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Choosing the Right Paralegal School: A Comprehensive Guide to Making an Informed Decision

Published on: Mar 14, 2024

If you are interested in pursuing a career in law, then a paralegal position can be a rewarding and exciting option. However, before starting your paralegal career, you need to consider the educational path you should pursue to obtain the necessary training and skills for the position. Obtaining a degree from an accredited institution can help you receive quality training under nationally established standards, giving you a competitive advantage when looking for a position. However, choosing where to receive your paralegal education requires careful consideration, including evaluating factors such as tuition, relevant courses, class structure, and graduate success.

In this article, we will explore the factors you should consider when you pursue a paralegal education and what each educational pathway will include.

Understanding Paralegal Education

When deciding on the type of education one should pursue on their way to becoming a paralegal, there are several factors to consider, such as the specific programs to enroll in. For instance, both paralegal studies and legal studies are sub-fields of law. However, paralegal studies are designed to specifically train students to become paralegals, while legal studies encompass a broader range of paths that may include a paralegal program. 

Students also need to consider the type of degree they want to pursue when picking their educational path. Three types of academic credentials most frequently lead to a career in the paralegal profession: associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, or post-baccalaureate certificates.

  • An associate degree is often called an entry-level diploma earned after completing approximately two years of study at an accredited program. This degree can be obtained on-site or online at community colleges or traditional universities.

  • A bachelor’s degree is a four-year program. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies allows students to develop an understanding of the paralegal's role and specialized knowledge in various areas of law.

  • A post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate verifies a student has completed a paralegal education program. Certificate programs are generally offered at colleges or universities and may require students to have already earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Many individuals pursue this certificate because it allows them to build relevant experience and cultivate the knowledge needed to help further their careers.

While it is not mandatory for a paralegal to obtain national certification to work as a paralegal, they can take a national certification exam to become a certified paralegal. This certification demonstrates the paralegal's expertise in their field. However, paralegals must have the necessary work experience, educational qualifications, or a combination of both to be eligible for this certification exam. For further information about this certification, consider reviewing your options by checking out the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or NALA, The Paralegal Association.

Accreditation and Recognition

Another thing to consider when choosing  the right paralegal school is to look into whether the program is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or has been recognized by well-known paralegal associations. ABA-approved schools are highly regarded and offer a level of legitimacy and reputation unmatched by other schools. These schools provide aspiring paralegals with a complete and comprehensive legal education that meets the standards set by state and federal justice systems.

Graduating from an ABA-approved school will not only allow you to start working as a paralegal immediately, but these programs offer individuals numerous opportunities for a promising career path, high-quality education, improved marketability, and the necessary skills to meet the demands of the field.

Program Curriculum and Specializations

A well-rounded paralegal program can equip an individual with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed as a paralegal. While the classes offered may vary depending on the institution, some of the more common courses typically include the following:

  • Civil procedure

  • Civil litigation

  • Legal writing

  • Legal research and analysis

  • Computer research

  • Legal procedures

  • Law office administration

Another factor that aspiring paralegals should consider is the importance of specialization in a specific field of law, such as corporate law, criminal law, family law, immigration law, or business administration. A specialization can help paralegals advance their careers and increase their potential income. Most law firms and lawyers work in a narrow legal area because limiting their scope of work to a specific area can allow them to do their best work. That is why paralegals are often encouraged to pursue a field that suits them best.

Faculty and Program Directors

Experienced faculty members and program directors are essential for providing quality education and mentorship to students in the school. These knowledgeable professionals help students in their career development goals and act as their guides, assisting them in researching work opportunities, providing teaching resources, or offering other professional development resources to help them get ahead in their careers. As a result, it is critical to learn more about a school’s faculty and program directors before enrolling in a program, including the following criteria:

  • Teaching styles

  • Accessibility

  • Research and publications

Individuals should also take the time to explore faculty profiles to gain further insight into their specific experiences and areas of specialization. This can help students decide if the professors fit their educational goals and fields of interest.

Practical Experience and Resources

When schools provide opportunities for students to participate in practical experiences such as internships or project work, they enable students to apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom to real-world situations. This experience can help bridge the gap between classroom learning and the demands of the paralegal profession. Moreover, practical experience reinforces learning and provides paralegals with a competitive edge in the job market. For instance, Oakland Community College's paralegal internship program allows individuals enrolled to work with other legal professionals, apply the information they learned to real-life situations, learn skills to help them after graduation and develop a better understanding of paralegal work.

Flexible Learning Options

Paralegal students have a variety of options when it comes to choosing their educational path. They can opt for online or traditional classroom settings based on their circumstances. Those who prefer traditional classroom settings may enjoy the face-to-face interaction with their instructor, while online classes offer flexibility and time-saving benefits. Paralegal students need to review these options carefully and select a school that suits their needs.

Students need also to understand that education does not end once a paralegal obtains their degree or certificate. Rather, continued learning is necessary to stay ahead in the legal field. Paralegals can take advantage of continuing education classes and other training resources to hone their skills and remain competitive. Fortunately, paralegals have many opportunities to obtain this continuing education, including through professional organizations such as NALA and the NFPA.

Student Support and Career Services

Career and student services are essential in helping students determine the best career paths based on their qualifications and interests. These services guide additional qualifications students may need to acquire and suggest activities that can make them more appealing candidates. They also assist students with job placement and identify networking opportunities.

To evaluate a school's performance in providing student support and career services, students should check out these departments themselves to learn about the opportunities they offer. It is also critical to find out whether the departments have partnerships with legal fields that can help students with their careers after graduation. Additionally, students may want to check whether the college career center offers various resources regarding job-search tools, such as resume-building guides or workshops.

Financial Considerations

While the American Bar Association does not provide financial assistance for paralegal education programs, several options are available for students who need help with tuition and related expenses. Students who meet the eligibility criteria may qualify for Federal Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized Loans, Unsubsidized Loans, and Parent Plus loans. Additionally, some schools offer their financial aid packages to help students cover the cost of their education. Students can also explore professional associations, such as the NFPA, which may offer paralegal scholarships.

For further information about financial aid options or scholarships available, check with the financial aid office at the schools you are considering applying to. However, it is recommended that you immediately research this aid and resources since deadlines must be met for students to receive these funds.

Location and Community

When looking for a paralegal school, it is important to prioritize the institution's reputation over its location. Employers tend to know which schools produce skilled and educated paralegals, regardless of where they are located. Therefore, proximity to certain employers should not be a primary factor in your decision-making process. If you are looking for paralegal schools around Arizona or Texas, consider checking out the following institutions: San Antonio College, Phoenix College, Alvin Community College, and Lee College.

However, there is an upside to attending schools in regions that have a robust legal community, such as Texas State University and The University of North Carolina., These locations can provide you with more opportunities to network with professionals in the field, which could help you secure your dream job. In addition, mentors at these schools may have valuable connections that can further aid your career.

Alumni Network and Professional Associations

School alumni networks and professional associations offer paralegal students a range of opportunities for job prospects and career growth. Being a member of an alumni association is an effective way to connect with professionals and other organizations. However, more importantly, networking is a crucial way to establish connections that can help advance one's career. Such relationships can lead to job offers and internships. Mentorships and a supportive legal community can also assist individuals in moving forward.

When exploring these networks, students should explore school programs and attend events, seminars, or workshops hosted by the schools to learn more about the legal community affiliated with the school.

Getting involved with paralegal associations, such as NALA, NFPA, the National Association for Legal Support Professionals (NALS), and the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), can also enhance education and professional growth. These organizations can also provide students access to continuing education, networking events, and certification programs. It can also lead to mentorship opportunities and insight into the legal industry that cannot be found in books.

Evaluating Online Reviews and Testimonials

Finally, when looking for a paralegal program, consider researching the reputation of the schools or programs you are considering enrolling in. Look for testimonials, reviews, and feedback from current and former students. You can also check with local law firms and lawyers for their opinions on specific programs or schools.

Get the Answers You Need

Earning a paralegal degree can be a valuable asset as it provides a strong foundation in legal principles and practical skills essential for the role. Moreover, it creates more job opportunities and possibilities for career advancement. However, finding the right paralegal school is crucial to ensure students receive the education they need to succeed in the field. Therefore, individuals should conduct thorough research and consider multiple factors before deciding.

To learn more about what certain paralegal schools offer and which is the right fit for you and your future, consider requesting details from prospective schools and begin the comparison process.

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