Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Generally, paralegals are graduates of two-year associate degree programs. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, business colleges and proprietary institutions. The variety of institutions makes it possible for persons with diverse backgrounds to enter the profession. The most common types of programs are:
- Associate Degree Programs. These programs are offered by two-year community colleges, some four-year colleges and universities, and some business schools. Upon successful completion of 60-70 semester units, a student earns an associate degree. The curriculum usually consists of approximately 1/2 paralegal courses and 1/2 courses in general education and related areas.
- Bachelor Degree Programs. Paralegal education is also offered by four-year colleges and universities which have a paralegal studies major, minor, or concentration within a major. These programs are usually about 120-130 semester units, including 30-60 semester units in paralegal and related courses. Upon successful completion of the program, the student is awarded a baccalaureate degree.
- Certificate Programs. Various kinds of educational institutions offer paralegal certificate programs ranging from 18-60 semester units. Longer programs usually include both general education and paralegal courses, similar to associate degree programs. Certificate programs are usually designed for students who already hold an associate or baccalaureate degree.
- Master's Degree Programs. A few colleges and universities that offer undergraduate paralegal degree programs are now offering an advanced degree in paralegal studies. Other universities offer advanced degree programs and law-related areas such as legal administration and legal studies.
The American Bar Association has a program of approving paralegal programs which meet their guidelines. Seeking ABA approval is voluntary on the part of the institution. A directory of the ABA approved paralegal schools may be found on the web site of the American Bar Association.
The web site of the American Association for Paralegal Education may also offer some helpful information for you including a roster of member institutions. This website also provides helpful tips on evaluating a paralegal program.