There are two main ways to get an education as a paralegal. First, you can earn a paralegal degree online or through traditional education, either at the associate's or bachelor's level. Second, you can earn a bachelor's degree in any field (liberal arts, law, criminal justice, communications - anything) and then get a paralegal certification after your bachelor's is complete. This second method - earning a bachelor's degree and then pursuing a paralegal certificate or certification - is a great way to move into the field of being a paralegal if you had not realized you were interested when you began your bachelor's degree. It is also a great way to blend fields, for example earning a bachelor's degree in finance and then earning a paralegal certificate with a plan of working for a bank, stock broker or other financial institution. With paralegal degrees online you have a variety of ways to prepare for the field of law.
Bachelor's Level Paralegal Degrees Online vs. Paralegal Certification
To enter the world of the working paralegal you will do best to have a formal education. This can mean either earning an actual associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, or pursuing a certificate in paralegal studies, possibley after you earned a bachelor's in another field. Either way, paralegal degrees online all require basically the same courses to earn a degree.
Most paralegal programs will require you to begin with an introductory law course as well as a course in ethics and the law. Next, you will probably take basic courses that overview tips and strategies for legal research and legal writing; you will likely do much research and writing in every paralegal course that you take at every level. In addition, you will probably take courses in interviewing, questioning and statement or evidence gathering. Finally, you will be required to take a variety of courses which overview specific areas of the law including litigation, criminal law, finance law, family law, real estate law, intellectual property law and more. Some programs may allow you to specialize, choosing the specialization courses you wish to pursue.
If you choose one of the associate's or bachelor's paralegal degrees online then you will take the above type of paralegal courses but you will also have to take what are called liberal arts or general education courses. That means that everyone who earns an associate's or bachelor's in any major has to take basic courses such as English composition, general science, history, mathematics and the like. Once these liberal arts courses are complete then you move on to your major emphasis courses, the specific paralegal classes in this case. If you are earning a simple paralegal certificate then you do not have to take these liberal arts courses, you focus exclusively on your legal education.
Making the Decision
Deciding between a full associate's or bachelor's degree and a simple certificate in paralegal studies can be a challenge. Making the decision is easier if you understand the basic legal courses that you will have to take for all three of these options as well as the general education courses required for paralegal degrees online. Of course, as with any college program the exact required courses will vary somewhat from school to school. Also, with some online degrees life experience can count for something; if you have paralegal experience be sure to ask your enrollment advisor if you can test out of any courses.
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