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Finding Your Fit: A Comprehensive Guide to Paralegal Associate Degree Programs

Published on: May 7, 2024

The legal system heavily relies on paralegals to operate effectively. Paralegals are critical in assisting attorneys and ensuring that litigation proceedings run smoothly. If you aspire to be a paralegal, note that no specific academic requirements exist. However, obtaining a paralegal associate degree or completing relevant courses can provide a strong foundation for your paralegal career.

In this article, we will explore these educational tracks more and offer tips on evaluating various associate programs in paralegal studies to determine whether they are the right fit for you.

A Primer on an Associate Degrees for Paralegals

A paralegal associate degree is an entry-level qualification awarded once a student has completed about two years of study in an approved paralegal program. These qualifications are obtained from a technical or community college or traditional colleges and universities; they can also be earned on campus or online. Upon graduating, the students will be equipped with essential skills to do paralegal work in law firms, government agencies, and other legal businesses.

For students considering a paralegal associate degree, courses such as legal research and writing, civil law, business law, criminal law, ethics, and law office management may be required.  Additionally, after completing their degree, these students will be able to:

  • Understand how paralegals fit into the legal system

  • Conduct interviews with clients and witnesses

  • Carry out investigations and legal research tasks

  • Interpret legal documents and report preparation

  • Observe or adhere to ethical standards of professionalism

Assessing Program Quality: Accreditation

When enrolling in a paralegal associate program, we advise selecting one approved by well-known bodies such as the American Bar Association (ABA). This is because the primary objective of the ABA is to certify paralegal education programs that align with ABA guidelines. Once this occurs, the institution can set higher standards for teaching and attain the best paralegal instructors. In the long run, the accreditation provides their students assurance that they will enroll in a program that will be regarded as meeting national certification requirements. Moreover, employers often look for applicants who hold degrees from an ABA-approved legal associate’s degree program.

Considerations for APA-Approval

An American Bar Association-accredited program must satisfy certain minimums like classroom hours and should not merely focus on law-related courses but also offer strong foundations in general education courses. To evaluate these programs, some of the factors considered by the ABA include:

  • Courses offered at the school

  • Qualifications and experience of faculty members 

  • Format of instruction material and support services

  • Student resources

  • Library resources available to students

  • Location of classes and resources

  • Availability of career services

  • Classroom facilities

Exploring Curriculum and Specializations

Paralegal associate degree programs generally take two years of full-time study to complete. However, while course topics will vary depending on the school, most of these programs require courses in the following:

  • Legal research and writing

  • Contracts

  • Torts

  • Wills and trusts

  • Introduction to law

  • Civil procedure

  • Legal ethics

  • Business communication

  • Paralegal research

  • United States legal systems

Some institutions will also offer more paralegal courses and electives, allowing for more specialized options in areas such as criminal law, immigration law, and family law. That is why it is always a good idea to review what these programs offer if you want to pursue a particular area of interest.

Modality: Traditional vs. Online/Hybrid Programs

Paralegal jobs are quickly expanding in the United States, and as you consider this career path, there are many educational options to help prepare you., including both traditional and online/hybrid options. However, there are significant differences and benefits that you should know about before choosing a paralegal associate’s degree program.

Traditional Programs

Some students prefer to learn in a traditional environment because they like being physically present and feel it is easier to learn while interacting with teachers and peers with similar interests. Most of us spent most of our formal educational experience in a traditional, in-person learning environment. 

Online Programs

For some, online courses have advantages over in-person learning experiences. Online programs are preferred for students seeking flexible schedules, convenience, and often affordability. If you consider yourself organized, self-motivated, and an excellent communicator, online programs may be the preferred way of learning. In addition, if you cannot attend in-person classes due to other commitments, an online program may fit perfectly into your schedule. Many schools provide paralegal programs that can be finished 100% online or through a mixture of online and on-campus instruction.

Profiling Paralegal Associate Programs

Pursuing a paralegal associate degree is a strategic step for students looking to excel in the paralegal profession. Fortunately, in the United States, students have a variety of options when it comes to these programs.

Traditional On-Campus Programs

Essex County College

Essex County College offers an Associate in Science (AS) in Paralegal Studies approved by the American Bar Association. The program is designed to provide students with the necessary skills to start a career in various areas of law and to teach them about the role of a paralegal in the legal system. The program requires between 63 and 66 credits and can be completed full-time or part-time in two years or less, depending on whether classes are taken year-round.

During the first year of the program, students will take general courses. In the second year, they take specialized paralegal courses, including Introduction to Law for Paralegals, Administrative Law, and Contracts.

Roger Williams University

Roger Williams University offers an associate's degree program in Paralegal Studies, taught by experienced legal professionals such as judges and lawyers. The program provides comprehensive training in various legal areas, including criminal law, litigation, substantive law, legal databases, and alternative dispute resolution.

Additionally, the school’s ABA-approved paralegal program equips graduates with the necessary skills to work in different legal environments, including non-profit, government, and other legal sectors. It also focuses on instilling ethical values and professional responsibility in legal services. Once the program is complete, students will have developed analytical skills, critical thinking, and other abilities related to legal research and writing, listening, and speaking. The curriculum includes courses such as Criminal Law for Paralegals, Introduction to Law and Legal Studies, Emerging Technologies and the Legal Environment, Contract Law, Business Law, Legal Research and Writing, and Legal Ethics.

Clarion University of Pennsylvania

The Associate of Science (AS) in Paralegal Studies with a concentration in Courts and Community Services at Clarion University of Pennsylvania is a specialized program focusing on human services fields that work with the court system. The program combines rehabilitative science with criminal justice and paralegal education, and it is suitable for students interested in working with child abuse agencies, victim and witness assistance programs, adoption services, and work release programs. The curriculum includes courses in human services, behavior analysis, assessment and intervention strategies, substance abuse, social work, and legal studies, such as wills, trusts, estates, civil litigation, and family law.

Clayton State University

The Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies offered by Clayton State University is among the few programs in Georgia approved by the ABA. The program strongly focuses on practical paralegal skills, research, legal terminology, and substantive law.

At Clayton State University, paralegal students can choose a certificate program, associate degree, or bachelor's degree. Credits earned in each program are eligible to apply to the next level, making Clayton State's ABA-approved paralegal program one of the most flexible and best options available in the state.

Once students complete the program, they will have the skills to perform specific legal work, including composing legal documents, conducting legal research and analysis, and identifying legal ethics rules.

University of North Georgia

The University of North Georgia offers an ABA-approved Associate of Applied Science (AAS) program in Paralegal Studies at its Gainesville campus. This program aims to provide hands-on training in applying legal theory and enhance students' analytical, communication, and organizational skills.

Some of the specific objectives of the program include:

  • To implement a diverse and strong quality program for the education of competent paralegals.

  • To offer students a broad knowledge of various areas of law, as well as specific legal skills.

  • To help graduates find employment in a wide range of employers in their chosen field.

  • To prepare students to work efficiently and effectively with legal professionals, the public, and clients.

  • To enhance and strengthen the skills of students already employed in legal positions.

Online/Hybrid Programs

University of Montana

The Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies degree offered by the University of Montana is approved by the American Bar Association and requires 71 credit hours of coursework. The program combines general education courses, including accounting, computer introduction, and public speaking, with legal specialty courses, such as contracts, criminal procedures, litigation, legal ethics trial preparation, and family law. The degree is a two-year program that requires coursework to be completed in sequence, and additional semesters may be required to graduate. The program is designed to meet the needs of those interested in pursuing paralegal work in government agencies, law firms, legal justice, and public administration. Classes are taught online and remotely, offering students easy access to education.

Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Kentucky University offers an Associate of Applied Science program in Paralegal Studies. This program is one of the few ABA-approved paralegal programs in the region. All courses are taught in the evening, and some are available online. In addition, as part of the program, students must complete a 280-hour paralegal internship with a law firm, corporation, or government agency. This internship provides practical experience to prepare students for work as paralegals.

Liberty University

Liberty University, the seventh-largest university in the world, offers an ABA-approved paralegal program that can be completed online or on campus. Students who earn an Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies degree from Liberty University will significantly improve their employment opportunities and be able to do so flexibly and affordably. Students enrolled in the school's online A.A. in Paralegal Studies program will gain foundational knowledge of criminal law and court procedures, as well as skills related to writing depositions, performing legal research, and handling complex legal tasks.

Keiser University

Keiser University offers an Associate of Arts degree in Paralegal Studies. This program equips students with the necessary skills to assist legal professionals in transactional and litigation fields by conducting legal research, drafting documents, handling litigation procedures, managing cases, and gathering evidence.

This program consists of eight courses providing foundational knowledge in family law and civil litigation. Anyone interested in paralegal roles or other legal settings can take these courses without any prerequisites, providing students with increased flexibility in their class schedules. More importantly, the university offers various services to distance learners, including career coaching, mentoring, resume review, and writing services.

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati’s online program, Associate of Applied Business in Law and Paralegal Studies, is designed to prepare students for a successful career in the legal industry. This program, entirely online and approved by the American Bar Association, provides students with an education from licensed attorneys, allows them to gain in-depth knowledge of the US legal system, and prepares them for various job opportunities in a rapidly growing legal field.

Those who enroll in the program can expect the following benefits;

  • 100% online. No campus visits are required.

  • Student support services are offered for every student from application through graduation.

  • High job placement rate

  • Part-time and full-time scheduling options

Determine What Practical Training Opportunities Exist

Internships, legal clinics, and hands-on learning are integral to shaping the careers of paralegal students. These opportunities provide students with practical skills, allow them to build networks, and show them different areas of the law. They also link coursework and practice by letting students put theory into action.

Although many schools provide job and legal training opportunities to students, it is still important that aspiring paralegals evaluate these programs to understand how the school will help them gain this valuable experience. Students should assess paralegal programs based on their connections to law firms and legal services organizations and their ability to obtain hands-on learning.

Speak with Support Services and Career Development

The school’s career services are another essential factor to consider when deciding on a paralegal associate degree program. Numerous institutions have departments dedicated to professional development and career services, which are designed to help equip students with relevant skills and experience needed in future careers of their own choice. These include job placement support, counseling, and professional development materials.

However, to better understand these services, students should evaluate the effectiveness of a prospective paralegal associate degree program and learn more about how it helps transition students from academics to professional environments. This can often be done by meeting with guidance counselors or going to the career development office and discussing with representatives directly.  Specifically determining if the school provides:

  • Provides networking opportunities

  • Offers workshops, seminars, online career resources, or courses for lifelong career management skills

  • Helps students secure a legal internship

Understanding the Financial Considerations

Costs can be a major consideration for students who want to continue their education or return to school to get a degree, especially in a paralegal associate degree program. These costs usually involve tuition, material costs, and various other fees.

However, there are ways in which this degree can be financed, which may ease the financial burden on students, such as applying for student aid programs, loans, work-study programs, or grants. Additionally, schools often award scholarships to help reduce these expenses. This is why prospective students are strongly advised to inquire about the school’s financial aid and assistance programs in advance. Doing so will give them a clearer idea of how much they need to pay overall and what funding sources and possibilities exist to cover these charges.

Evaluating Graduation Outcomes and Student Achievements

Students should examine program outcomes to determine if they are aligned with their expectations. Talking about graduation rates, employment records, and success stories of past students can give you insights into the quality of a college or program. These measures show who is enrolling at the institution and those who have completed their degrees successfully, found jobs, and secured placements relevant to their areas of specialization.

Students can contact career services offices within institutions to obtain these records and information since most college registrars and universities have data concerning graduation numbers and degrees granted. Moreover, talking with graduates and alumni associations can provide more details about the programs available and successful experiences.

Get Started on Your Educational Journey Today

Pursuing a paralegal associate degree can be a great way to enhance your career prospects, develop your skills, and prepare for the profession's demands. However, with so many similar programs available, it is crucial to conduct thorough research before choosing the right one.

If you are considering enrolling in a paralegal associate degree program, start by contacting schools, requesting information and brochures, comparing your options, and interacting with admission representatives to understand the available programs better.

About the Authors

Written by:

Kasia Nelson, Esq.

Kasia Nelson is a licensed attorney and skilled legal content writer with years of experience. With a background in corporate immigration law, she is well-versed in the intricacies of producing legally accurate and well-researched work. 


  • Michigan State University, B.S.

  • Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Law Licensures

  • Michigan

Kasia Nelson

Kasia Nelson, Esq.


Education: Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Knowledge: Corporate Immigration Law

Reviewed by:

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Ryan P. Duffy is an attorney licensed to practice law in New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina. His practice focuses primarily on Estate Planning, Personal Injury, and Business law. 

Law Licensures

  • New Jersey

  • Pennsylvania (inactive)

  • South Carolina

  • North Carolina

Ryan Duffy

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Editorial Lead

Education: Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, J.D.

Knowledge: Estate Planning