As one of the hottest careers in America, a paralegal is a legal professional who specializes in assisting attorneys in various aspects of their practice to make law firms run more smoothly. According to the job description, a paralegal is responsible for investigating the facts involved in a court case, conducting research on relevant regulations, organizing information on cases in computer databases, drafting legal documents, and writing reports to prepare lawyers for trial. Although there are several pathways to becoming a paralegal, most employers require candidates to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. For those seeking the convenience of earning the degree full or part-time, the following are the 10 best online paralegal degree programs.
1. Bellevue University
Designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence and ranked as the 9th best online education program by U.S. News and World Report, Bellevue University is a private non-profit institution that serves more than 16,000 students across three states. Fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, Bellevue is the only accredited university to win the Corporate University Best in Class (CUBIC) award twice. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, students can pursue an online accelerated Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies. With a perfect blend of legal principle theories and real-world application in practice, it is no surprise that this award-winning university steals the top spot among the best paralegal schools.
2. Pennsylvania State University
Based on a University Park campus known as Happy Valley, Pennsylvania State University is a private institution that is currently ranked as the 37th best college and 8th top public school in the nation. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Penn State also offers the 16th best online bachelor’s degree programs in the country. Aspiring paralegals can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society online to gain a broad understanding of the law, legal principles, and legal systems. Within the program, students are required to complete 15 credits of core course work, including legal writing, legal ethics, and the philosophy of law.
3. George Washington University
As a private institution located in legal capital of America in Washington, D.C., George Washington University is currently ranked as the 52nd best college in the nation and offers the 35th best online education programs according to U.S. News and World Report. George Washington University offers a unique Master of Professional Studies in Paralegal Studies program fully online to meet the needs of working adult learners. The University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) has recently awarded the GW Paralegal program the “Program of Excellence Award.” The innovative program provided by the GW College of Professional Studies has been specifically designed by government agencies, consulting organizations, and leaders in the legal field.
4. American Public University
With the 22nd best online education programs in the nation, American Public University is a respected higher learning institution that is well-known for providing superior distance learning environments. Nationally recognized by the prestigious Sloan Consortium for best practices in online education and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, American Public University offers an Associate of Science degree in Paralegal Practice fully online. The legal-based degree is designed to offer students a formative understanding in litigation, ethics, criminal law, legal research, legal writing, and civil practice. Within the online program, the university ensures that students still gain the chance to interact with their partnering professionals through interactive classroom discussions in the virtual campus classroom.
5. Widener University
Located in Chester, Pennsylvania about 15 miles south of Philadelphia, Widener University is a private institution that is currently ranked as the 181st best college in the nation for 2014. Depending on prior experience in the paralegal profession, the online Widener Law Center offers 120-credit bachelor’s degree and 60-credit associate’s degree programs that have been approved by the American Bar Association. Affiliated with the prestigious Widener University School of Law, students can engage in the academically excellent programs either full-time or part-time. Both programs focus on the application of legal research, writing, civil litigation, criminal theory, and legal technology with a firm liberal arts foundation.
6. Peirce College
Offering the 52nd best online bachelor’s degree programs in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report, Peirce College has a legacy of over 144 years of education as a private institution in Philadelphia. On the online global campus, Pierce College provides programs approved by the American Bar Association leading to an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and post-bachelor’s certificate for paralegals. While the majority of the coursework can be completed online, Pierce College requires that four foundation courses are taken in the traditional campus setting. Students in the programs are also given unparalleled access to tutoring, workshops, student organizations, library access to resources, and other support services online to ensure their success within their distance education.
7. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
As a private institution rooted in the Catholic tradition, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has been ranked as the 18th best college in the Midwest with the 93rd best online bachelor’s degree programs in the nation. Based on a rich liberal arts education, the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences of SMWC offers paralegal associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs. For students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, there is also a post-baccalaureate certificate program. All of the paralegal programs are offered through a flexible online education program that has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
8. Eastern Kentucky University
Eastern Kentucky University is a comprehensive public institution located in Richmond, Kentucky that has been ranked as the 55th best college and 22nd top public school in the South. Although the university serves 15,968 students, it still boasts an impressive student to faculty ratio of 16:1 with the majority of courses being led by highly specialized faculty with PhD degrees in their field. As a respected charter member of the American Association for Paralegal Education, EKU presents students with an online Paralegal program that prepares graduates for future endeavors in law. Courses include legal research, writing, ethics, job search techniques for paralegals, and an invaluable internship. Students in the program must be able to travel to the campus for two weeks of instruction in the traditional format to interact with fellow students.
9. Tiffin University
First founded in 1888, Tiffin University is a private institution based in north-central Ohio that has been ranked as offering the 102nd best online bachelor’s degree programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Fully online, students can enroll in the Tiffin Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal degree program to gain significant procedural knowledge of the legal system under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Ohio Board of Regents, the curriculum in paralegal specialty courses are run in a convenient seven-week format in the interactive virtual classroom. Students face a rigorous curriculum based on legal research, contract writing, business organizations, litigation, estate planning, criminal law, law office management, and a valuable senior year internship experience for course credit.
10. Liberty University
Not only is Liberty University ranked as the 89th best college in the South, U.S. News and World Report has named the private institution as offering the 109th best online bachelor’s degree programs in the nation. Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program online are equipped with all of the practical skills and legal knowledge necessary to succeed in the growing career. Through courses that are all taught by practicing attorneys, students take 120 total credit hours covering various areas of the legal world, including foundations of law, legal writing, rhetoric, real estate law, and legal ethics with moral biblical perspectives. Students can also enroll in the Associate of Arts program as an excellent stepping stone towards earning the bachelor’s degree for further career advancement and higher paralegal salary.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 is an excellent time to become enrolled in an online paralegal degree program as it is expected to be one of the fastest growing professions in the nation. Not only is employment predicted to rapidly grow by 22 percent, the 267,030 paralegal professionals are compensated higher than ever before with a mean annual paralegal salary of $50,220. CNN Money Magazine has even ranked paralegal as the 14th best job in the United States based on the fulfilling nature of helping clients to resolve their legal troubles. Therefore, it is highly recommended that those interested in entering a fascinating and in-demand career in law in 2014 consider these best of the best online paralegal schools. These degree programs stand out among the increasing crowd of online programs for their exceptional ranking, affordability, accreditation, faculty credentials, student support services, practical experience, and high graduation job placement rate.