When you are considering your paralegal education, you have a lot of options. You can attend a traditional college or university or enjoy the convenience and flexibility of taking classes online. Keep reading to learn more about your options so you can make an informed decision about your education.

Traditional school programs

download-3 Many universities and colleges offer two- or four-year paralegal degrees. You will get excellent instruction and preparation at many of these schools, but you will spend a lot of time and money and it will likely be years before you’ll be able to fully start your career. Collegedata reports that for the 2015-2016 college school year, the average tuition was over $30,000 for private schools, over $9,000 public colleges if you’re a state resident, and more than $23,000 at public colleges if you’re out-of-state. You may be eligible to receive some assistance depending on your financial situation, but you will still likely end up starting your post-graduation paralegal career in some heavy debt.

Online paralegal programs

An online paralegal center usually offers paralegal certificates to prepare you for your career, and the classes are more affordable. You’ll also have more flexibility in your learning experience as you won’t be required to spend hours per week sitting in a physical classroom. While prices and lengths vary by school, these programs are often under $2,500, and you will receive your certificate in less than six months in many cases. This is an option to consider if you don’t want to graduate in debt or have other considerations that make traditional schools less accessible. If you work already or have a family, for example, an online school may be the easiest way for you to continue your education. Bear in mind that online schools still aim to prepare you as much as possible, so there will be real work and commitment involved. Formats vary, with some centers offering classes online, via DVDs or even text-based classes for those with complicated scheduling needs.

With online certificates, you can chose from a certificate course or an advanced certificate course. The certificate course covers all the basics of and foundation for being a paralegal, while the advanced one lets you build on that knowledge and get deeper instruction in specific areas of law, such as criminal, education or estate planning law. Generally, you take the regular course first, and then follow up with the advanced to prepare yourself for the area of law that interests you most. You can also use the advanced program to help you identify which law area you enjoy the most if you’re not certain yet.

What to look for

When you are considering paralegal programs from online centers, do some research into the centers themselves. Ideally, you want a center that works with colleges and universities, as that gives more weight to your education to potential employers. You also need to consider whether the program meets the specific criteria for paralegals in your state. California, for example, has special rules for paralegals that your program needs to meet for you to work as a paralegal in the state. If finances are a concern, some online schools offer assistance with obtaining financial aid.

Being a paralegal is an exciting and rewarding career, and having an education will make you more employable and more prepared for the job. Choosing the right program and school is an important step toward your career success now and in the future, so make sure you take the time to make the right choice for yourself and your career path.