You did it. You got into law school and survived your 1L year. You finally let out a deep sigh after your last final before the reality sets in: you still have two more years of law school. Maybe the thought of two more years at your law school enthralls you. Or maybe you regularly fantasize about another law school. If the latter, then transferring law schools may be the right choice for you.
Should I transfer?
The reasons someone may consider transferring 1) run the gamut and 2) are unique to everyone. That being said, below are among the most common (and often the most compelling) reasons that people consider transferring.
Some people go into 1L with their sights already set on transferring. For these folks, their application cycle may not have turned out as expected, perhaps due to a low undergraduate GPA or LSAT score. The hope is that a strong 1L year would open the doors of higher ranked law schools that were not so friendly the first time around.
For others, they may begin considering transferring by the end of 1L because they’re not too hot about their law school. Students in this group may not like the location, culture, career support, or curriculum at their schools and hope to go somewhere that is a better fit. For these students, however, it is important to remember that some of the things they dislike about their law school may be common to all law schools. Transferring is not a cure-all!
There are also those who become enticed by the prospect of a higher ranked school after a strong academic performance their 1L year. And, finally, there are those for whom personal life changes render their current school a poor fit.
Pros and cons of transferring
When transferring schools, as with all choices in life, you win some and you lose some. First, there are lots of good things that can come with transferring schools. If transferring to a higher ranked school, you will gain access to the academic resources and faculty of your new school. You will also likely have greater access to legal opportunities that are brand conscious, such as clerkships and BigLaw jobs. You will have the benefit of having friends and contacts within two different law school communities. Finally, you’ll gain a fresh perspective on the law from a different legal community.
On the flip side, transferring law schools may cause you to miss out on certain opportunities such as moot court or Law Review. It’ll also involve making new friends, perhaps moving to a new place on short notice, and having to adjust to the culture and academics of a new school. Some transfer students may experience feelings of exclusion or imposter syndrome. Depending on your financial aid and scholarship circumstances at your current school, transferring may also come with a higher price tag.
Weighing these pros and cons of transferring is a very personal exercise, and the calculus comes out differently for everyone. But you should seriously think about these tradeoffs before deciding where or whether to apply.
What’s in a transfer application?
The components of the transfer application are generally similar if not identical to your 1L applications. However, the emphasis for transfer applicants shifts away from your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores and toward your 1L GPA.
Letters of recommendation also continue to play a pivotal role in transfer recommendations. Most transfer students get all their letters of recommendation, usually three, from 1L professors. Some may get letters from 1L summer employers. Letters of recommendation from individuals who can speak to your legal work are generally preferable. When asking professors at your current school for letters of recommendation, approach the conversation delicately, understanding that they likely have a sense of allegiance to their institutions. Emphasize the opportunities you seek from a new law school rather than any reasons you are discontent with your current one.
Admissions pay special attention to your reasons for transferring as reflected in your personal statement. You should almost never recycle your 1L personal statement—you’ve made too much progress in your growth as a law student and future lawyer since then! Generally a strong transfer personal statement is straightforward and objective rather than a flowery and heart-tugging narrative. A foolproof formula is to start with why you chose law school, then discuss your 1L accomplishments and how they shaped your direction and goals within the law, and end with why the law school you are applying to would allow you to accomplish those goals.
Above all, your application should tell a story. Curate your application materials to form a cohesive narrative about yourself as an applicant. If you’re interested in international law, try to choose a law professor of a related discipline as a recommender, reflect international law activities in your resume, and write about these interests compellingly in your personal statement. Show your passion.
How do I start off strong as a transfer?
If you are fortunate enough to have a successful transfer application cycle and do choose to transfer, you want to hit the ground running at your new school. You need to be proactive in seeking opportunities at your new school.
And remember, whether or not you have a successful transfer cycle, embrace all the opportunities at your current school.
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