Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

The master’s in legal studies degree program teaches students how to interpret and apply legislation within their chosen field. This major is not limited to those pursuing a law degree. Instead, it’s easily adaptable to a wide range of careers, increasing marketability with employers in industries such as human services, education, and nonprofit management.

The average cost to complete a master’s degree in 2021-2022 was $20,513, with tuition rates significantly higher at private institutions than in public schools. Salaries for individuals with a master’s in legal studies can vary depending on their chosen field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting an average annual wage of $99,220 during 2023.

Choose your area of study

Legal studies is a versatile degree, making it critical to find a program that strengthens your career path. The duties of a legal studies professional working within law enforcement are much different than those of a university administrator.

Students can choose from pursuing an MS (Master of Science) or MA (Master of Arts) in legal studies or an MLS (Master of Legal Studies). Traditionally, an MA has a more theoretical basis, while the MS is technical-driven. Because every school’s curriculum is unique, review the classes offered and any subspecialties, such as environmental or cybersecurity, before deciding.

Research schools and programs

Prospective students can gather relevant information by scanning an institution’s departmental website. Look at the overall objective of the legal studies program, paying attention to the types of careers this course of study promotes. You can also discover more details on available specialties and find out if you can customize the curriculum.

Students who plan on pursuing a law career should check if the program is accredited by the American Bar Association. Education specialties may use an alternative accrediting organization. Don’t forget to research the institution in terms of transportation (if you’re attending in person), online options, tuition fees, and overall culture.

Prepare for tests and applications

Regardless of which school you choose, the application process can be time-consuming. Make a checklist to ensure you don’t miss out on the next cohort, with deadlines included. A master’s in legal studies generally gives you a great deal of latitude with your undergraduate degree. However, highly specific specialties, such as children’s or environmental law, may require a related bachelor’s degree.

Most applications include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Depending on the school, you may need a minimum GPA from your previous coursework and approved test scores in the English language. While the LSAT may not be required, it can strengthen your application if you’ve taken it.

Select your program

Some schools may have more than one legal studies degree track, allowing you to fine-tune your master’s program right from the start. Choosing between legal administration and forensic engineering should be a straightforward decision based on your career path. Meanwhile, you can explore generic pathways in more depth by reviewing program objectives, requirements, and course outlines.

Some legal studies degree programs require a capstone project, while others offer an internship as the final course — another item to factor into your decision. Finally, consider credit hours and completion time. More credit hours equal higher tuition and a longer time in school.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Creating a budget early in the process can help ensure you have the funds to complete your legal studies degree once you’ve begun. Start by considering all the costs of your schooling, from tuition and books to transportation and time off work. Once you have your total figure, it’s time to look at funding opportunities.

Although you may have to pay some money out-of-pocket, explore all available assistance programs first. Begin with your institution’s financial aid office for scholarships, and then check if your employer offers a tuition reimbursement benefit. Finally, consider federal and private student loans, which can be paid back over time.

Best Master’s in Legal Studies Degree Programs_2024 badge

Cornell University

The University of Oklahoma

University of California, Los Angeles

Arizona State University

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Stanford University

Loyola Marymount University, Loyola Law School

University of San Diego

University of San Francisco

University of Illinois Springfield

University of Denver

University of Chicago

Seattle University

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

We reviewed many master’s in legal studies degree programs, including Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Legal Studies (MLS) programs. Each of these options has its own emphasis, so you’ll want to choose one that suits your interests and aspirations.

Our list includes online, on-campus, and hybrid programs. This should make it easier for many individuals to find a suitable program. Online programs may have a short in-person requirement.

We considered only regionally accredited schools, and some of these options are also accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Accreditation ensures the quality of a program.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

Regardless of the legal studies program (MS, MA, or MLS) or whether you plan on becoming a paralegal or working as a legal expert in another capacity, courses cover general law before moving into more specific topics. Electives such as contracts, children’s rights, nonprofits, criminal justice, and public policy are just a few ways to customize your track.

Legal studies programs offer a broad range of experiences for advanced students. Clinical education provides a work setting in which to learn skills in the field. Graduate internships offer hands-on experience with the possibility of future employment or network opportunities. Some programs require a capstone project as a way to showcase your legal knowledge and skills to professors and future employers.

Most master’s programs in legal studies take approximately two years to complete. Factors that impact program length include credit hours and advanced requirements, such as internships or projects.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in legal studies degree program

  • American Constitutional Law. This class provides an overview of the U.S. legal system, including citizens’ rights and each branch’s authority. Students also review historical milestones in the development of the current political landscape.
  • Legal Writing and Research. This course teaches students how to analyze cases, find authorities, and craft proper legal documents. You’ll have opportunities for discussion within your cohort and learn how to respond in oral and written formats. 
  • Corporate Law. Students looking to work in the business world need a thorough understanding of corporate entities and how each structure is handled regarding liability and employment. This course provides insight into financing, government regulations, and business ethics.
  • International Law. Today’s global economy requires knowledge of the legal processes in other countries, including criminal and civil justice. Students will also discuss sensitive topics involving human rights, environmental protection, and conflict resolution.
  • Contracts. Understanding, writing, and explaining contracts is a critical skill for legal professionals, regardless of your career focus. This course teaches how to identify parties involved in contracts and what constitutes a breach of contract.

How do I apply to a master's in legal studies degree program?

Individual colleges have specific undergraduate requirements, which can vary between legal studies programs. At a minimum, you’ll need an acceptable bachelor’s degree, application with fee, transcripts from your undergraduate institution, and recommendation letters. Many schools require a previous GPA of 2.7 or higher, and you may need to maintain that throughout your master’s program.

A master’s of legal studies offers a great deal of flexibility. Still, you should meet with an admissions counselor to discuss your career goals and past coursework to ensure you’re on track for the next session. They can also help you customize your program through electives.

How much does a master's in legal studies degree cost?

The greatest variability in tuition depends on your chosen school. For example, during 2021-22, public institutions averaged $12,500 for a master’s degree, while their private counterparts were around $28,000. In addition, tuition is based on credit hours, so a program with 39 hours will cost more than one with 26 hours. You should be able to estimate tuition costs by reviewing your school’s website.

But don’t forget to consider indirect costs, like transportation, meals, and missed work, when budgeting your outlay. Many schools provide online degree programs, saving you money and increasing flexibility.

How long does it take to earn a master's in legal studies degree?

Most schools expect full-time graduate students to complete their program in about two years. However, each student is unique, and various factors, such as full-time versus part-time enrollment and customized curriculum, can greatly impact progress.

Consider how much time you have to devote to attending classes and completing out-of-class assignments. If you have a full-time job, you may find that one four-credit class is all you can handle in a semester. It’s a good idea to discuss timing and class progression with your admissions counselor to ensure you can register for the classes you need and to verify the school’s policy regarding extended completion times.

Compare School Options

Related Degrees