Making a first impression twice: a guide to transferring law schools

law law school admissions
By Shlomo

Maybe you underperformed on the LSAT. Maybe you feel you did not push yourself enough. Or maybe your resume and personal statement were not as impressive as they needed to be. For whatever reason, you did not get accepted to your dream law school. You did, however, do well enough to earn acceptance to a different law school. Rather than waiting another year to apply again, you decide to attend your back-up, accepting the fact that your dream school isn’t going to happen. You begin law school hopeful that you’ll soon realize this is where you were meant to be all along, but that feeling never comes and now you’re stuck in a school you don’t love, still longing for the one that got away. 

If the above scenario is similar to yours, don’t give up hope! This was my story. I didn’t get accepted to my dream school, but had secured a position with Fordham University School of Law and was very excited to attend such a great school! I was married with one kid on the way and did not have the time to wait for the next cycle of applications to go around. So, I accepted my spot at Fordham Law. While I valued all I had learned at Fordham and will always keep with me the friends that I made, Fordham just never felt like home. At the close of my first year, I was in an excellent position to transfer. I took advantage of the opportunity and was accepted to Columbia Law School, where I remain. The process was arduous and complicated. While this is by no means a comprehensive guide, I have outlined the 6 things that every prospective transfer student should know before you apply:

1. Grades matter

While I personally believe that grades alone are an inaccurate assessment of one’s intelligence, grades are imperative to success in the law school system. GPA is the sole basis for many law firms’ employment decision-making, and law school honors and maintaining merit-based scholarships are almost exclusively based on grades. The transfer process is no different. Law schools always publish the average GPA of their transfer class: the higher the number, the more prestigious the school looks. For this reason, grades are the single most important factor when considering transferring. From day one of 1L, you need to be super focused on getting those As so that you can be in a favorable bracket for transferring. 

2. Letters of recommendation

Like all law school admissions, you’ll need at least two letters of recommendation to complete your application. However, the difference between entering 1Ls and transferring 2Ls is that a law school professor must write the letters. When considering if a transfer student will thrive at their new school, schools look to how the student has performed so far in law school. Prior experience becomes more-or-less obsolete. For this reason, it is important to foster relationships with professors early on. Consider going to office hours every now and then, staying after class to chat with them, and emailing them asking for one-on-one meetings to discuss a topic in more depth than you were able to in normal office hours. Be sure you’re not constantly bothering them or meeting just for the sake of meeting, but if you have questions or topics that you feel would lead to insightful conversations, take advantage of the opportunity to get to know your professors. Regardless of whether you consider transferring, law school professors are a wealth of knowledge from whom you can learn more than just your subject material. These relationships will prove invaluable when you begin the transfer process. If you are nervous that your professor will not be supportive of your transfer, fear not! Most law school professors are graduates from top universities, possibly even transfers themselves, and they understand that different schools are right for different students. 

3. Personal statement

Your law school personal statement is your chance to show the admissions board who you are apart from your GPA on a more personal level. If your grades are lower than a school’s median, this statement is your chance for redemption. Remember that your statement should tell the admissions team why you want to be a lawyer and why they should choose you over another applicant. In your transfer personal statement, you should consider focusing on (1) your current law school experience and why you want to transfer, (2) what you hope to accomplish at the school to which you are applying, (3) where you hope to take your career, and (4) how attending this school will help you get there. Be sure you’re placing an emphasis on the substance of your paper, particularly highlighting your interest in that school. 

4. Forget the past

I personally do not believe that the LSAT is a good indicator of intelligence or potential law school success. However, the system is the way it is. Law schools publish their incoming class’ LSAT scores and that average is used as one of the ranking qualifiers to determine the school’s prestige. Obviously then, schools will go out of their way to ensure they’re getting the highest LSAT scores possible from their candidates. For that reason, many law schools will offer merit scholarships to candidates with a high LSAT score, despite the remainder of their application appearing no different than anyone else’s. With transfer students, LSAT scores are not factored into this average. This means that whether you received a 178 or a 149, your LSAT score will not affect the law school’s ranking. Finally, your LSAT score can stop haunting your dreams at night, just be sure you keep your 1L grades up. 

5. The application process

Unlike the initial application, the transfer process is less structured. You should find out when transfer applications open and begin the process as soon as possible. You should be working on your letters of recommendation and your personal statement even before applications formally open, that way when they do you’re already halfway done. You will need to have an official transcript and a letter of good standing sent from each college you attended. In addition, there are several forms that you will need your current law school to submit so be sure to speak with a representative from your current law school right away. Never leave things to the last minute, especially not in law school!   

6. Know if transferring is right for you

Sure ranking and law school prestige have their benefits, but there’s more to attending a school than those factors alone and each candidate should consider whether transferring is actually the right move for themselves. Don’t just transfer so that you can attend a school that is higher on a law school ranking list. Consider what it is that you will be leaving behind: friends and connections you’ve made, your stellar GPA (which does not transfer with you), your class rank, your school-specific scholarship, and an extracurricular groups including journals or competition teams you’ve joined at your current school. You should also consider which school aligns best with your career goals and can place you where you hope to end up post-grad. For example, if you want to go into Big Law in New York City, you maybe better off attending a school like Fordham Law, which is known for placing its students into top Big Law firms, as opposed to transferring to a higher ranked out-of-state law school that lacks the same networking ability and may not place as well in the city and job of your choosing. If you want to get a federal clerkship after school or are more public-interest minded, you may want to consider a school like Georgetown, which is known for placing well in those positions. Either way, talk it over with your loved ones and an admissions counselor to make an informed decision. 

Just remember that this journey is a personal one and while I consider my experience a success, everyone is different. Depending on who you ask, you may receive different answers or advice. That does not mean that one or any of them is wrong, but be sure that at the end of the day, you’re doing what is best for you and for the right reasons. If you are considering transferring and want more guidance, reach out to me through Cambridge Coaching, and I will be more than happy to help you along your transfer journey.