What does an associates degree in paralegal studies entail?
My associates degree entails several general education classes and some specialized classes that will train me to assist lawyers in a law firm or to work for any large company that has a legal department. When I graduate, I will be qualified to write briefs, answer telephone calls, interview clients, and perform basic legal research.
What factors went into your decision to pursue your associates degree online?
My program started out as a blended program, which let me take a lot of the general education classes online. The program was structured so that I could take a few classes at night and might need to visit campus during the summer, but the rest was online. That set-up was ideal for me because I live about 90 miles away from my school's campus.
But then my community college discontinued the online portion of the program, so now it is strictly an on-campus paralegal studies program. The transition caught me off guard because I had only 5 classes left before I finished, so I had anticipated that I would graduate during the summer of 2012. Now, I won't finish until 2013 because I work full time in addition to taking classes.
What are the main reasons you chose to get your degree from Western Iowa Technical Community College as opposed to any other online school?
I chose to attend Western Iowa Technical Community College because of its relatively low cost. There are 3 different schools near me that offer paralegal programs, but the tuition they charge is outrageous compared to what I pay now. Even though I have to drive 90 miles at least once a week and pay for gas, I still come out ahead by going to my school.
What are your program requirements?
The associates degree in paralegal studies program at Western Iowa Technical Community College takes 2 years, including summers, to complete. I have finished my general education requirements and have just started taking the specialized paralegal courses. So far, it seems like the paralegal classes emphasize hands-on learning by doing. We will be practicing writing briefs, conducting legal research and preparing for our internships.
On average, how many students are in each of your classes?
There are only 6 students in the classes that I am taking now, but there were usually about 24 people in each of my online classes.
How are class materials presented?
In the online portion of my program, material was presented through a mix of online and offline media. For example, we purchased physical textbooks, but our readings were supplemented by PowerPoint presentations and an online discussion forum. I occasionally found it difficult to navigate that mixture of presentation methods, but my online teachers were all very good about providing students with multiple methods of contacting them in case we needed more help.
What are the most and least useful classes that you have taken?
The most useful class that I have taken so far is my introductory paralegal studies class, which prepared me for the kind of work I will be doing as a paralegal student. But the least useful class that I was required to take was documenting and formatting, because I am already proficient in that area. It seemed like a waste of time to have somebody teach me how to do things like document a letterhead since I have a background in computers.
Will you complete a practicum component in your program?
Yes, I am required to complete an internship this summer. My school will place me in an internship with a local firm or at the county courthouse so that I can gain some practical skills and have a better idea about what a career in the legal field actually entails. A lot of interns are offered jobs after their practicum is complete, so the internship is also a way for me to get my foot in the door and make connections in the field.
Does your program have a residency requirement?
My program has always had a residency requirement, in the form of summer classes and my internship. But recently, the online portion of the program was discontinued, so now I am required to be present for all classes, like any traditional offline program.
How do you interact with your professors?
Since most of my program so far was completed online, the only way that I have interacted with most of my professors is through e-mail and the class discussion board. But today was my third day of offline classes, and it was nice to be in the classroom interacting personally with my professors and peers.
How knowledgeable do you feel your professors are?
I think my paralegal professors are very knowledgeable. My current professor is a lawyer, and the others all have at least their masters degrees. Because of their extensive education, I feel that they are well qualified to teach.
Are you able to get to know your professors on a personal basis?
When I was taking classes online, I wasn't able to get to know my professors personally. But now that I am in the classroom with my teachers, I think that I will be able to get to know them a little better. I hope that at the end of this class, I will know my professor well enough to ask her for a letter of recommendation.
Based on your experience so far, is there anything you would have done differently in pursuing your associates degree online?
No, I wouldn't do anything differently when it comes to pursuing my associates degree in paralegal studies. Of course, I was disappointed to have been so close to graduating before the structure of my program changed. But I have never been the type of person to quit something once I start, so I am going to see the program through, and I know it will help me get the job I want in the future.