Guide to the Best Online Paralegal Certificate Programs

Demand is soaring for paralegals and legal assistants. Explore affordable, flexible online certificate programs from top colleges that qualify you for these roles in less than a year.

Last Updated: 09/09/2021

Are you fresh out of high school or a working professional looking for a career change? Have you been intrigued by a career in law? If you think the only way to pursue a career in the legal field is to have a law degree, think again. Undergraduate and graduate online paralegal certificate programs can give you the training you need to get a job as a paralegal or legal assistant in less than a year. 

Today’s online paralegal certificate programs make it easy for students to get career-ready without breaking the bank or attending campus. This guide will introduce you to this year’s best schools offering online paralegal certificate programs. We’ll also answer key questions about earning a paralegal certificate online, including those about application requirements, accreditation, cost, and more. If you’re ready to make your move toward an in-demand career in law, read on.

College Spotlights: Best Paralegal Certificate Online Programs for 2021


With so many online learning options for paralegal students, how do you know where to start? These best-in-class program profiles will narrow your search and help you focus on some of the best online paralegal certificate programs available today. These programs, which are only a portion of our full rankings list, were chosen for the quality of education they offer, affordability, and overall flexibility for remote learners. Check back to see our full rankings soon.

1

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley offers a certificate in paralegal studies through its online extension program. Learners complete the certificate entirely online with no on-campus obligations. The program prepares students for paralegal work in any state after 6-12 months of instruction.

Learners in Berkeley’s paralegal certificate program complete six classes, including three electives. The curriculum focuses on essential skills in legal research, client communication, and case file organization. In addition to building a strong foundation in civil and criminal law topics, you’ll develop skills in recovering, organizing, and analyzing electronic data that can be used as evidence in the court system. Required classes include foundational skills, authority, research, and writing, and paralegal e-discovery process and practice.

For graduation, online paralegal certificate students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and complete all six classes with a grade of C or higher. Students who finish the program with a 4.0 are awarded a certificate of distinction.

Program Length: 6-12 months

Total Program Cost: $7,970

2

Boston University

Boston University (BU) is a private research university offering a fully remote paralegal certificate online. In this 14-week intensive program, you’ll explore popular areas of the legal field and develop essential skills using the latest technologies and tools. 

Certificate-seekers complete two seven-week modules. Required courses include legal research, legal writing and reasoning, business law, real estate law, and legal technologies. Coursework is generally self-paced with synchronous, live classroom meetings once or twice per week. BU paralegal students engage with other students in their class remotely using an online discussion board.

BU paralegal certificate students interact with law professors and practicing attorneys online and attend virtual office hours for extra help. Learners receive career coaching and assistance with building their LinkedIn profiles and writing their resumes. While there are no academic requirements to apply, BU recommends learners have an associate or bachelor’s degree and some relevant work experience before entering the program.

Program Length: 14 weeks

Total Program Cost: $3,995

3

University of Texas, Austin

University of Texas (UT), Austin offers a fully-online, self-paced online paralegal certificate program that students can complete in 12 months or less.

The curriculum helps students explore essential topics for new paralegals, including tort law, contracts, litigation, and Texas rules of civil procedure. Despite being in a self-paced program, UT Austin learners interact regularly with their professors during remote office hours. 

The program is a good fit for aspiring attorneys or working professionals looking to make a career change. Anyone with a high school diploma may apply, although UT Austin recommends incoming students have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Program Length: 12 months

Total Program Cost: $5,295

Types of Online Paralegal Certificate Programs Available

No matter where you are in your educational or career journey, there’s a paralegal certificate online for you. Whether you’re a new high school graduate, a bachelor’s degree-holder, or a professional working in another field, you’ll find a paralegal certificate program to meet your needs. Read on to learn more about both undergraduate and graduate paralegal certificate programs, as well as quality schools that offer them.

Undergraduate Online Paralegal Certificate Programs

In these programs, you’ll need a high school diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree to apply. The curriculum at this level covers the essentials and day-to-day skills you’ll need to work as a paralegal. These programs are best suited for learners with little or no related experience who want to develop foundational skills and work in law firms, government agencies, corporations, and more. Depending on your plans and level of education, you might be able to transfer credits from a paralegal certificate program to an associate or bachelor’s degree later.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Paralegal Certificate Program

Liberty University (Fully-Online)

Ashworth College (Fully-Online) 

American Military University (Fully-Online)

Duke University (Fully-Online) 

University of Massachusetts Lowell (Fully-Online or Hybrid) 

Louisiana State University (Fully-Online) 

Rasmussen University (Fully-Online)

Graduate Online Paralegal Certificate Programs

Graduate online paralegal certificate programs require incoming learners to already have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Since these programs require more education for admission, graduate paralegal certificates are more academically intensive than their undergraduate counterparts. Schools expect graduate learners to have a solid background in standard academic subjects, including the humanities, communication skills, social sciences, reading, and writing. In this way, students delve more deeply into paralegal skills and law practices. There’s also a high probability you’ll be able to transfer graduate-level certificate credits in paralegal studies toward a related master’s degree. Upon completion of a graduate paralegal certificate, you’ll be able to pursue work as a legal secretary, paralegal, legal assistant, and more.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Paralegal Certificate Program

Rice University (Fully-Online)

The George Washington University (Fully-Online or On-Campus) 

Purdue University Global (Fully Online)

Hamline University (Fully-Online) 

Eastern Kentucky University (Fully-Online) 

Villanova University (Fully-Online or On-Campus)

University of California, Irvine (Fully Online) 

What You’ll Learn: Paralegal Certificate Online Courses and Curriculum

Paralegal certificate online programs ensure that you have the foundational understanding of the law needed for success. Expect to take classes that help you explore the U.S. legal system, legal writing and research, professional ethics, litigation, and real estate law. Many certificate programs also provide the opportunity to take elective classes, such as international law or intellectual property, to help you tailor your certificate to meet your needs and interests. Upon finishing an online paralegal certificate program, you’ll be able to handle all types of paralegal work in professional settings such as law firms, government agencies, legal aid offices, and corporations. Here’s a closer look at courses you can expect to encounter in your online paralegal program.

Common Courses in Online Paralegal Certificate Programs

Real Estate Law

In this class, you’ll explore typical real estate conveyances and transactions, including deeds, contracts, mortgages, and deeds of trust. Faculty typically helps students understand the paralegal’s role in the real estate sector by evaluating title examinations, recording statutes, zoning ordinances, and tenant rights and liabilities.

Introduction to Business Law

Paralegals need to understand the fundamentals of business law, and this class focuses on the essential aspects for your career. Faculty help you understand key areas of business, including contract law, employment law, breach, defenses, and more. This course is especially helpful for paralegals who are considering pursuing a law degree after their certificate.

International Law

Focusing on current issues in the field, the course examines public international law topics such as human rights, the global environment, international crimes, international courts, and the recognition of new countries. Additionally, private international law topics such as cyber theft, foreign investment, taxation, and intangible property are also covered.

Legal Research and Writing

Since conducting research and legal writing is such a large part of paralegal work, expect at least one class dedicated to these subjects. This foundational course offers a comprehensive understanding of how to conduct online research using primary and secondary sources, cite sources correctly, edit legal memorandums, draft research memos, and evaluate class action certifications. You’ll also learn how to write case briefs and create documents using the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) style.

Litigation

This class provides an overview of the litigation process and helps learners further understand legal concepts such as common law and statutory privilege, the use of interrogatories, and preparing a case for trial. Faculty typically require paralegal students to complete assignments that simulate the litigation process, which includes preparing the necessary legal documents that pertain to specific case scenarios.

FAQs About Earning Your Paralegal Certificate Online

How long does it take to earn a paralegal certificate online?

Depending on the program and whether you’re a full- or part-time learner, you can expect your online paralegal certificate to take several weeks or several months to complete. Most programs take less than a year to finish. The paralegal certificate at The Center for Advanced Legal Studies takes only eight months. Duke University’s self-paced certificate program allows learners up to one year to finish, although most finish in several months. Part-time learners in the graduate certificate program at Villanova University can finish in nine months. In most cases, online learners are able to finish their programs more quickly than on-campus learners because of the flexibility of working from home and completing assignments in their spare time.

How much do online paralegal certificates cost?

The cost of online paralegal certificate programs varies among schools. In most cases, expect to earn 18-30 credits for a total tuition cost of $7,000-$10,000, including fees. Tuition for online learners often tends to be slightly cheaper than for traditional on-campus learners. Additionally, some schools offer remote learners the cheaper, in-state tuition rate regardless of their residential location. Fully remote paralegal students also save money by avoiding costly commutes to and from campus and incidental expenses that often arise when attending courses in person. To give you a better idea of what to expect, here’s a look at tuition data for three online paralegal certificate programs.

School NameNo. of CreditsCost/CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Inver Hills Community College30 credits$197.73$5,931.90
University of Massachusetts Lowell18 credits$380$6,840
University of San Diego24 credits$285$6,840

Can I get financial aid to help pay for my online paralegal certificate program?

Yes, it’s possible to get financial aid to help you cover the cost of your online paralegal certificate program. Students often find assistance in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships. Scholarships and grants are the most desirable forms of financial aid because they are essentially free money and do not need to be repaid. Loans, on the other hand, must be repaid with interest. For all forms of aid, you’ll have to make sure that you meet the requirements. Some financial awards may be reserved for learners from a specific demographic or geographic area. Other awards are merit- or need-based. 

Some scholarships may be designed for paralegal students specifically. These often come from schools themselves or from professional organizations such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the American Association for Paralegal Education, and state bar organizations across the country, such as this one in North Carolina. For more scholarship and funding information, look into the STEPS financial aid guide and scholarships guide.

What are the admissions requirements for online paralegal certificate programs?

The requirements for your online paralegal certificate program application will vary among schools. The good news is that they all will be relatively simple and require you to submit only a few documents for consideration. Some programs, in fact, do not even require you to apply as long as you meet the admissions criteria. In these cases, you’ll just enroll online.

Most programs require the following:

  • High school diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree (bachelor’s required for graduate certificate)
  • Competitive GPA or GPA that meets a minimum (often 2.5 or higher)
  • Computer and Microsoft Word proficiency
  • Resume
  • School transcripts
  • Writing sample (optional)
  • Personal statement (optional)
  • Professional recommendation (optional)
  • Personal interview (optional)

Can I earn my paralegal certificate 100% online?

Yes, many colleges and universities offer their paralegal certificates entirely online. You’ll also find many hybrid programs in which students complete classes both online and in person. Some programs, regardless of whether they are fully online, hybrid, or on-campus, require their paralegal students to complete an in-person internship. If you’re a fully online student, you’ll be able to satisfy your internship requirement at an approved location in your area. Before you apply, be sure to check with your prospective schools about any potential in-person requirements.

Does my online paralegal certificate program need to be approved by the ABA?

As you search for the best online paralegal certificate for your needs, you’ll find that not all programs have approval from the American Bar Association (ABA). While some states may be more strict than others about requirements for professionals to become paralegals, you do not need to attend an ABA-approved program to find work after finishing your program. 

If your program is nationally or regionally accredited, you’ll be ready to pursue a career as a paralegal in nearly all states in the U.S. As of June 2021, California is the only state that requires paralegals to have attended an ABA-approved program. All other states follow their own statewide paralegal licensing regulations, which happen to be voluntary and not a requirement for paralegals to work. If you wish to become a “certified paralegal,” which is different from earning a paralegal certificate through school, you’ll need to sit for an exam that’s offered through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook: Is an Online Paralegal Certificate Worth It?

The job outlook for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. looks very bright. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% growth in available positions by 2029. That’s more than double the average growth for other occupations in the U.S. This growth is, in part, due to law offices and governmental bodies trying to be more efficient and reduce their operating costs across the board. Paralegals and legal assistants can take on many responsibilities at firms and corporations, making them valuable and versatile employees that help organizations save money in the long run.

The other good news is that professionals with a paralegal certificate often secure jobs with a healthy paycheck. Paralegals, legal assistants, and legal support workers make a median annual wage of about $53,000, according to BLS. That’s about $11,000 more per year than the median annual wage of all other occupations in the U.S. If you consider how much cheaper a paralegal certificate is compared to the average associate or bachelor’s degree program, you’ll be getting a great return on your investment.

Continuing Ed Opportunities After Earning Your Paralegal Certificate Online

Continuing your education in legal studies after you complete the paralegal certificate can have numerous benefits. First and foremost, continuing education classes help you keep up with any changes in the field, from legality and policy changes to technological improvements that make your job easier. 

Your paralegal certificate can also be a great foundation for a law degree or a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral program in legal studies, international law, criminal justice, homeland security, and other related tracks. 

While each school follows its own transfer credit guidelines, the credits you earned in your online paralegal certificate program may count for credit toward a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, saving you time and money in the long run. Here’s a list of common degree paths that many learners choose to pursue beyond their paralegal certificate, all of which you can earn online.