Paralegal Certificate vs Diploma vs Degree: What's the Difference?

Updated January 2023

Paralegals in Ontario have a unique opportunity to become licensed. Licensing allows them to represent clients independently in small claims court, tribunals, and specific criminal matters.

No other province gives paralegals such a broad scope of practice.

To get your licence, you need to complete an accredited paralegal studies program and pass an exam from the Law Society of Ontario. Accredited training options include paralegal certificates, diplomas, and bachelor's degree programs.

But how do you know which one to choose?

The key thing to note is that ALL accredited paralegal training programs prepare students for licensing. Any one of them can help you begin your career.

But there are important differences in how they do that.

In this post, we break down the main differences between a paralegal certificate, diploma, and degree. Find out how these credentials compare, and how you can select the learning path that's right for you.



Length is the most obvious difference between paralegal certificates, diplomas, and degrees. How much time are you willing to invest in your paralegal training?

A paralegal certificate or diploma commonly takes two years, but you can find accelerated programs that run for just 12 months.

A bachelor's degree requires four years of study.

If you're looking for a quicker path to licensing, a diploma or certificate could be the way to go.



Paralegal certificate and diploma programs are focused on the exact skills you need to succeed in the legal workforce. They're all about helping you master the topics you'll find on the Law Society's paralegal licensing exam.

That includes concepts like:

☑️ Torts and contracts

☑️ By-laws and statutes

☑️ Tribunal practices

☑️ The litigation process

☑️ Criminal summary conviction procedures

☑️ Professional responsibility and ethics

A paralegal studies degree covers all those same topics. But it provides a more well-rounded experience by including additional general education courses.

Options include courses like:

☑️ Intercultural communications

☑️ Criminology

☑️ World religions

☑️ The philosophy of law

☑️ Media and society

So do you want to focus on job-ready knowledge and skills? Or are you looking for a broader scope of training?

A paralegal degree program will go beyond the basics required for licensing. That's why it takes much longer to complete.



You also need to consider what it takes to qualify for your paralegal program.

Being a high school graduate is usually enough to get into a paralegal studies diploma program. Depending on the college, you may also have to pass an entrance test.

On the other hand, university paralegal studies programs tend to have stricter admissions criteria. You typically need a minimum score in specific high school courses to be admitted.

And graduate paralegal certificate programs are aimed at students who already have a diploma or degree in another field.

So have a look at your academic record. What credentials do you currently have? Which programs are you qualified to apply to?



Think about where you'd like to be a few years from now. What are your long-term career goals?

Some people become paralegals to get a taste of life in a law firm. They use the experience to decide if going on to law school is what they really want.

Law school applicants must have a bachelor's degree (in any discipline). A paralegal certificate or diploma isn't enough.

Think you may want to become a full-fledged lawyer one day? 

If so, it makes sense to choose a paralegal degree program.



Cost relates directly to length of training. A short paralegal diploma or certificate program will generally cost much less than a four-year paralegal degree.

Of course, tuition costs vary among schools. And scholarships and other financial aid may be available.

You also need to think about opportunity cost. The shorter the program, the faster you can become a licensed paralegal and start earning a wage in your new career.

Consider your goals, priorities, and budget. 



Herzing College Toronto's accelerated paralegal diploma program takes only 12 months from start to finish, including a four-week internship. Graduates are fully qualified to take the Law Society of Ontario's paralegal licensing exam.

This program is your fastest route to becoming a licensed, working paralegal.

Need more information to decide which program is right for you? We suggest reaching out to an admissions advisor. An advisor can answer your questions and help you decide if a short paralegal program meets your needs and goals.

Click below to explore the accelerated paralegal program and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!

Explore the Paralegal Program at Herzing

hard hat icon



Most Read