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Is the Paraprofessional Career Path Right for You?

What it means and how to get there

Young woman contemplating her career options

Photo courtesy of Jyotirmoy Gupta

What is a paraprofessional?

Paraprofessionals are employees who aren’t licensed themselves to hold certain jobs—like doctors or lawyers, who hold professional degrees—but aid of those licensed individuals in the work they do. 

For example, a paralegal is the paraprofessional that aids a lawyer. A teacher’s assistant is the paraprofessional that aids a teacher. 

From education to healthcare, you can find paraprofessionals all over the workforce.

How do you become a paraprofessional?

There’s no universal educational requirement to become a paraprofessional, but employers may require certain degrees, licenses, certifications, or training. It all depends on your field, your state, and who’s hiring you.

For example, a law office may require all paralegals they hire to have an associate’s degree and have completed an American Bar Association–approved paralegal program. A paramedic will most likely need to be a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) and be certified in advanced life support (ALS), CPR, and more.

Many paraprofessionals have at least an associate’s degree, but there are plenty of parapros who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees too. 

Read more: How to Use Resume Buzzwords the Right Way

Where can you get a job?

Health care

Hospitals, health clinics, pharmacies, and elder care homes are facilities where you may find paraprofessionals working as phlebotomists, radiology technicians, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), pharmacy techs, occupational therapy assistants, and more.

According to Glassdoor, health care paraprofessionals make somewhere around $11 to $15 per hour. 

Education

In education, teacher’s aides or teacher’s assistants serve as support staff to instructors, helping with lesson plans or classroom activities or even providing one-on-one attention for students with special needs.

Educational paraprofessionals aren’t limited to the classroom, either. Some may work in libraries and media centers, helping set up various technologies for instructors and training teachers on how to use them.

Teaching assistants make an average of $20,000 per year.

Read more: How to Know if You’re Qualified for the Job

Law

Paralegals work under the supervision of a licensed attorney conducting research, communicating with clients, drafting documents, filing and organizing paperwork, and interviewing clients. Paralegals cannot provide legal advice, but the work they do is vital in the work of the attorney or law office they work for. 

In order to be a paralegal, you’ll need to meet the requirements in your state, which will likely include, but not necessarily limited to, the completion of a paralegal degree (usually an associate’s) and certification by your state’s paralegal regulator.

As a paralegal, you can expect to make an average of $48,000 per year.

Read more: How to Counter a Job Offer & Get What You Want

Veterinary medicine 

Veterinary technicians, or vet techs, take care of lab work, radiology, nursing care, surgery assistance, and a slew of other tasks related to animal health care. 

Requirements to become a vet tech vary by state, but in many cases, you’ll need an associate’s degree in veterinary technology and be licensed by a state board of veterinary medicine.

According to Glassdoor, vet techs make an average salary of $29,000.

Could being a paraprofessional lead to other exciting career options?

It sure could. You might have a long and fulfilling career as a teacher’s aide, or you might decide you’d like to be the one leading the class instead. While you might need further education and a teaching license (those requirements do vary by state and type of school), you do already boast plenty of experience in the classroom, and schools and employers will notice that.  

If you have to pay your way through school, working as a paraprofessional while you pursue your professional degree can significantly ease the cost of your education. And you’ll be getting loads of on-the-job training.

Read more: 9 Solid Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree

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By Vinciane Ngomsi

Contributor

Vinciane is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Washington, D.C. In addition to dishing out career advice, Vinciane loves writing about sports, cooking, and traveling.

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she researches and writes about data that describes women in the workplace, women's compensation and contract literacy, and women's rights in the workplace. 

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