Five Things to Consider Before Transferring Law Schools

This post comes from our consultant Shannon Davis, who before coming to Spivey Consulting Group worked in admissions for over 17 years, most recently as Assistant Dean for Admissions and Communications at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Some of my favorite clients are transfer applicants because they are usually focused and highly motivated. If they are admitted to a school, it is wonderfully gratifying. I say “if they are admitted” because transferring law schools is not easy, and recently, it has become even harder. This blog on transfer stats is a couple of years old, but it provides a good idea of the odds and landscape of transferring, especially to the most sought-after schools.

If you are seriously considering transferring, or are a pre-1L and disappointed with your admission results and think you might transfer after your 1L year, then take a few minutes to review this. I hope it will help you decide what to do!

1. Are you competitive at the schools where you are looking to transfer?

In transfer admissions, 1L GPA and class rank are the most important factors. Top law schools want top law students, so they are more likely to admit students who perform near the top of the class academically (top 5-10% typically).

That said, the less competitive the school you want to transfer to is, the lower your 1L class rank can be. And if you want to transfer to a school that is similar in ranking to your current school, then your performance may not necessarily need to be at the very top of the class (except for the most competitive law schools where your 1L grades should still be stellar). The 509 Standard Reports compiled by the ABA provide helpful data for you to consider. These reports can tell you how many transfers a school enrolled (some take a lot, some a few, and some don’t take any). And, if a school enrolls more than 10 transfer students in a year, the ABA report will also provide the median 1L GPA of enrolled transfers and which schools those students transferred from. These data points can help inform whether you will be a competitive applicant.

Aside from 1L GPA and rank, other elements considered in the transfer application include which school you attended for 1L, your “soft” factors such as resume and background, and the reasons you want to transfer to that school. Additionally, letters of recommendation are more influential in transfer admissions than in 1L admissions because the letters come from 1L professors who will speak directly to how you are performing in law school.

So, if your grades/rank are competitive at the schools you’re considering, and you can get stellar recommendations from 1L professors, have a strong resume, and compelling reasons why you want to be at that law school, then you may be a good candidate for transfer admission.

2. Can you afford to transfer?

Tuition and cost of attendance are not the same at every school. Therefore, you will want to carefully compare tuition, housing and other living expenses, health insurance packages, transportation and moving expenses, etc. Furthermore, most transfer students do not receive scholarships. Therefore, if you are going to lose a decent scholarship at your current school by transferring, know that this can greatly increase your debt. For some, a significant increase in debt isn’t worth changing schools. This is especially true if the possible career outcomes aren’t vastly different between the school you attend now and the one you want to. Which brings us to our next question…

3. Can you get what you want at your current school?

There are always students who choose not to transfer after all, despite being admitted to their top choice. The reasons vary, but when it comes down to it, some find that they don’t really need to transfer to get what they want. In addition, they might be giving up important things that aren't worth the risk of losing.

I already mentioned the loss of current scholarships, so the financial outlook is often a major factor in choosing not to transfer. Another common reason students choose to stay at their current school is that they often find exciting opportunities by the end of the year. Students at the top of the class tend to have a lot of options: They receive interviews for competitive summer clerkships, they grade on to law review or are selected for moot court, faculty hire them as research assistants, they are invited to special alumni events, and they are sometimes nominated and selected for additional scholarships. In the end, they realize they are already getting the opportunities they want.

4. Do you have the time and resources to apply?

Applying to law school can be a grind, and doing it twice is daunting. One nice thing for transfer applicants is that you won’t have to retake the LSAT or GRE! But, you will have to pay application and LSAC report fees, write personal statements, get transcripts ordered, request letters of recommendation, research law schools, possibly prepare for interviews, fit in a visit (if you haven’t before), and all in a much shorter period of time than the 1L application cycle. Not to mention that you must do all this while deep into your second semester of law school. Check out the 10 Elements for Successful Transfer Admission for more on what it takes to put together a strong transfer application.

5. Is your current law school a good fit?

After a semester or year in law school, maybe you have discovered that your current law school is not a good fit. If so, this can be a smart reason to consider transferring. Perhaps you are struggling to find your place within the law school’s culture; or the location or physical environment isn’t to your liking; or maybe the school doesn’t offer courses in your preferred specialty. It might be that you do not feel challenged. With roughly 200 law schools in the U.S., there likely is a better place for you, but make sure to visit and fully research schools before committing. You don’t want to transfer from one poor fit to another.

Transferring can be the right choice under certain circumstances, and you should think things through carefully before taking such a big step. Hopefully, this blog and our other resources help you with that decision!