What You Need to Know About Transferring Law Schools
Some law students consider transferring to a new law school because a change in their personal situation compels them to relocate; others want to transfer in the hope of earning a JD from a higher-tier school, and still others think they might just find a better fit somewhere else. If you fall into one of those categories, we’ve put together a handy cheat sheet of information, written as an FAQ.
What can I do during my 1L year to help me transfer out of this school?
The most important thing you can do to improve your odds of transferring is to achieve the highest possible grades during your first year. Your 1L GPA will determine whether your transfer application is seriously considered.
You should be going to the office hours of a few of your favorite professors, doing all the assigned reading, and asking pithy questions. You need to cultivate good relationships, because you will be asking at least one professor to write you a strong letter of recommendation for your transfer application.
First-year law students are not known to have a lot of free time outside of studying, but if you are thinking of transferring, you should try to engage in some sort of law-related extra-curricular activity such as a club, a school-based legal advocacy group, or a student bar association. You could also shoot for a legal internship/externship during your winter break. Engaging in such activities will allow you to add something new to your résumé, expand your legal network, and possibly provide another opportunity to secure a letter of recommendation.
Research the schools you are considering and prepare a strong “why X” essay. Why is this necessary? Because if your transfer school has three spots available for transfer students and ten applications to choose from, they may be more attracted to the candidates who seem like they really want to be at the transfer school, rather than the candidates who just want to leave their original schools. Write about which academic programs, clinics, professors, and journals interest you. You have one year of law school under your belt. You should be able to clearly discuss what more you want out of your educational experience.
Cast a wide net. Whether or not a school will accept transfer students may have less to do with the quality of the applications than with the internal needs of the law school that particular year. A given law school may take no transfer students one year because the most recent incoming class was unusually large, leaving it unable to accommodate any more students. In another year, the same law school may see a number of 1L students withdraw or drop out for some reason, and the admissions office may be eager to fill those vacated seats with transfer students. Another law school may decide to admit transfer students as a revenue source because it has gone over budget on scholarships. In yet another situation, a high-ranked school may see a large group of transfer applications from the lower-ranked school in town, and because the high-ranked school doesn’t want to poach all the top students from the lower-ranked school, it may only accept one qualified transfer candidate out of ten otherwise strong applications. You can’t predict what factors may affect your application in a given year, so you should avoid putting all your eggs in one basket and consider alternatives as well.
Column AN of this spreadsheet shows you how many transfers every ABA-approved law school accepted in the 2018 first-year class. Column AO shows you the median transfer GPA of each transfer class.
When can I apply to transfer to a different law school?
Generally, a transfer candidate must submit a complete set of grades from the first year of law school before an admissions committee will evaluate a transfer application. If you are seriously considering transferring, you should start researching different programs during the early part of the second semester of your 1L year, as transfer application requirements differ from school to school. The transfer school will want to review and admit applicants in time for the admitted transfer students to participate in recruiting events at the end of the summer, and, maybe, in other summertime academic opportunities. Consider sending the bulk of your transfer application in late spring so that your transfer school just needs to receive your 1L grades in order for your application to be complete.
What are admissions officers looking at in a transfer application?
Each admissions committee approaches transfer applications differently based on the priorities of the particular reader and the particular requirements of the school that year. Below are some general factors that will likely receive strong consideration.
Grades: Your first-year grades will receive the highest consideration. In theory, LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs are effective predictors of first-year law school performance. Transfer applicants will already have their 1L grades, so LSAT results and college GPA are less important during the transfer review process than they are in the main law school admission process. Moreover, transfer students’ LSAT and GPA medians are not calculated for ranking purposes, which gives an admissions officer more leeway to admit below-median transfer applicants.
Letters of recommendation: A transfer school will want to know what law professors think of your performance as a student and your potential to be a lawyer. How did you perform in class? How did you interact with your classmates? How did you process assignments and meet deadlines? How did you face an intellectual, social, or academic challenge? The admissions committee will look for evidence of the quality of the connection you made with your recommender by the strength of the recommendation. Make sure you speak with your recommender about why you want to transfer and what you hope to find at your transfer school.
Résumé: You should pursue some law-related activity during your 1L year other than studying so you can add something to your résumé. This will show the admissions committee that you were actively engaged in your professional growth, not just trying to get through all the readings and survive the cold calls in class.
Your original school: The transfer school will consider the quality of your original law school. If there is too much of a divide between the two schools, the admissions committee may wonder whether the applicant can succeed and thrive in a new learning environment. The transfer school will want to maintain the quality of each class because bar-passage rates and employment statistics are factored into a law school’s ranking.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to transfer from a very low-ranked school to a very high-ranked school, only that it’s easier to transfer to a school that’s more proximate in terms of ranking and reputation.
Purpose in the personal statement: The transfer school wants to know that you have well-considered reasons for transferring and a full understanding of what transferring means. You should craft a new personal statement that reflects your first-year experiences, your self-awareness, and your motivation for seeking a different type of legal education. You should articulate what you have to offer your new law school community.
I received a scholarship at my original law school. Will I get the same scholarship as a transfer student?
As you research schools, you should ask admissions officers if a merit scholarship is available to transfer students. Some schools may offer limited funding. Others may expect you to pay sticker price to transfer. If you were the recipient of a significant academic scholarship at your original law school, you might not receive a matching offer from the transfer school, but you should definitely mention the scholarship in your application as evidence of your academic strength.
Am I being too hasty? What are some reasons why I shouldn’t transfer after all?
Transferring after the 1L year can be challenging. You will become an outsider in a community of students who have formed, dissolved, and then reformed study groups, shared outlines, celebrated after exams, been shredded by their moot court experience, and endured the trial of their first year together. You will have missed these shared experiences, and you will have to find your place anew. It’s critical that you do, because your law school colleagues provide support and encouragement, and they will become the foundation of your professional network.
Likewise, you will have to establish new connections and prove yourself to professors and program directors. Faculty and administrators can be great resources when it comes to networking, securing interviews, getting a coveted placement in a clinic, or making an introduction that leads to a job opportunity.
You might be coming from a school where you were one of the strongest, most active, most recognized law students, and transferring to a school where you will be average at best or forgettable at worst. Your confidence may take a hit and you may go through a period where you question your competence. Are you prepared to work through these feelings and fight for every potential opportunity that presents itself?
Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself whether it’s worthwhile to transfer. Know, though, that getting a job is dependent on much more than the name of the law school on your résumé. Your enthusiasm, personality, social skills, grasp of legal concepts, openness to trying new professional experiences, and a fair amount of luck are also significant factors. Tune out those voices that say you will never get a job or amount to much unless you graduate from a T5/T14/T50 school. Your education is what you what you make of it. Good luck!
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