Faced with the cost of attending an ABA (American Bar Association) Approved School, prospective paralegal students have to ask, “Is it worth it?” Wherever you go to school, you want to make sure that you are eligible to take the Certified Paralegal Exam upon graduation. Attending an ABA-approved school assures that, but it is not the only way to become a certified paralegal.
Benefits of an ABA Approved Degree
- Exam Eligibility: Graduates from an ABA Approved School will automatically be qualified to take the Certified Paralegal Exam. There are multiple ways to meet the requirements, but this is the simplest.
- Career Advantage: According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the demand for paralegals is expected to skyrocket by 2016. That means that it will be more important than ever to give yourself a competitive advantage. Going to the “right” school will help you do that. Even today, many employers prefer graduates from ABA Approved Schools, especially in large cities and Fortune 500 companies.
- Preparation for Law School or Advanced Degrees: Not every paralegal wants to stay a paralegal. If you intend to apply to law school at some point, attending an ABA Approved school will ensure that you take your credits with you. Some states require a degree from an ABA Approved school in order to sit for the bar exam.
- Standardized Education: When you go to an ABA Approved school, you know that the education you are receiving is what you need to move your career forward. With an accredited degree, you will also be qualified to attend other accredited institutions.
Benefits of a Non-ABA Approved Degree
- Choice: When you aren’t concerned about ABA-Approval, you are free to attend the school of your choice. The school may have other advantages unrelated to your degree such as location and additional programs you may be interested in.
- Financial: ABA Approval definitely adds to the cost of your degree. Your paralegal program does not have to break the bank to be valuable. If you have a scholarship to a Non-ABA Approved school, it could make getting on your feet after graduation that much easier!
- Reputation: Just because a school has not gone through the official process of ABA Approval, does not mean that you will receive less of an education. Some extremely reputable schools have chosen not to go through the process simply to keep their courses under their control. Some of these courses may even be superior to those at ABA Approved schools. Check their reputation thoroughly before making your decision.
- ABA Compliance: Many Non-ABA Approved schools are actually in compliance with ABA standards. Approval is lengthy and expensive. Compliance is voluntary, and the majority of schools choose not to go through the process, but not necessarily to the detriment to their programs.
- Top Schools: The American Association of Paralegal Education maintains a directory of quality schools that offer various types of paralegal programs. If you are just starting your search, their website (http://www.aafpe.org) is a great place to see what is available.
– Emory University, http://ece.emory.edu/paralegal/index.html
– Kennesaw State University, http://ccpe.kennesaw.edu/professional/legal/paralegal/
– Atlanta Technical College, http://www.atlantatech.edu/academics/program.php?id=366
When ABA Approval May Not Be Necessary
- Completion of a Paralegal Studies Program or Degree: To qualify to take the exam, you could have an Associate’s Degree, and Bachelor’s Degree, a Diploma from a Certificate Program, or at least 60 hours in another type of Paralegal Program (as long as at least 15 hours of legal courses are included).
- Bachelor’s Degree Plus 1 Year of Paralegal Experience: Another way to qualify if your Bachelor’s Degree was not in Paralegal Studies would be to combine your education with a year in paralegal practice.
- H.S. Diploma, 7 Years Paralegal Experience and 20 Hours of Continuing Education Credits: The more lax the educational requirements, the more experience will be required to become eligible for the exam. For those who have a High School Diploma or equivalent, sitting for the exam is still possible.
As long as you plan well, your degree does not have to come from an ABA Approved school. In fact, you may find that another school suits your overall needs better. To make sure your education is “worth it”, do your research, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and choose what works best for you!