A lot of Iowa residents are so eager to jump into preparing for their careers as paralegals that they just sign up for the first program that they find without giving it much thought. This, however, can be a big mistake. There are lots of things that you need to know and plan for before enrolling in any paralegal program. Not taking this preparation time can result in disappointment and wasted time, effort, and money on your part. So, take a step back and properly prepare yourself for your paralegal career.

The first thing you will need to decide is whether you actually want to receive a degree in the paralegal field or you just want a certificate. If you choose the first option, a degree, then you will have to determine whether you want to earn your associate’s degree or your bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degrees usually take, on average, about two years to earn and, if obtained from a community college or a trade or technical school, are extremely affordable options. Bachelor’s degrees, on the other hand, are more in depth degrees, so they take the average person about four years to earn.

For some, getting a certificate is an alternative option to earning a degree in the paralegal field. However, in order to earn a certificate, you have to hold a bachelor’s degree in another area, though it does not need to be related to paralegal studies. In fact, it usually never is related to the field; one of the main reasons people choose a certificate is because they have already completed schooling in another area and are just now deciding that they want to become paralegals. It is often easier for them to just attend a brief certification program rather than going back to school for another, full blown degree.

Whichever option you choose, you must understand that your school needs to be fully accredited. Furthermore, the program that you attend must be approved by the American Bar Association. If it is not, then you will not be able to find work in the field. You’ll find that a lot of certification candidates are those who earned degrees from unapproved institutions and who now must get certificates in order to make up for this deficit. So, don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be; always choose an accredited and approved program.

Sadly, Iowa does not have a lot of options in terms of approved paralegal schools and programs. It is home, though, to the Des Moines Area Community College and to Kirkwood Community College, which is based in Cedar Rapids. The former offers an associate’s degree program in legal assisting. Students can choose to specialize in areas such as private law firms, courts, public agencies, or corporate legal departments. At Kirkwood, students can receive an associate’s degree. While the school doesn’t offer a certificate program, it does, however, have an expedited option for those who currently hold bachelor’s degrees. They can finish the program in as little as two semesters, and it actually works out better for the student, who gets an actual degree in the same amount of time it would take to get a mere certificate.

Of course, if you do not feel that any of these choices are a good fit for you, you can always turn to the internet and to the world of online schooling. Just make sure that you choose your school carefully. While there are plenty of good, legitimate online schools out there, there are also a lot of scams. Plus, you must remember the additional qualifications your school must meet.