As with many professions within the legal industry, the educational pathway of a paralegal is essential. Throughout the past several years, and according to industry projections, the competition for paralegal jobs is high. Because of this, one of the most effective ways to secure a job as a paralegal is carefully selecting your paralegal program and degree.
Much like other professional careers, there are several options an aspiring paralegal has when it comes to their education. Although to become a paralegal you must hold a high school diploma or GED, the next level of required education varies based upon industry and employer. Often times, the next step is to pursue paralegal certification, and then obtain a position within a law firm to gain experience and build your resume. The following types of paralegal educational programs and degree options are considered industry standard throughout this profession.
Bachelor Degree in Paralegal Studies
Perhaps one of the most common higher-level degree options completed by paralegals is a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. Although this level of education is rarely required for the majority of paralegal and legal assistant positions, a bachelor degree in paralegal studies provides advanced-level knowledge of the United States legal system. Along with providing a wider scope of practice and knowledge, those with this degree generally earn above-average annual salaries. If you’re already a working paralegal, obtaining your bachelor degree in paralegal studies can play an integral role in climbing the legal ladder.
Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
By far, the majority of paralegals have obtained an associate degree in paralegal studies. While a bachelor degree offers a greater understanding of the United States legal system, a two-year associate degree in paralegal studies provides a solid foundation to succeed within this career. If you’re looking to get your feet wet with an entry-level paralegal career, then an associate degree in paralegal studies is your ideal choice. While those with a bachelor degree in paralegal studies generally make closer to $60,000 per year, those with an associate degree tend to make an average of $45,000 per year. However, if you choose to work in the corporate or insurance fields of practice, the average income for an associate degree paralegal jumps to $50,000 to $55,000 per year*.
Master Degree in Paralegal Studies
Considered the highest-level of education a paralegal may achieve, a master’s degree in paralegal studies sets you apart from the vast majority of your peers. Although this level of education offers more generalized studies, the majority of those with a master’s in paralegal studies have chosen a specialty field of study within this profession. Because of the demand within this industry, those with a master’s degree in paralegal studies are considered the “cream of the crop” when it comes to employment. The average salary for paralegals with a master’s degree is greater than $60,000 per year. As with other levels of employment within this career field, paralegals working in the private sector tend to yield higher annual incomes.
As with any profession, it is imperative that you carefully select the educational institution where you will be pursuing your degree or training program. Before selecting a paralegal school, consider the recommendations of the industry’s governing bodies, such as the AAPI, NALA and NFPA. Each organization offers a set of guidelines that they recommend to paralegals as they navigate their educational options.