If you’re a 1L and finally have your first semester of grades under your belt, you may be wondering about transferring law schools and whether it’s the right option for you. Generally, law students apply to transfer either during the second semester of their 1L year (for early admissions) or at the conclusion of 1L year. If you’re accepted as a transfer student via early or regular admissions, you continue your legal education as a 2L at the new school. Your first-year credits transfer to your new school, and your diploma is ultimately issued by the new school.
But before you start filling out those application forms, you should put some serious thought into whether transferring law schools is right for you. It’s a big decision—just like it was when you selected your original law school. Here are some things to consider.
If you’re hoping to transfer to a higher-ranked school (which is often the reason students consider transferring), you’ll need exceptional grades. By now, you understand the nature and difficulty of the law school curve, and you know that “getting good grades” is not an easy feat. If you earned good grades your first semester, then transferring is a definite possibility. But you also can’t assume your grades will remain constant for another semester. You still need to work hard to maintain top grades, and remember, your classmates who didn’t do as well first semester now have experience under their belts—in other words, competition is steeper.
That said, you can use your current GPA as a best estimate for where you could be admitted as a transfer student. To determine whether a school is within your reach, find the school’s most recent ABA Standard 509 report. This report shows how many transfer students the school accepted in the previous cycle along with GPA percentiles—so you can approximate your chances.
If you really blew it out of the water and received outstanding first semester grades, you may be able to apply for early admission at some schools. Georgetown, the University of Chicago, USC, and Vanderbilt are some examples of law schools that offer early admission programs and don’t require second semester grades with your application.
Your Career Goals
Probably the most important factor to consider before transferring is what exactly your career goals are and how transferring will help you achieve them. If you’re targeting BigLaw, school ranking could be a valid factor—generally speaking, the higher ranked a school, the more firms participate in the school’s OCI program, but it is certainly not the only thing to think about. For example, if you’re hoping to work in a certain geographic region, you may be better off staying at a school in that region than moving across the country to a school that doesn’t place as well in that region—even if the school is higher ranked. With top grades, you’ll be a standout candidate at your current school, and you may actually have a better chance of landing your local dream job by staying. On the flipside, it may benefit you to transfer to a school that is in the specific region in which you hope to work. Of course, it is also important to think big picture about your career path and how transferring may help you long term.
If you’re not targeting BigLaw, then you’ll need to look at factors beyond the school’s OCI program. If the school you’re targeting has especially strong programming in your desired practice, it might make sense to transfer so you can graduate with a tailored resume. Look into classes, practical experiences, certificate programs, and clinics offered in the area of law in which you’re interested. Remember that you’re not guaranteed to end up in a certain practice area just because it’s on your law school resume, though. Lawyering is a profession where you learn on-the-job, so your chances of landing your dream job may be just as good coming from your current school—even if it doesn’t offer niche, specialty programming.
Your Financial Situation
No matter what your reason for transferring, you’ll need to consider the financial implications of the decision. At most law schools, transfer students are not eligible for scholarships the same way that incoming 1Ls are, and this can have a huge impact on your wallet (or your student loan balance). If you are receiving a partial- or full-tuition scholarship from your current school, consider whether a transfer is worth the financial burden of full sticker price for two years of law school. Whether it’s worth it will most likely correlate to your career goals. If you’re sure you want to work in a large law firm and the new school will significantly increase your chances of making it there, then it may be worth the transfer, knowing you can pay down the extra loans with that BigLaw paycheck. But in other instances, you may want to rethink taking on all that extra debt. There’s not one right answer here—everyone has different goals and priorities. But you, at least, need to think through your financial situation and decide whether transferring comes at the right price for you.
Your General Happiness
There is a lot to be said about your surroundings and how they can make or break your everyday experience. Law school culture, colleagues, and physical location are all factors to consider while you’re weighing the transfer pros and cons. If you’re fundamentally unhappy where you’re at now, starting anew somewhere else could be a perfectly valid reason to transfer. You may also have personal or family circumstances that give you no choice but to transfer. That said, remember that law school is temporary and is a crucial time for your career development. If you’re headed down the right career path at your current school, you may be able to tolerate less-than-ideal circumstances for two more years, knowing it will pay off in the long run. Only you know what you can tolerate, and what decision will best suit your well-being.
Limitations vs. Gains as a Transfer Student
One final consideration is what opportunities you might miss out on if you transfer to a new school versus which opportunities you may gain. At some schools, transfers are not eligible for programs like moot court or journals, while other schools include transfers on all journals and extracurricular activities. Another area to look into are the clinic opportunities at each school and which best align with your future goals, Transfers students may not be eligible for certain honors, such as Order of the Coif or summa cum laude recognition at certain schools; yet, other schools may offer prestigious honors that you feel will be more impressive than those from your current school. Also, consider the types of internships you may be able to pursue during the school year at your current school versus potential transfer schools. Weigh the opportunities you may gain versus those you may lose if you transfer. How important are these opportunities as compared to your broader goals? You only have one chance at law school, so you should at least account for how important these opportunities are to you in the grand scheme of things.
Transferring is a big decision, but for many students, it’s the right one. Just be sure you’ve considered all angles before making the jump!