Transfer Toolkit: 7 Pointers for Navigating a Law School Transfer
For many, their first year of law school is coming to an end. It’s a milestone of sorts: you dove into the Socratic trenches and are emerging alive, although probably far more jaded and bleary-eyed than before. You’ve proven you can hack it in the competitive legal field and now can take a few months to relax and rejuvenate before 2L year begins.
That is, unless you’re interested in transferring law schools, in which case you’ll be spending your summer months polishing your applications, getting letters of recommendation, and weighing your options. With the history you’ve already made at your current school and your future legal career ahead of you, changing schools is a major decision. Below are seven tips to consider when exploring a law-school transfer.
Focus on Grades First
Application deadlines for law-school transfer span the summer from June to August, which isn’t that far from now. If your heart is set on transferring, it may be hard to resist the nagging pressure to start your applications. But you definitely should resist . . . until your exams are complete and you’ve submitted all papers and projects for the semester. Top grades are critical for a successful application. So tuck this toolkit away until your finals are over, and then get cracking.
Determine the “Why”
People transfer law schools for a myriad of reasons: prestige, job prospects, school fit, location, specialized programs, and more. Figuring out your reason for transfer can help you not only narrow down your list of prospects but also enable you to better weigh your options. Once you’ve determined your transfer priorities, compile a list of the law schools that will satisfy your needs. If you prefer your current school over any of these schools, obviously cross them off the list. Then start researching!
Don’t Limit Yourself
It’s no secret that applying to law school is competitive. You may doubt your chances of transferring to the most elite schools or the top regional programs. Don’t! Some of the most prestigious schools accept the largest transfer classes. And if you’ve rocked 1L year, you’ve already proven that you’ve got the dedication and smarts to succeed. Also, if you don’t feel your transcripts and resume are competitive enough for your target full-time program, investigate whether the school has a part-time or evening program that accepts transfers. On the flip side, if you are currently in your school’s part-time or evening program, you may want to explore transferring into the full-time program if that better meets your goals. Sometimes you have to think creatively to direct your career in the direction you want.
Throwing your hat in the transfer ring means you’re back in the applications doldrums. From essays to letters of recommendation to transcript requests, applying to transfer is time consuming. And each school has different requirements and deadlines. Stay on top of your applications from the start by creating a detailed checklist for each school, including deadlines for the applications and supplemental materials.
Choose your Recommenders Carefully
One of the most difficult aspects of applying to transfer is seeking letters of recommendations from your current professors because you’re essentially telling them that you’d prefer another school over theirs. But don’t forget that professors were once law students, and they tough decisions for their own careers. The key to seeking a recommendation in this circumstance is to select the professors with whom you have the closest relationships (and if you have none, it would behoove you to start making connections before it’s too late) and to frame your request in a way that doesn’t demean your current school (e.g., under no circumstances should you insult your current school’s rank and indicate that you want to trade up to a more prestigious school, even if that’s true). If you need to transfer for location, the request is easier. If not, sit down with the professor and explain that you’ve decided to explore some other educational options as you determine what’s best for your career. Be sure to discuss some of the positives that you’ve gained from your current school and reasons why you’ve enjoyed studying under this professor. Don’t forget that even if you transfer, this professor can remain in your network, and maintaining relationships in the legal field is everything.
Preserving connections shouldn’t apply just to your recommenders but to your other professors, law school administration, and fellow classmates, as well. The reality is that you may not be accepted into any of your target schools. Or in the end, you may determine that remaining at your current school is the best choice. And even if you do transfer, the legal world is a small place, and connections matter a lot. Handling the transfer process with professionalism is crucial. Remain positive about your current school, and limit the people with whom you discuss your transfer plans until you know exactly how you are going to proceed.
Weigh Your Options
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted as a transfer. Now what? For some, it may be a no-brainer to transfer because the new school aligns perfectly with your goals. Others may be unsure whether to jump ship. For those students, take time and do some leg work. Visit the schools who have offered you admission. Talk to current students about their experience in the classroom, with clinics, and with job placement. It is especially important to speak with transfers. Explore the transfer integration process; how easy it was to join journals, clinics, and classes; and what the atmosphere is like for transfers. If career prospects are your key factor, ask former transfer students about their job search and whether they feel they benefitted from switching schools and how the career services department assisted them as transfers. If you’re transferring for a specialized program, speak to students in the program and professors who run it.
Once you’ve done your research, compare your options to your current school. Will the costs, relocation, loss of network, loss of GPA, etc. outweigh the position you’ve created for yourself at your current school? If you’re at the very top of your class, you may also want to explore whether your current school will offer any kind of scholarship for you to stay. Law school is obviously a big investment, and when you transfer, you’ll be starting from scratch again. So you shouldn’t make the decision lightly. But you also shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself first and choose whichever school is best for your future and personal circumstances.