You don’t have to spend too long researching paralegal degree programs before you come to realize the good ones aren’t cheap.
There’s a good chance you’re thinking about just working your way through school, hoping you can come up with enough overtime to keep up with the rent and still make tuition payments for the next quarter with enough left over to afford some groceries.
But that approach leaves you without much study time, and keeping your nose buried in books is a big part of any kind of legal studies. If it wasn’t complicated stuff, they wouldn’t pay you so much when you actually get the job, right?
So scholarships are often the best way to bridge the gap between what you are comfortable taking on in loans and how much time you’re prepared to spend on the grind working your way through school.
Every college student dreams of the full-ride scholarship but there is no such thing for paralegal studies. Instead, you will find yourself piecing together half-a dozen or more different small scholarships to help you cover the gaps… and to make sure you have enough left over for something other than Top Ramen.
Criteria and Other Considerations When Applying for a Scholarship
Every scholarship will have certain eligibility criteria you have to meet in order to qualify. Many of them are competitive; there may be hundreds of applicants and not everyone gets a slice of the pie, so you can find yourself being weighed against other candidates on the basis of:
- Grade point average
- Essays or application statements
- Personal background, such as income or ethnicity
- Letters of recommendation
Depending on the scholarship, it may offer only one grant per year, or may help cover costs for several students. Your odds are better applying to a scholarship that makes multiple awards, even if the amount is lower than some single-grant scholarships.
Consider Your Degree Program
The paralegal profession is unusual in that there is not a single, clear path to becoming a professional paralegal. Depending on the area of law you plan to specialize in, the local job market, and the particular firms you may be applying at, the type of education you get can range from a basic career diploma, to an associate’s, to a bachelors or post-degree certificate.
Not every scholarship will cover every type of paralegal education program. Generally, it’s easiest to find scholarships that can be applied toward the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs and associate’s degrees usually have far fewer options available.
Some scholarships are restricted to certain schools. In fact, many scholarships are through the schools themselves—one of your best resources for finding applicable scholarships will come after you decide on what program you will be attending. Most schools have financial aid and scholarship office staffed with experienced professionals who can give you a comprehensive rundown on your scholarship options through the school.
Be Creative Researching Scholarship Options
Don’t get sidetracked looking only at scholarships that are specific to paralegal studies, either. Many scholarships are awarded on the basis of other criteria entirely and can be used toward any type of degree, including paralegal programs.
These are often awarded on the basis of geography, ethnicity, income, or combinations of those factors: for example, the Valley of the Sun United Way offers a Navajo Nation, Arizona Off Reservation scholarship with a particularly intricate set of requirements:
- Be enrolled in a minimum of 1 course at an accredited college or university
- Be a permanent resident of the Navajo Nation, but living elsewhere temporarily for educational purposes
- Have a household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level
- Have a child below the age of 5 who is not yet eligible for kindergarten
Although the highly detailed set of qualifications for this scholarship and others may seem bizarre, it’s actually a benefit: they restrict availability to a relatively narrow range of candidates. If you are among them, your odds of receiving some money just went way up.
Many students do not take the time to dive deep into the various awards that are available, put off by those complicated qualifications. But that’s exactly the reason to do it—you’re likely to find options that hardly anybody else is going for. And if you’re not into that type of detail-oriented research, you might want to rethink your choice of profession, anyway. Paralegals are expected to drill down into complex matters and perform a rational analysis every day at work!
Common Sources of Paralegal Scholarship Grants
Scholarships that are specific to paralegal studies often come from associations or firms that are, naturally, involved in some way with the legal field.
Bar associations are professional bodies of lawyers that often serve as a rule-making and regulatory body for legal practices. They may exist for both geographic regions (at the national, state, and local levels), or for particular courts of jurisdiction (such as the Supreme Court Bar).
Many of these have scholarships available for legal or paralegal students. Often, the more local the association, the more likely it is to support legal education exclusively for students from that region. The Grand Rapids Bar Association, in Michigan, offers $1,000 scholarship available to students at select local universities majoring in either legal or paralegal studies.
But even state bars sometimes have scholarship programs. The State Bar of Michigan awards $500 each year to a paralegal student, for instance.
You can expect the major paralegal associations to offer some of the larger and more popular scholarships:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations – In cooperation with Thomson Reuters, offers two scholarships each year, one each for $2,000 and $3,000.
- The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS) – NALS does not offer scholarships directly, but has formed partnerships with third-party organizations to allow members exclusive access to scholarship opportunities.
- The American Association for Paralegal Education – In a unique arrangement, AAfPE sponsors scholarships exclusively for members of the Lambda Epsilon Chi society, a national honor society in legal and paralegal studies. Five awards of $500 each are made each year.
This is true of not only the large, national paralegal associations, but also for some smaller, regional associations.
The Jean H. Proffitt and Susan Brewer, Esq. Scholarship Fund, established by the Richmond Paralegal Association, offers a $1,000 scholarship to cover tuition and textbook costs for deserving Richmond area paralegal students, for instance.
Individual Law Firms
Law firms are one of the biggest beneficiaries of having a pool of well-trained and motivated paralegals in the job market, so they are often supportive of students seeking to make a career in the field.
Because the job market is mostly local, these grants are usually available only to students in the area where the firm practices. The Michigan corporate legal firm of Warner, Norcross, & Judd, for example, awards a $2,000 scholarship each year to a Michigan resident majoring in paralegal or legal assistant studies.
But that’s not always the case and you should not hesitate to cast your net wider than just local firms. The Ehline Law Firm in Los Angeles offers scholarships to students enrolled in accredited paralegal schools who maintain a 3.0 minimum grade point average on the basis of an essay competition. The award is not restricted to Los Angeles or even California, but can be offered to students nation-wide.
Colleges and Universities
Possibly the bulk of scholarships come directly attached to the college or university programs themselves. These are often either sponsored by, or otherwise granted in the name of, graduates of those institutions who want to give a hand up to those following in their footsteps.
These scholarships are some of the best options for covering the costs of an associate’s or certificate program.
At Coastline Community College in California, which has both an AA and a certificate program in paralegal studies, the paralegal program faculty offer a $250 scholarship to students there.
And the University of Washington has a specific scholarship fund for certificate programs, the UW Certificate Scholarship, awarding income-based grants to up to 10 students each year in amounts that range from $3,000 to $4,000.