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Summary: Many students consider transferring law schools upon completion of their first year. There are many considerations one must examine before making such a decision.
If you're considering transferring law schools after your first year of courses, there are many questions you need to ask yourself. Will it affect your career goals? Will it influence your chances of landing a summer associate position? How will your financial aid be affected? Is the school truly a better choice? After you ask yourself these questions, consider the following factors as you make up your mind as to whether you will transfer to a new school.
One of the toughest decisions law students face is what to do if they are accepted to a law school, but not their top-choice school. Should these students go ahead and attend their second-choice school, or wait a year and apply again to their dream school?
If you do decide to wait a year, know that this will not make getting accepted to your top-choice school a slam dunk. You have to consider the impact of waiting a full year for a goal that may or may not be achieved. Of course, you will have extra time to perfect your application and LSAT scores, but this is still no guarantee that you will be accepted.
Another bonus of waiting is that you have time to participate in activities that will make your application unique. Think about what you would do as a first-year law student as opposed to what you would do if you waited a year, and go from there when making your decision.
If you do decide to transfer, there's a definite bonus-most schools do not weigh the LSAT as heavily for transfer students. Even if your LSAT score is less than stellar, most schools do not recommend that you re-take the LSAT. It's more important at this point that your GPA and class rank are strong. Therefore, if you are considering transferring after your first year, you must work very hard to keep your grades up.
Dennis Shields, the assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at Duke Law School, offers some excellent advice for anyone struggling with this dilemma: think about your goals for yourself ten years from graduation, and create several routes to achieve these goals.
Advice from Admissions Offices
Michael Spivey, the coordinate of admissions and recruitment at Vanderbilt Law School, said, "I would not apply to any law school that I could not foresee myself at. But if you don't get into your 'top' choice, I would say to go ahead and go to another school you have been accepted at. Who knows, you might just love it there and if not, transferring is always a strong consideration." Many advisors state it's important not to plan one's career around getting a degree from one law school.
As for transferring, Shields cautions, "Don't go into a school assuming you'll be able to transfer out because there are no guarantees." For students who attempt to "transfer up in prestige," Shields says, "…those students who are trying to transfer because they are unhappy with their current schools or because of a family or personal need to relocate usually have it easier. These students tend to give themselves more options than students transferring simply to have a big name on their resumes do."
In addition, many offices advise looking at the long-term benefits many schools offer. For example, the likelihood of landing a clerkship can very well be influenced by the school you attend. If you want to work at a big law firm, these firms track school rankings and consider them very important. Spivey notes, "Generally speaking, higher is better." He adds that other considerations are important, though: "Make sure you end up at a school you firmly believe you will fit in with. Don't transfer into a school because it is ranked in the top ten, transfer because it is a highly ranked school and you want to be there." Some other professions will give greater weight to your work experience, so where you earned your degree is not as critical.
Guidance from Career Services
Although the admissions offices state that rank is not as important as one may think, career services and recruiting offices strongly emphasize rank. Susan Guindi, the assistant dean of career services at the University of Michigan, said, "Go to the best school you can." She advises that rank is important for both summer associate positions, as well as long-term positions. As graduates begin their careers, she says, "What becomes less of an issue for many jobs is how well you did at that school, but what continues to be an issue is where you went to school."
What about transfer students who are looking for summer work, but have not yet earned grades at their new school? Guindi notes, "In terms of hiring statistics, there is no indication that they are at a disadvantage." This is because, according to Guindi, most transfer students are at the top of their class, and will continue to do well at their new school. Employers know that the student was accepted to the new law school because they excelled during the first year. Many, however, will want to know the reason for the transfer, and why you prefer one school over another.
Remember, you'll get different advice from different people. Big time law firm recruiters want students from big law schools, but employers at small law firms typically focus more on your experience.
First, you need to know whether you are even able to transfer schools. Some schools, such as Duke, only admit the number of students it has room for-so for three students to transfer in, three students must have left. Other schools, such as Vanderbilt, do not have a set limit on transfer slots-it just depends on how many students apply, and how strong those students' credentials are.
One of the best things you can do is arrange a meeting with the admissions office and ask what the chances are of being accepted as a transfer student. This will help you figure out exactly what you need to do to attend the law school of your choice.
Is Transferring Worth It?
If you choose to transfer, think about what you will give up. If you are simply trying to "trade up," Shields recommends you look carefully at what you are giving up by switching schools. You may lose the support you have gained from your fellow students and professors. It's important to know that being at a top school does not guarantee more job interviews.
Sometimes, it's better to be ranked higher at a smaller law school than have a low or average rank at a large law school. Again, it all depends on your career goals. If you dream of working for Big Law, you may want to choose a bigger law school. However, many times, once you have worked hard and earned a good reputation as an attorney, the school you attended may not matter as much.
If you're a law review member, you need to be sure you check with your new school about joining its law review. Often, by the time transfer students are accepted, all slots are filled. Don't lose this honor simply because you want to transfer schools.
A very important factor to note is that most transfer students are not eligible for financial aid. This is because spots are limited for transfer applications, and many schools simply do not need to lure students with significant scholarship packages.
In closing, Shields recommends, "Look before you leap. Be very careful what you ask for, especially for those students just trying to trade up in prestige. Transferring is no guarantee that you'll have better opportunities, or that you'll have a better experience. If you've done very well at the law school where you are, that is worth something and before you give that up, you ought to think very carefully about that."
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