Can I work while studying for my paralegal certificate?
Many certificate programs are geared toward working adults who have already obtained an associates or bachelors degree, want to earn a career credential that can increase their paralegal salary and acquire new skills to advance in their position and make themselves more marketable.
Students studying for paralegal certificates often work for private law firms, corporations, insurance companies, nonprofits, advocacy groups, banks and government agencies. They may also find work in the areas of intellectual property, healthcare, international law, criminal law and environmental law. Paralegal students may be employed in a clerical or administrative capacity and are usually able to work full time while in school.
Working while earning your certificate in paralegal studies provides valuable experience and can lead to promotions or new employment opportunities. However, as with any certificate or degree program, the requirements are frequently demanding and you will need to complete tests, class participation and reading and writing assignments on a weekly basis.
There are many online paralegal certificate programs that can ease the struggle to balance work and school, as most are designed to accommodate working adults. Some of these programs are accelerated, which allows you to enter the field sooner.
Are there any brick-and-mortar colleges that offer an online paralegal certificate program?
Online paralegal certificates are offered through some community colleges, but you can also find these programs through excellent national universities. George Mason University (GMU) offers a paralegal certificate program online that lasts just 14 weeks and teaches students to assist attorneys, prepare cases for trial, interview witnesses and research the law. GMU is nationally ranked second among up-and-coming schools by U.S. News & World Report, which makes it an excellent choice for your paralegal certificate program.
University of California, Irvine has a blended, American Bar Association (ABA) approved paralegal certificate program that combines online instruction with traditional classroom work and an internship. UC Irvine is nationally ranked 13 among public schools by U.S. News & World Reportand highly ranked among all national schools as well.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a highly ranked Midwestern school offering an ABA-approved online paralegal studies certificate to students who have already obtained a bachelors degree. With an emphasis on writing and research, the course also provides a mentorship program, an on-site practicum and internship opportunities.
University of North Dakota, ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top public schools, offers a non-credit paralegal certificate course. The program lasts 6 months and is designed primarily to help you successfully complete the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) certification exam.
What are common assumptions about students who choose to get a paralegal certificate?
The most common assumption is that students who apply to paralegal certificate programs do not have what it takes to enter law school and become lawyers themselves. In fact, many people work as paralegals while attending law school. The job allows paralegals considering law school to ask lawyers about the practice of law and earn some good money before taking on the burden of school loans.
Another assumption is that a paralegal certificate is not worth as much as an actual degree. Some certificate programs are only prerequisites to a paralegal associate degree and do not require any previous college education. However, many are designed for working paralegals with associates or bachelors degrees who want to become credentialed in their field.
Some consider paralegals to be little more than legal secretaries. While paralegals do often function in a clerical or administrative capacity, their training allows them to carry out tasks that a secretary could not perform, such as investigating the facts of a case, conducting research on laws and legal articles, obtaining affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court and helping lawyers prepare for trial.
What is the hardest part of the application to an on-campus or online paralegal certificate program?
The main component of applying to most programs, whether for a paralegal certificate online or on campus, is that you must already hold an associates or bachelors degree from an accredited school.
Unless you attend an accelerated program, this requires a 2 to 4-year commitment. For an associates degree, it must be an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree, not an applied science degree from a technical school. Those without a degree are expected to have completed a minimum number of college credits, including credits in general education courses. One exception is Kennesaw State University, which requires only a high school diploma or GED.
Aside from your college transcripts, some programs require a resume and an essay explaining why you want to enroll and how the program will benefit you. Both of these items, combined with the application itself, can take up to several hours to complete.
Paralegal online certificate programs are rarely different in their requirements than their on-campus counterparts, although the online program at George Mason University does not have a college degree as a prerequisite. At University of Texas, Austin you can earn paralegal certificates online with just a high school diploma as well.