Law School Transfer Process: A Guide to the Transfer ApplicationApr 30, 2021
Some law students know from day one they plan to transfer to another school. Others decide to transfer at some point during the first year for a wide range of personal, family, or professional reasons. Regardless of your reason, you should have a broad understanding of the law school transfer process. Below, I provide more information about law school transfer application timelines, considerations about transferring, as well as specific guidance on choosing and applying to your transfer school.
Application Timelines for Law School Transfer
Law school transfer application deadlines vary greatly among law schools. It seems like the Wild West because there is no rhyme or reason to which schools have an early notification, early action, or when their final transfer application deadlines happen. Currently, Berkeley, Stanford, University of Virginia, as well as Georgetown have June 15 due dates for Fall Semester. And most other schools have deadlines in mid or late July. Four schools currently have early action transfers:
The University of Chicago (April 15)
Georgetown (March 15)
Case Western (March 30)
Hofstra University (May 15)
If you plan on transferring, you want to double-check the deadline as soon as possible. Make sure you get your application in on time.
Sometimes law students need to transfer for reasons beyond their control. Other times they choose to transfer because they aren't happy in their current program. They find their law school is not a good fit or want to transfer to a higher ranking school. If you have a choice about whether or where to transfer, it's important to consider the following factors:
Law Review/Moot Court/Honors
You potentially could jeopardize your chances of getting on the law review or journal if you choose to transfer. Law review begins in year two, and schools only reserve a tiny percentage of spots for incoming transfer students. Harvard and Georgetown require law students to compete for spots in May of year one and encourage transfer students to apply for law review. If you are transferring for year three, you might be able to transfer journals and other extracurriculars. However, transferring after year two is very rare and typically only occurs for family or personal reasons and as a last resort.
Policies vary among schools. Some make transfer students ineligible for journals, moot court, as well as other activities. Other schools automatically transfer activities and honors. You need to carefully weigh what you might give up or gain with your transfer.
Most law students choose to transfer to attend a higher-ranked program. Transferring sometimes comes with harder classes and/or a heavier workload. If you cannot meet the demands and expectations of your new program, you risk graduating with lower grades. This also means you could graduate near the bottom of your class. For some, it's better to stay in their current school and graduate near the top of the class.
Many who transfer aspire to a higher ranking school, but that might not always be the best move. If your career goals involve working in a specific geographical location, especially one near your current school, it might be best to stay put. If you transfer across the country, you likely will not have the same placement opportunities, even at a school with a higher ranking. On the other hand, if you want to work in a specific region, transferring to that area would be helpful. Additionally, if you want to get hired by BigLaw, transferring to a higher-ranked school could help.
As a transfer student, you will not have the same eligibility for scholarships as an incoming 1L. You must consider that you will likely have to pay full price for two years of law school. This could be a heavy burden if you are receiving a scholarship at your current school. If your transfer drastically improves your chances of landing a position at a large firm, the extra cost may be worth it. In other cases, taking on extra debt may not be the best choice.
Major Components of a Law School Transfer Application
Applying as a transfer law student requires the same time and effort as your initial application. Yet, how a school evaluates your application is slightly different. Acceptance to your transfer school relies more heavily on numbers than your initial law school application. Key components and the way they factor into a transfer include:
Your first-year GPA and academic ranking are arguably the most important factors that will determine if you gain acceptance to your choice of transfer school. Your grades are also heavily tied to the law school you currently attend. As a general rule of thumb, the lower your current school is ranked, the higher your GPA must be to transfer. This assumes you are transferring up. You can examine the specific hard numbers for your school of choice by checking out ABA 509 reports. These reports, required by the American Bar Association, provide ample data about applicants and acceptance that will give you the best idea of your chances for getting into a particular school.
Letters of Recommendation
Your letters of recommendation do not matter as much for a transfer application to the extent that law schools rely more on hard numbers for their decisions. Yet, poor letters of recommendation can hurt your chances for acceptance. You should always forge connections with professors in your first year, even if you know you will transfer. Your recommenders have empirical evidence of your success or failure as a first-year student. And you want them to share your positive attributes.
Personal Statement/Diversity Statement
Law schools use these statements to confirm that a transfer applicant can write. Once they have grades from your first year, law schools have a strong predictor for how you will interview and your likelihood of passing the bar. If you have a strong reason forcing you to transfer, you can mention it. But it may not make a difference if your GPA doesn't meet the requirements. Like your initial application, make sure to convey the specific reasons you want to attend a particular law school and what you bring to the program.
Choosing to transfer law schools can be a difficult decision that comes with many considerations. Some have difficulty finding the best way to balance career goals, law school, and personal obligations. Each person's situation is different. While transfers make sense for some, they may not be the best choice for others. Contact me today with questions you have about law school transfer applications, the transfer process, and guidance on making the best choice for your circumstances.