How to Earn a Paralegal Certificate: 8 Boxes to Check
By Hope Rothenberg on 12/07/2023
So you’re thinking of becoming a paralegal. You’re seeking a solid career in the legal system—and you think the role of a paralegal might just fit the bill.
Paralegal positions tend to be well-respected, not just because of the work they require, but because of the diligence it can take to get there. While it’s not as rigorous of a process as applying to law school, there are a few steps that can assist you in becoming a paralegal. One of them is obtaining a paralegal certificate.
Earning a certificate is not always required by law, but it can be a great way to prepare you for the National Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal (CLA/CP®) Exam and increase your chances of landing a role as a legal assistant in the field. But you already know that—and that’s why you’re here.
If you're wondering how to earn a paralegal certificate, here’s a step-by-step guide—including everything to check off before you walk into (or long onto) day one of a paralegal certificate program.
☐ Make sure it’s the right path for you.
The primary role of paralegals is to assist lawyers and their clients. This can include anything from conducting research and preparing legal documents for hearings, trials or corporate meetings to being involved with courts, law firms and government agencies.
You'll collaborate with a range of legal professionals, and you’ll be an integral part of any legal team you join. It’s a fast-paced and demanding role, and you’ll want to be sure it seems right for you before earning your certificate. If all of this sounds exciting, then you’re already on the right track.
☐ Research paralegal programs
In today’s world, finding the right education program involves a lot of questions: Online or in person? Full time or part time? Accelerated or standard length? With so many variables to consider, it’s best practice to contact an admissions rep at any of the programs you’re interested in. This will help you get the information you need in the most straightforward way, and it'll give you a chance to ask questions about your unique circumstances.
Reach out to receive information on detailed program plans, applying for classes, financial aid and FAFSA® (if you qualify) and customized support services. Not sure where to start? Request information about Rasmussen's paralegal certificate program.
☐ Meet the admissions requirements
Different paralegal certificate programs have different entrance requirements. Some may require applicants to submit standardized test scores, and most will have prior degree requirements. For example, Rasmussen University does not require applicants to submit standardized test scores or have a bachelor's degree, but it does require them to have an associate degree or higher from an accredited institution of higher learning as recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
If you don’t have an associate or bachelor's degree, you may need to put your paralegal program applications on hold or fulfill an additional application requirement in lieu of a degree (such as an interview). It simply depends on the program.
☐ Consider your financial aid needs
Finances can be a major factor in why a student decides to attend one certificate program over another, or whether they attend a program at all. Getting proactive about understanding your financial aid needs and being able to communicate them is essential.
Talk to an admissions advisor at any school you’re considering, and learn how aid programs can make it more affordable. If you qualify, look into and talk through options like self-directed assessments, credit for prior learning, loans and grants, scholarship opportunities, corporate grants and military discounts if you’re eligible.
Some schools may even have tools you can use to estimate your tuition costs before you move forward with your application. In addition to contacting the financial aid office, check out Rasmussen University’s tuition estimating tool.
☐ Apply for a paralegal certificate program
An application for a paralegal certificate program will require more than just clicking the “apply” button, though the specific requirements will vary based on the school or program. As an example, here’s an overview of the entrance requirements for the paralegal program at Rasmussen University. To be eligible for consideration for admission, entrants must:
- Have earned an associate degree or higher from an accredited institution of higher learning as recognized by the S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
- Provide an official or unofficial transcript from the institution that awarded the degree for transcript evaluation. Official transcripts must be received by the University no later than the sixth business day of the first quarter of enrollment in the Paralegal Certificate program in order to be accepted into the program.
Completing these requirements correctly and on time will bring you one step closer to enrolling in a paralegal certificate program.
☐ Connect with your instructors
Once you’ve been accepted to a program, it’s a great idea to reach out to your future instructors. Introducing yourself, asking questions and getting familiar with some of the staff is an amazing way to prepare yourself for a program or make a decision about where to enroll.
Regardless of whether you end up taking a course with every instructor you connect with, you never know what you might learn—or who you might meet. The same goes for networking with current legal assistants, certified paralegals and potential classmates: building a solid support system can make a measurable difference in your certificate program experience.
☐ Research the curriculum
While every paralegal education program is different, most are designed to prepare you to sit for the CLA/CP exam. Because of that, they’ll cover the same basics.
A few examples of courses from the Rasmussen University paralegal program include Introduction to Law and the Legal System, Introduction to Legal Research and a Paralegal Associate Capstone. Be sure to look into the paralegal studies curriculum at any programs you’re considering to get a better idea of the structure, course progression and skills you'll learn.
☐ Enroll and Earn your certificate
Once you’ve checked all the boxes, you’re ready to take the next step and earn your certificate. The Rasmussen University Paralegal Certificate courses are designed to give you the core legal skills and knowledge you need to start your paralegal career in as few as 8 months*—so life as a certified paralegal could be just around the corner.
Learn more about timing, tuition and other important details at the Paralegal Certificate Program page.
*Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
CP® is a registered trademark of National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc.
AFSA® is a registered trademark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid