for|
|Paralegal||Designed to prepare students for the workforce, this track provides overviews of administrative, civil, family, and criminal law. This concentration also provides a broad understanding of courtroom procedures, while developing broadly applicable administrative and research skills integral to law office management.||Paralegal; Law Office Manager|
|Pre-Law||A legal studies degree program with a pre-law concentration is ideal for students intending to enter law school. Covering topics in constitutional law, government, and the American judicial system, courses provide the knowledge necessary to prepare for law school entrance exams such as the LSAT.||Lawyer; Policy Analyst; Nonprofit Advocate|
|Environmental Law||This concentration combines aspects of law, environmental science, and public policy. Students develop a deep understanding of environmental regulations that can jumpstart a career in policy-making or advocacy. A concentration in environmental law can be useful for those who ultimately want to pursue a law degree.||Environmental Lawyer; Policy Analyst|
CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES
No two schools are alike, but the best online bachelor’s in legal studies programs are designed to give students a solid foundation in core legal concepts. While courses may vary between curricula, anyone earning a legal studies degree online can expect to take some variations of the following courses:
- Legal research: Providing instruction in persuasive writing and researching legal matters, this course is fundamental for anyone pursuing a career in law. Along with major analytical methods used by lawyers, students will learn to create arguments and reach conclusions by examining information gathered through research.
- Legal writing: This course offers an introduction to the writing style and vocabulary frequently used by lawyers and paralegals in official documents. Students develop a solid foundation in legal terms and a concise writing style as they learn to produce memos, briefs, and contracts.
- Civil litigation: Ideal for those interested in entering a pre-law or paralegal program, introductory civil litigation courses provide a broad overview of the litigation process. Lessons address types of courts and courtroom procedures, lawsuit initiation, and the various categories of legal disputes. Students also learn about alternatives to litigation, such as arbitration.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES?
Online legal studies degree programs can vary drastically in length. While some may be completed in only two years, others take four or more years to finish. A graduate program’s length depends heavily on whether coursework is asynchronously-paced or delivered in a synchronous, cohort format.
Individually-paced programs allow students to review course materials and complete assignments at their leisure, without the requirement of being online at scheduled times. Offering flexible deadlines, asynchronous programs are ideal for students who balance coursework with employment or family obligations. Conversely, students in cohort-based programs study as part of an online group. They may be required to participate in scheduled group activities or discussion sessions, and are often held to stricter deadlines. Though less flexible than asynchronous programs, many learners prefer the more intimate format of cohort learning due to its emphasis on student-faculty relationships and academic accountability.
WHAT TO EXPECT AS A STUDENT IN AN ONLINE BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES PROGRAM
Like other undergraduate programs, a bachelor’s in legal studies will usually be divided between major coursework (also known as core coursework) and general education requirements that all four-year students must fulfill. For core coursework, students can expect modules like ‘American Politics’, ‘Research Methods for Criminal Justice’, ‘Judicial Administration’, ‘Juvenile Justice’, ‘Civil Litigation’, ‘Real Property Law’, and ‘Paralegal Studies’, as well as introductory courses in sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, political science, and economics.
Most schools offer ‘legal studies’ as a specialized concentration for criminal justice bachelor’s programs, but dedicated bachelor’s degrees in legal studies are available at some colleges and universities. For capstone courses, students will be required to craft a comprehensive research project that addresses a contemporary legal pattern or concern. Internships are often available as optional electives. These onsite sessions allow students to receive supervised training from qualified professionals and gain experience working in law enforcement stations, law offices, courts, and other real-world legal settings.
It’s crucial to research the accreditation status of an MBA program before fully committing to it. In the U.S., most online master’s programs in economics do not receive programmatic accreditation; exceptions are usually business administration degree programs with an economics focus, which may receive accreditation from the American Bar Association, Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. However, students should make sure that their college or university has received regional or national accreditation before committing to it.
Accreditation For Online Bachelor’s in Legal Studies Degrees
The best online bachelor’s in legal studies programs are offered by accredited institutions. An accredited school is one that meets or exceeds the academic standards defined by a quality assurance organization such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Only schools accredited by recognized institutions are eligible to receive federal financial aid. Institutions may be regionally or nationally accredited, depending on the bodies by which they are assessed.
Understanding the distinction between regionally and nationally accredited schools is important when choosing a legal studies degree program. Regionally accredited institutions are typically nonprofit, academically-focused schools, while for-profit vocational schools are usually nationally accredited. Credits earned at regionally accredited institutions transfer easily to other schools and graduate programs. If you’re earning an online bachelor’s in legal studies with the intent to enter a master’s or pre-law program, it’s important to select a regionally accredited institution.
Although the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t accredit schools itself, this branch of the government oversees the distribution of federal financial aid to institutions that meet accreditors’ standards. In turn, quality assurance groups such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation ensure that accrediting agencies adhere to certain guidelines. An association consisting of 3,000 colleges, CHEA is the largest accreditation advocacy group in the country. The organization provides the public with information about accreditation and CHEA maintains an extensive database of recognized accrediting organizations around the world, as well as a list of accredited schools and programs located in the United States.
Employment Outlook for Bachelor’s in Legal Studies
JOB PLACEMENT: BACHELOR’S IN LEGAL STUDIES
Qualified legal professionals are in constant demand, and their job outlook is largely unaffected by economic activity. For this reason, legal careers are considered ‘recession-proof’. However, lower-than-average job growth is expected in legal professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal occupations as a whole are expected to grow by 5% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in the creation of roughly 64,600 new jobs.
The table below breaks down the 10-year industry growth outlook for some of the most common legal professions.
|Occupation||Current Number of Jobs||Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)||Projected Change in Number of Jobs (2014-24)|
|Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators||8,400||9%||+800|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||279,500||8%||+21,200|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Unemployment projections for bachelor’s in legal studies recipients are fairly strong. Paralegals, for example, face an unemployment rate of 2.8%. Unemployment rates for jobs in law enforcement are also strong; patrol officers face an unemployment rate of 1.0%, while forensic technicians face an unemployment rate of 3.1%. By comparison, the average unemployment rate for all occupations nationwide is currently set at 4.5%.
EARNING A LIVING
According to the 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report, students who earn a bachelor’s in legal studies earn median annual salaries of $40,200 during the first five years in the workforce and $57,800 after 10 years on the job. However, salary expectations for employees with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies will largely depend on their specific job title. Other important factors include experience level, employer size, and city/state of employment. The next table looks at 20-year salary growth projections for five common career pathways among legal studies bachelor’s degree-holders.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)|
All five occupations experience salary growth of at least 37% after 20 years on the job. Court reporters have the highest growth rate: a 57.9% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Legal assistants rank second with 44.4% salary growth, followed by paralegals with 41.8% growth.
Those who graduate with a bachelor’s in legal studies online will be qualified for dozens of entry-level jobs in legal, law enforcement, and other industry areas. Four of the most popular occupations for legal studies degree recipients are outlined below.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Paralegals and legal assistants perform supportive tasks on behalf of licensed attorneys. Their regular responsibilities include organizing files, drafting legal briefs, prepping lawyers for trial appearances, and researching legal history and case studies. The BLS notes that 72% of paralegals and legal assistants are employed at private law offices.
Court Reporters: Court reporters are responsible for recording trials, depositions and other official courtroom dealings. They must transcribe the proceedings word-for-word, and may also provide captioning for televised broadcasts or translations for non-English-speakers or people with visual or hearing impairments.
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators: These three occupations are designed to provide third-party support during legal disputes. Arbitrators hear testimony and make decisions regarding legal disputes. Mediators hear disputes, but do not make decisions involving the parties. Conciliators provide a similar service as mediators, only they meet each party separately, rather than simultaneously.
Legal Secretaries: Like paralegals and legal assistants, legal secretaries specialize in performing supportive work for licensed attorneys. In addition to performing legal research in order to prep lawyers for trials and depositions, they also draft legal documents like subpoenas, summonses, complaints, and motions.
|Profession||Median Annual Salary|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||$48,810|
|Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators||$58,020|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to legal studies is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for legal professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations: Founded in 1974 following a merger of eight paralegal associations, this nonprofit currently represents 55 associations nationwide and more than 9,000 members. The NFPA strives to implement state-by-state standards for paralegal professionals and monitor activities to ensure legal and ethical practices.
- National Association for Legal Assistants: With more than 18,000 members nationwide, the NALA is the leading professional organization for paralegals and legal assistants in the United States. Certification programs are offered to members; the website also features an online career center, continuing ed webinars and back issues of the Facts & Findings peer-reviewed journal.
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.: The American Alliance was founded in 2003 to “advance the paralegal profession by focusing on the individual paralegal”. The organization offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential; members also receive a complimentary subscription of the Alliance Echo magazine.
Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Legal Studies
Despite the relative affordability of online master’s programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
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Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
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Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
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