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.
What are the best legal studies programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||University of Central Florida||Orlando, FL|
|2||Pennsylvania State University||University Park, PA|
|3||Bellevue University||Bellevue, NE|
|4||Peirce College||Philadelphia, PA|
|5||University of Maryland Global Campus||Adelphi, MD|
|6||Dominican University||River Forest, IL|
|7||SUNY Canton||Canton, NY|
|8||Hodges University||Naples, FL|
|9||Brandman University||Irvine, CA|
|10||National University||La Jolla, CA|
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.
- WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A LEGAL STUDIES DEGREE?
Professionals with an online bachelor's in legal studies are prepared for many careers, including paralegal, court reporter, and arbitrator. Read more here..
- WHAT IS A LEGAL STUDIES DEGREE?
A legal studies degree prepares students who seek careers in law, law enforcement, and criminal justice. Courses usually cover history, political science, sociology, anthropology, and economics. Read more here..
- CAN YOU BECOME A TEACHER WITH A LEGAL STUDIES DEGREE?
No. To teach legal studies or a related subject, students usually need a master's degree. Read more here..
- WHAT IS THE HIGHEST DEGREE YOU CAN EARN IN LEGAL STUDIES?
A few schools offer legal studies Ph.D. programs, but master's programs are much more common. Many students who earn this degree focus on a specific area of law when pursuing an advanced education. Read more here..
- WHAT ARE THE LEGAL STUDIES?
Most legal studies programs focus on law, law enforcement, and criminal justice. Read more here..
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
University of Central Florida
|Orlando, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
UCF's bachelor's in legal studies prepares students for graduate-level study or entry-level careers as legal assistants and program specialists. Core coursework includes legal research, professionalism and civility in the law, and legal writing. In the program's final year, students complete an internship or a capstone experience.
Nearly 50% of UCF undergraduates accept a job offer before graduation day. The university helps learners succeed by offering career-related resources, including Handshake job-search software and cover letter critiques.
Prospective students can apply for the spring, summer, or fall semester. Transfer students should have a minimum 2.0 GPA. Financial aid opportunities include merit-based scholarships, which can be viewed on UCF's Access to Opportunities website. Florida residents receive a significant tuition discount.
Pennsylvania State University
|University Park, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 29%||
Delivered through its World Campus, Penn State's online bachelor's degree in law and society features courses like rights in America, the American legal process, and contemporary legal issues. The degree includes 30-39 credits of electives, allowing learners to complete a second major or minor.
Penn State offers online students internship opportunities and one-on-one career advising sessions. Thanks to these resources, 72% of Penn State graduates find a full-time job within one year of graduation.
Admission requirements include high school transcripts or GED scores. Applicants do not need to submit recommendation letters or standardized test scores. Full-time students pay a flat, semester-based tuition rate. Learners who maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA may qualify for institutional scholarships.
|Bellevue, NE||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 29%||
Students planning for a career in the legal system or for pre-law studies should consider BU's online bachelor's program in legal studies. During the program, learners analyze the American criminal and civil legal systems, the judicial process, and legal writing. All BU undergraduates also complete the Kirkpatrick Signature Series — three courses that emphasize American values.
BU helps students and alumni practice interviewing skills, hone their resumes, and network online. The university also provides the College Central Network, which is an online job board with opportunities throughout the United States.
First-year admission requirements include high school transcripts or a GED certificate. Enrolled students can apply to the program after completing general education courses. BU does not charge out-of-state tuition, and active-duty service members enjoy an automatic tuition discount.
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Peirce's hybrid bachelor's program in paralegal studies accepts up to 90 transfer credits, making it an excellent option for prospective students who already hold an associate degree. The program's core curriculum covers tort law, family law, and advanced legal technology. During the program's final semester, all students complete a capstone covering practical skills and regulation. Participants take a blend of on-campus and online classes
Peirce helps learners hone interviewing and resume writing skills. Paralegal studies graduates earn jobs with an average starting salary of around $38,000.
Program applicants must complete a one-page undergraduate application. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate at this private institution. Applying for institutional scholarships requires an additional essay.
University of Maryland Global Campus
|Adelphi, MD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 15%||
UMGC's 120-credit bachelor's in legal studies program prepares students for fulfilling careers through courses in advanced legal writing, litigation, and techniques of legal research. Learners can customize the program by completing a minor or a second major. Students who live near campus have the option to earn the degree through a hybrid format.
Distance learners can access numerous resources through UMGC, including CareerQuest and a private job and internship board. Learners can also review strategies that help individuals set and follow through on career goals.
This program accepts up to 90 transfer credits and prefers applicants with relevant professional experience. Maryland residents receive a significant tuition discount. UMGC's Scholarship Finder website provides a comprehensive list of financial aid opportunities.
|River Forest, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Students with relevant college credit can consider DU's online bachelor of professional studies in legal studies program. Major requirements include criminal law and procedure, disability and the law, and negotiation theory. The program also features an accelerated option in which students earn a bachelor's in legal studies and a master's in conflict resolution.
DU provides guides that cover interviewing, resume writing, and job hunting. More than 90% of alumni find a job or enter a graduate program within one year of earning their degree.
Prospective students must have at least 30 transferable credits. Other application materials include a statement of purpose. All students in the legal studies program pay the same tuition, regardless of residency.
|Canton, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 40%||
SUNY Canton's online bachelor's in legal studies program features an internship in which students can obtain valuable experience. Core coursework includes business law, criminal practice, and professional writing and communication. Motivated learners can complete a combined BS/JD at SUNY Canton in six years.
SUNY Canton offers multiple virtual career services tools, including resume, cover letter, and graduate school guides. Online learners can also sign up for one-on-one advising appointments.
First-year application requirements include high school course prerequisites. SUNY Canton evaluates transfer credit on a case-by-case basis. Prospective students interested in institutional aid must submit a separate application. New York residents receive a tuition discount.
|Naples, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 22%||
The curriculum of Hodges University's online bachelor's degree in legal studies features an optional hybrid learning option; students can take some courses on the university's campus in Naples, Florida. Major requirements include statutory interpretation, an introduction to constitutional law, and legal research and writing. Students customize the program by selecting 12 elective courses.
Hodges provides learners with an online job board, job fairs, and counseling sessions. Seventy-seven percent of undergraduate alumni find a job within one year of graduating.
The admissions process involves speaking with an advisor before submitting transcripts, FAFSA results, and an essay. Tuition disregards a student's state of residence, and active-duty service members and veterans receive a significant tuition discount.
|Irvine, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 22%||
Brandman's bachelor's in legal studies program features 120 credits and covers topics like white-collar crime, contracts, and ethics in a legal environment. The curriculum concludes with a legal studies capstone, and learners can select between paralegal profession and business law concentrations.
Brandman provides students with Big Interview software, personalized career coaching, and an alumni network. Specialized resources for veterans include interest inventories and skills translation guides.
Prospective students must possess at least 12 transferable credits earned with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Active-duty service members and veterans can receive credit for military training. Brandman does not charge out-of-state tuition, and California residents may qualify for a state grant.
|La Jolla, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 36%||
NU's online bachelor's in pre-law studies program features four-week courses and is well suited for students who want to learn at an accelerated rate. During the program, learners hone analytical reasoning, negotiation, and advocacy skills. Students personalize their curriculum by selecting eight upper-division electives from over a dozen options.
Career resources for enrolled students and alumni include resume and cover letter samples, interviewing strategies, and networking tips. Students can also create a career plan by taking up to three online self-assessments.
NU accepts new students on the first of each month. First-year admission requirements include a minimum 2.0 high school GPA. Applicants who do not meet this threshold may still receive conditional admission.
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||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career||Median Annual Salary for Experienced||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career|
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.
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.
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.
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