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Best Paralegal Programs in Illinois for 2024: Online and On-Campus

Paralegals are a critical component of any legal practice. Learn more about various paralegal programs in Illinois, salary and job prospects, and the resources available to students studying for their paralegal degrees.

Author: Shannon Lee
Editor: STEPS Staff

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A blue silhouette of the state of Illinois is displayed on a light background. The map outlines the state's distinctive shape with its recognizable northern and southern boundaries.

When most people think of the legal profession, they think of lawyers. However, the paralegals do the bulk of the legal heavy lifting. Lawyers may argue a case in a courtroom, but the paralegal usually does the legal research and helps gather the facts for the lawyer to use in court.

Because of their importance to lawyers, paralegals are well-compensated and in high demand. The average annual salary in Illinois is $63,590, and the projected 10-year growth rate for this profession is 14.4%. Read on to learn more about the types of paralegal programs in Illinois and the resources available to help you succeed.

Best Colleges to Earn a Paralegal Degree in Illinois – Campus-Based Programs

Plenty of paralegal programs in Illinois will give you the training necessary to become a paralegal. However, not all the schools offering these programs are the same regarding student support services, cost, and academic quality. To give you an idea of what to expect from the best paralegal programs in Illinois, we’ve reviewed three spotlight schools you can learn more about below. You can also expect a complete ranking of paralegal programs later in 2024.

McHenry County College

Students at McHenry County College have two paralegal programs to choose from. Students interested in working in the legal field as quickly as possible should consider the paralegal certificate. This track consists of 30 credits and takes 32 weeks to complete. Students interested in earning a college degree or eventually moving on to earning a bachelor’s degree can enroll in the Associate of Applied Science paralegal program. Students must complete 60 credits and can graduate in 64 weeks with full-time study.

No matter their pathway, students will receive an education that lets them practice in any legal setting, including law firms, public interest organizations, and government agencies and organizations. One of the benefits of McHenry County College is its affordability, with total tuition costs for the associate degree program at around $8,000 and the certificate programs at about $4,000.

  • On Campus
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
Undergraduate Programs:
  • Associate of Applied Science – Paralegal
  • Paralegal Certificate

Illinois State University

The legal studies paralegal certificate program at Illinois State University is ABA-approved. It stands out from the other paralegal programs in Illinois because it offers two tracks within the paralegal certificate program. The two pathways differ in the following way: one is for incoming students who already have a bachelor’s degree, and one is for those who do not.

The paralegal certificate program for bachelor’s degree holders is well-suited for those looking to work as a paralegal as a second career. Students must complete 24 credits of six core classes and two paralegal electives. Students can substitute the two elective classes with an internship for additional hands-on training. The non-bachelor’s degree track requires the same 24 credits, but it also requires students to complete 18 additional credit hours of general education classes. Students must have the school’s director of legal studies approve these general education classes.

  • On Campus
  • Part-Time
  • Full-time
Undergraduate Programs:
  • Certificate of Legal Studies

Generations College

The Associate of Science in paralegal studies from Generations College is Illinois’s oldest two-year paralegal studies program. This program is also approved by the ABA.

Students in the Generations College paralegal program have a great deal of flexibility in how they approach their learning. For instance, they take online and on-campus classes to provide a compelling blend of flexible and interactive learning. If more in-person learning is desired, there are optional internships available. There are also day and evening program tracks for students who may want a more traditional degree but also want to work while in school.

Though this is an associate degree program, students can still complete it in roughly the same amount of time as many paralegal certificate programs. A full-time student can graduate in just 16 months if taking classes year-round.

  • Online
  • On-Campus
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
Undergraduate Programs:
  • Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies

Top Online Paralegal Degree Programs in Illinois

Illinois’s online and hybrid paralegal programs offer a flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional in-person programs, catering mainly to busy professionals and those seeking convenience. Earning a paralegal degree online is possible, with many reputable institutions offering comprehensive online curricula.

We review some of the top paralegal programs in Illinois below to help you with your search but stay tuned for our complete rankings list, coming soon, to aid in your search for the perfect online program.

Loyola University Chicago

The Institute for Paralegal Studies at Loyola University Chicago stands out from many other paralegal programs in Illinois for several compelling reasons.

First, it offers a 100% online and ABA-approved paralegal certificate program. No campus visits are required, but most courses are synchronous, meaning students must be present at preset times for live lectures or course discussions. To accommodate students’ packed schedules, the live online classes occur in the evenings and on weekends.

Second, in addition to fully online coursework, students can take some required classes on campus. They can select from the following three specializations: litigation and corporate practice, litigation practice, and corporate practice.

There are four start dates each year: one in spring, one in summer, and two in the fall. To apply, students must already have a bachelor’s degree with a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale.

Undergraduate Programs:
  • Paralegal Certificate
Program Options:
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
  • Fully Online
  • Partially Online

Southwestern Illinois College

The Associate of Applied Science in paralegal studies from Southwestern Illinois College is a two-year program with 64 credits. This program is different from many others with its accelerated degree option. Students with an associate or bachelor’s degree can graduate in about one year after taking 30 credits of major-related classes.

To meet its students’ unique professional and academic needs, Southwestern Illinois College offers classes online and on campus. Students also get to take two paralegal electives in practice areas such as family law, criminal law, employment law, bankruptcy, intellectual property, and estate planning.

Students who want to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree will appreciate the agreement Southwestern Illinois College has with neighboring four-year schools, in which students can transfer to those institutions, earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, and graduate in two years.

Undergraduate Programs:
  • Associate in Applied Science – Paralegal Studies
Program Options:
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
  • Partially Online

Elgin Community College

At Elgin Community College, paralegal students have two academic pathways to paralegal training. The fastest way is the paralegal certificate option, which consists of 24 credits and takes less than one year to complete. In addition to 18 credits of core classes, students will also complete six credits of paralegal electives.

Another option is to earn an associate degree along with a paralegal certificate. All paralegal-related class requirements can be completed in person during the day or online. The online classes are only available synchronously, with classes held in the evenings. Part of the curriculum includes a required in-person internship, although certain students with prior legal experience may be exempt from this requirement.

Upon graduation, students can transfer to an eligible four-year university to complete another two years of classes to earn a Bachelor of Arts in paralegal studies.

Undergraduate Programs:
  • Paralegal Certificate
  • Associate Degree + Paralegal Certificate
Program Options:
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
  • Fully Online
  • Partially Online

Types of Paralegal Degrees You Can Earn in Illinois

Most paralegal programs in Illinois offer a certificate or associate degree. However, there are some paralegal programs in Illinois that result in a bachelor’s degree. Regardless of your academic credential, you will have online and on-campus programs to choose from. Read on to learn why you might choose one type of credential over the other.

Undergraduate Paralegal Degrees in Illinois

Paralegal Associate Degrees

Paralegal programs in Chicago or any other part of Illinois usually take two years of full-time study. While this is longer than a certificate program, an associate program results in a college degree, which some employers may prefer. It can also save time if you want to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Accredited Illinois Colleges with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies

Paralegal Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies offers more in-depth and specialized knowledge and skills in legal research, writing, and case management. It can enhance your career prospects with opportunities in law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies, and nonprofits. It can be a valuable asset for those aspiring to further their educations.

Accredited Illinois Colleges with a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies

Certificate Programs

The certificate paralegal program is likely the most popular pathway to becoming a paralegal, given that it can usually be completed in about one year of full-time study. Therefore, the certificate paralegal program is generally ideal if you already have a college degree or want to become a paralegal in the shortest time possible.

Accredited Illinois Colleges with Paralegal Certificate Programs

Paying for Your Paralegal Degree in Illinois

If you’re set on becoming a paralegal but aren’t sure how to pay for your schooling, many financial aid options are available, including gift-based aid like scholarships. These scholarships are available from various sources, such as the schools offering the paralegal program. The College of DuPage and Loyola University Chicago are examples of two such schools. Private organizations and businesses, such as Lucas Law and the NFPA, also offer abundant scholarships to paralegal students. Even if you aren’t eligible for scholarships, often awarded based onacademic merit or financial need, you can also consider federal student loans.

Salary & Growth for Paralegal Grads in Illinois

The job market for prospective paralegals is promising. As mentioned, the estimated growth for this profession from 2020 to 2030 is expected to exceed 14% in Illinois. This is even more impressive when considering that the estimated growth rate for the country is expected to be 12%.

The annual mean salary for paralegals in Illinois is $63,590, which is also higher than the national average of $62,840. One reason is the higher wages paralegals in Chicago and other metropolitan areas can expect to earn. For example, the average annual wage for paralegals in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin region of the state is $65,450.

In addition to higher pay for paralegals, Chicago is one of the largest legal markets in the United States, so there will be more potential job options after completing a paralegal program in Chicago or surrounding areas. Paralegals interested in working in less urban areas can expect lower wages, but they’re still respectable. For instance, the average annual salary for the West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area is $44,450.

Illinois Paralegal Professional and Student Resources

  • Illinois Paralegal Association
    The Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA) aims to promote the paralegal profession. To further this mission, members can learn about recent professional developments, complete continuing legal education courses, and participate in networking opportunities.
  • Chicago Paralegal Association
    The Chicago Paralegal Association is the primary professional organization for paralegals in the Chicago area. Members include those interested in connecting with other paralegals and accessing the most up-to-date information on legislative activities relating to paralegal practice and changes in legal practice through completing continuing legal education (CLE) hours.
  • Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education
    The Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) exists to provide continuing legal education courses to attorneys. However, paralegal students have free access to the IICLE’s Formulaw and Online Library subscriptions.
  • DuPage County Bar Association
    The DuPage County Bar Association is open to almost anyone interested in the legal profession. Lawyers, the public, law students, paralegal students, and other professionals can join. Individuals can join a committee, complete a CLE, or attend one of the many social events by becoming a member.
  • Kane County Bar Association
    The Kane County Bar Association was established almost 200 years ago and serves as a professional legal organization for all legal professionals in Kane County, including paralegals.