Best Online Bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies Programs

Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleBachelor'sin Paralegal Studies2017
See MethodologyGet Ranking Seal

Behind every successful law firm stands a team of hardworking paralegals. Paralegals and legal assistants operate behind the scenes in law offices, where they prepare paperwork, organize files, conduct research, and assist in other legal tasks. Although paralegals do not argue before the court, their tasks often overlap with those of a lawyer. If you are interested in law, want to become a lawyer, or have a passion for fighting for justice, you may be a prime candidate for online paralegal programs.

Career options for paralegals are growing. Between 2014 and 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects an 8% increase in the number of paralegal jobs in the nation. The median income for a paralegal is about $50,000 annually, according to the BLS. Some career options only require an associate degree to become a paralegal, while many earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies online and work as a paralegal on their way to law school.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Liberty University 70.20 4/5 46% Lynchburg, VA

Liberty’s BS in paralegal studies covers topics in various areas of law, as well as related subjects like contemporary perspectives, real estate, and rhetoric, through a Christian lens. Students in the paralegal bachelor degree online program graduate with a firm understanding of the U.S. Constitution, federal and state court systems, and civil and criminal legal processes. Course assignments provide hands-on learning opportunities, such as learning how to take and file a deposition. Graduates are also prepared to tackle complex tasks that require critical and analytical thinking, such as dealing with ethical dilemmas that are grounded in moral and biblical principles. Available courses include law of nonprofits, intellectual property law, and constitutional law. This 120-credit program requires that students complete at least 30 credits through Liberty. Students with professional or military experience may apply for prior-learning credit.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
2 Florida Gulf Coast University 64.30 3/5 45% Fort Myers, FL

Graduates of FGCU's BS in legal studies program are prepared for paralegal and other related professions, including legal assisting. The curriculum provides an in-depth understanding of the legal system, including courts, clients, and lawyers' ethical duties. Students are exposed to many practice areas of law, including trusts and estates, family law, and international law. Distance learners access courses through the Canvas Learning Management System. In addition to general education courses, students in FGCU's online paralegal degree program complete 48 upper-level courses. Students who enter with a qualifying associate degree may immediately begin study in upper-level coursework. All paralegal students at FGCU must complete service-learning and foreign language requirements as part of their bachelor’s degree.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
3 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College 63.75 3/5 62% Saint Mary of the Woods, IN

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers one of the best online paralegal programs available today. Graduates are prepared to fulfill many of the same duties as practicing lawyers, including performing legal research, organizing materials for cases, drafting legal documents, and communicating effectively with clients and partners.

This 47-credit BA in paralegal studies program emphasizes law in a political, societal, and historical context, and is built on a foundation of liberal arts studies. Students may choose to follow a personal law or litigation track, and a variety of electives provide exposure to other practice areas like environmental law and criminal law. Highly motivated students can also participate in an optional independent study or internship, or the school's mentor program, which provides legal experience in real-world settings. More than 90% of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods’ graduates are hired into a related career soon after graduation.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
4 Hampton University 58.60 4/5 59% Hampton, VA

Hampton's four-year BA in paralegal studies program is designed both for students who are looking to enter the legal field for the first time and for practicing paralegal professionals. As with other paralegal programs online, the curriculum combines specialized legal training with a liberal arts foundation. Students gain basic knowledge of several areas of law, including personal injury, real estate, and litigation. Additionally, students have the opportunity to participate in hands-on internships. Graduates leave with enhanced skills in writing, analytical thinking, and academic research, and are prepared to fulfill legal roles in various organizations, including government agencies, banks, and corporations.

Program application requirements include a high school diploma or GED, an essay, and an GPA of 2.0 or better. Veterans and active-duty service members with at least two years of honorable service may also be eligible for academic credit towards the program.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
5 William Woods University 54.10 4/5 49% Fulton, MO

With its main campus in Fulton, Missouri, WWU also delivers degrees at locations throughout the state as well as online. The university’s BS in paralegal studies program, approved by the AAfPE, offers students the knowledge and skill sets necessary to succeed in the paralegal profession and functions as a foundation for further study in law school. The curriculum for WWU's paralegal bachelor degree online program covers the American legal system, legal research and writing, interviewing and investigation skills, substantive and procedural law, and more. Students in the program complete 42 credits in a 14-course sequence. As part of a required practicum experience, students participate in hands-on paralegal work through the program’s virtual law office.

Six program start dates throughout the year allow students to begin the program at a time that fits their schedule. Courses are structured in eight-week terms and offer start-and-stop flexibility. WWU integrates a service-learning model into all of its programs, encouraging disciplined and passionate commitment to hands-on experiences. Graduates of WWU's paralegal program work in government, law firms, and other industries around the world. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average paralegal salary as $48,810 per year.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
   
Time To Complete
Paralegal programs online typically take three to four years to complete with a full-time courseload
Credit Hours
Most bachelor’s degree programs require about 120 credits (or 30 per year)
Core Courses
Criminal/Civil Law, Tort/Probate/Family Law, Legal Research and Communication, Legal Ethics, and American Politics
Concentrations
Criminal Law, Healthcare Law, Labor Law, and Corporate Law
Accreditation
American Bar Association
Additional Considerations
Paralegal studies and legal studies are often delivered together

Long hours, complex research, and painstaking legal document preparation may be constant throughout life as a paralegal but paralegals choose from a variety of career paths and industries, resulting in significant diversity in the field. If you are passionate about the law, online paralegal programs can help you earn the knowledge, skills and credentials to thrive in a paralegal career. Here are four of the most popular job options that online paralegal degree holders pursue:

Paralegal/Legal Assistant: Paralegals or legal assistants work in private law firms, public law offices, government departments, corporate law divisions, and nonprofit law establishments. Although they cannot argue in court or offer legal advice, many of their tasks overlap with those of lawyers. Professionals in this field prepare legal documents, file records, and perform administrative work.

Claims Adjuster: Often working with claims appraisers, examiners, or investigators, claims adjusters research and investigate insurance claims. An adjuster is tasked with investigating a specific claim and resolving claim payment responsibility. From medical to automotive, claims adjustors usually work for private insurers, and a legal background is useful for understanding risk and uncovering fault.

Law Clerk: A judicial law clerk works for a federal, state, or municipal court or judge. Clerks are tasked with research and legal document preparation for the court in the same way a paralegal is for a law office. Other administrative clerk jobs in government or private offices may be attractive to paralegal degree holders. These jobs may include record keeping, research, and data collection.

Title Examiner: Title examiners work with legal records. Benefiting from both public and private career opportunities, title examiners compile lists of contracts, real estate transactions, insurance paperwork, or automobile sales. Title examiners may be required to authenticate a record or prepare legal summaries for lawyers. Title examiners work for law offices, government agencies, insurance companies, and real estate firms.

Position Projected Growth Rate
Paralegal/Legal Assistant 8%
Claims Adjuster 3%
Law Clerk 2%
Title Examiner 3%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Although paralegal programs online may consist of a range of curricula, most include the same core class options. Topics students can expect to encounter when enrolled in the best online paralegal programs include legal investigation and communication, legal ethics, civil law, criminal law, real estate law, and insurance law.

  • Legal Research and Communication: Courses in investigation, research, communication, or compositions may appear under various names at different institutions, but these courses make up the core of any online paralegal degree program. To prepare for a successful career as a paralegal, students must learn the terminology, methods, and style of drafting legal briefs and motions.
  • Legal Ethics: A paralegal may not have all of the abilities a lawyer has, but he or she has the same ethical responsibilities. From securely managing documents and data to maintaining client privacy, paralegals learn the do’s and don’ts of legal ethics early on in their classload.
  • Civil and Criminal Law: Split into two classes on legal studies or more, paralegals learn about the two largest divisions of America’s criminal justice system. Whether you end up working for the DA or a private small claims lawyer, either criminal or civil law may become more important to your career, but both are important foundations for any online paralegal degree program.
  • Real Estate Law: Outside of law offices, courts and government departments, real estate business and insurers are the businesses most in need of paralegal degree holders. As a student of real estate law, you can learn about the requirements of home owners, real estate firms, and intricacies of contract law and trusts.
  • Insurance or Business Law: Similar to real estate law, paralegal students learn about other industries known for litigiousness including business and insurance. Corporate law and insurance claims adjusters are popular landing spots for paralegal graduates. It’s worth paying attention to these in-depth legal studies courses.

BACHELOR’S IN PARALEGAL STUDIES SALARY

The range of salaries that bachelor’s degree holders can expect depends largely on job title, sector, and experience. An entry level legal assistant or paralegal salary is lower than others on average. The median income for these positions is skewed lower due to so many employees working with only a few years of experience. But even with little experience, career opportunities in the corporate sector or a senior level paralegal career track can offer much higher salaries. Other career options for paralegal graduates, such as claims adjuster or law clerk, offer better salaries for professionals with more experience.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Paralegal $45,973 $37,000 $47,000 $55,000
Senior Paralegal $70,200 $52,000 $63,000 $75,000
Corporate Paralegal $64,759 $53,000 $69,000 $74,000
Claims Adjuster $51,927 $43,000 $52,000 $64,000
Law Clerk $34,278 $33,000 $41,000 $46,000

Source: PayScale

PARALEGAL STUDIES LICENSURE AND CERTIFICATION

Unlike becoming a nurse or teacher, your path to becoming a paralegal does not require state-mandated certification. However, there are some certification opportunities that can help when seeking positions with specific employers or within specific sectors. Additionally, other career options that you can pursue with a bachelor’s degree, such as becoming a public claims adjuster, may require certification.

  • Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal – CLA or CP certification is awarded by the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. After completing your degree, you can attempt the two-day NALA awards CLA or CP designation test to prove your proficiency.
  • Professional Paralegal – The National Association for Legal Secretaries awards certifications for paralegals and other law office employees, including the PP. Paralegals must hold a bachelor’s degree and have four years of experience before attempting the PP.
  • Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination – Awarded by the the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc., the PACE and the Registered Paralegal “RP” proves competency and includes state-specific requirements.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Paralegals and legal assistants benefit from professional organizations that allow for job support, networking, and annual conferences. Available to long-time paralegals and recent grads alike, these associations assist professionals in finding new job opportunities, provide educational resources, and facilitate social interaction with fellow professionals.

  • The National Association of Legal Assistants – With an emphasis on professional education, NALA and its many members can help you stay at the forefront of the paralegal world.
  • The National Federation of Paralegal Associations – The NFPA a foundational paralegal organization that every professional in the field should know. This organization administers the PACE exam along with many publication and events relevant to the field.
  • The American Bar Association – The top organization for American lawyers is also critical for paralegals. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA allows paralegals to tap into the mainstream legal sector for networking and continuing education.

The prospect of paying for your paralegal degree online can be daunting, but there are many tools and opportunities designed to help you navigate this process. Fill out your FAFSA and contact your program’s financial aid office to discover what scholarships, grants, loans, and need-based aid are available to you. Some students may be eligible for work-study or other need-based opportunities, and schools often offer merit-based awards as well. Private grants or scholarships specifically for paralegal studies students may also be available.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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 STUDENTS

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.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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.