- Choosing the proper law school can be very important a law student’s future career.
- Yet, sometimes law students don’t pick the correct school for their needs.
- From that point on, it behooves these students to transfer to a law school that better suits their needs.
- Read this article to find the advantages and disadvantages of transferring law schools, and which 15 law schools get the most transfer students.
Choosing a law school is an important decision for a student’s legal career future. Where they attend can affect their future job prospects, friendships, and quality of life; and some students who enter their first year realize the law school they chose is not the right fit for them. Thus, they have an important choice to make. Stick things out or transfer.
So what law schools do most students transfer to? And what law schools hemorrhage the most students? Professor Jerry Organ of the University of St. Thomas Law School compiled a list of this data that he released in 2015, and he wrote on The Legal Whiteboard that the number of transfers has been consistent over the years, unaffected by the decrease in law school interest since the economic depression of 2008. His research showed that top 10 schools such as Harvard and New York University attract transfers and have few students who choose to leave, but other schools such as Georgetown were both a receiver of students and a big feeder into other schools.
With this law school transfer data, what can we derive from it? Essentially, schools that receive the most transfer students are a good indicator of quality, and the good schools are taking students from the lower-ranked ones. Below are the top 15 law schools that attract the most transfer students, according to Professor Organ.
Law Schools That Gain the Most Transfer Students
- George Washington
- Arizona State
- New York University
- University of California at Berkeley
- University of Miami
- University of Texas
- Florida State
Conversely, there are certain law schools that seem to make students jump ship. Inside Higher Ed observed, for instance, that American University’s Washington College of Law lost almost 20% of its students in 2015.
“The Washington, Phoenix and northern Florida area transfer markets are particularly hot, and deans on the losing end of the stick are beginning to get hot under the collar,” Inside Higher Ed stated. “In Washington, the clearest loser is American University's Washington College of Law. Last year, it lost 100 of the 473 students it had enrolled a year before to other schools -- more departing transfer students than any other law school in the country.”
Following American, Florida Coastal, Arizona Summit, Hastings, and Suffolk lose the most transfer students, respectively, with many of those students heading to the top 15 schools listed above.
Schools that lose transfer students have remarked that it is unfair that they are judged negatively because of student exodus. Some of the lower-ranked schools have said that competitors poach their best students, and that those higher-ranked schools have an unfair advantage of not taking in students with low scores but then nabbing them when they exhibit talent in a school that actually gave them a chance. These lower ranked schools state that the poaching of quality students also negatively affects their bar exam passage rates, which also factor into their ratings.
Higher-ranked schools deny poaching, and whatever the truth of the matter, students who voluntarily transfer are doing so to receive what they think is an upgrade.
In 2015, approximately 2,200 law students transferred, according to the American Bar Association. Most students who transfer tend to do so after their first year, and many do not receive scholarships. These students take risks to transfer, so it’s worth examining if this risk matches the reward.
Why Do Students Transfer Law Schools?
Students transfer law schools for various reasons, but one popular reason is that students want to attend a better school, one with a more esteemed reputation or higher job placement statistics. While some law schools criticize their competitors for allegedly poaching students, the elite schools that attract the most transfers state that they do nothing of the sort.
Georgetown, for example, is the top choice for transfer students, according to Organ’s research, and the school told Inside Higher Ed that it did nothing to lure students towards them, indicating that their reputation was enough.
“We’re doing nothing, we’re simply giving them the opportunity to do what they want to do,” Andy Cornblatt, Georgetown law school's dean of admissions, told the publication in 2015.
Besides trading up, some transfer students also choose to move schools because they want to be closer to family, change cities, finances, or other personal reasons.
What Steps Should Law Students Seeking Transfers Take to Appeal to Admissions?
Some potential law students can’t get into their dream schools right away because of low grades or LSAT scores. They attend a school with the intention of transferring, and for these students, they need to take the following steps to make their application as strong as possible:
- Get good grades during your first year of law school: A good LSAT score is an indicator of one’s success in law school, but once admitted, a student’s 1L performance is an indicator of how he or she will finish the program. Getting good grades is essential to a transfer’s application packet. In fact, many experts say it’s the most important thing you can show.
“Our transfer admission process is based almost solely on those grades, and successful applicants usually come from the top five percent of their respective 1L classes,” UC-Berkeley Dean of Admissions Ed Tom told LawCrossing.
- Work on getting excellent recommendation letters: Another important part of one’s transfer application is the student’s letters of recommendation. Because of this, a student should cultivate relationships with their professors, even if they know they want to eventually leave the school.
- Participate in at least one law-related extracurricular: Like in high school and college, participating in activities looks good on your resume. For one, it shows a commitment to the field and that you are a motivated person. But participating can serve other purposes—you can meet people who could possibly recommend you and you gain more experience in law.
What are possible consequences of transferring law schools?
The benefits of transferring law schools have been mentioned, but students considering making a switch should also consider the cons of doing so. The Law School Admissions Counsel warns that transfer students may lose important academic functions such as class rank, connections, or eligibility for scholarships; and it stated that students should weigh risks of transferring if there is an option to stay at their current school.
“Some students have no or little choice but to transfer for personal or hardship reasons, including finances, job relocation of a spouse or partner, or proximity to family,” LSAC wrote. “Others seek to transfer to another law school that they perceive as having a higher status or ranking. If you are seeking a transfer for this reason, be advised that the transfer may do you more harm than good; there are many negative aspects of law school transfers.
Possible consequences of transferring, according to LSAC:
- Loss of community and connections: Most students report making their closest friends and allies during their first year. Some transfer students may lose these connections and have a hard time breaking into cliques at their new school.
- Ineligibility for moot court, law review, or other activities: At some law schools, eligibility to participate in moot court, law review, journals, and more come only after being a student at the school for one year. However, schools such as Columbia Law or Arizona State University do not have these types of restrictions, so potential transfer students should look at law schools’ FAQ pages for more details.
- Ineligibility for scholarships: Many law school scholarships are given to incoming 1L students, and transfer students may miss out on these opportunities.
- Altered class rank: Class ranking may not include your grades at your previous school, and transfer students sometimes are not eligible for GPA-based graduation awards.
- Limited class selection: Some transfer students find their class court selection is not as extensive as their peers because their peers may have signed up for much of the classes before the transfer arrived. Additionally, transfer students may not have taken the prerequisites.
It is noted that while negative results can happen, not all transfers experience them. For instance, Dean Douglas Sylvester from Arizona State University Law School, the third most popular transfer school on Professor Organ’s list, shared with LawCrossing that ASU does not treat transfer students like “second-class” students. He stated that choosing to transfer is something that is done after careful consideration and that students who join ASU as transfer students report to liking the decision.
“Students who are thinking of transferring to another law school are likely considering multiple factors such as the quality of education and reputation of the law school, location, and overall value and outcomes such as employment opportunities,” Dean Sylvester said. “Transferring to another law school may have its challenges, but ultimately when I talk with students who have transferred to ASU Law, they are so glad they did. I would encourage them from day one, to get involved in the many opportunities we offer – from student organizations to externships and clerkships to clinical work… there are endless possibilities.”
How much does your law school matter?
With possible negative consequences to transferring, students should determine how much of where they went to law school matters. Experts overwhelmingly agree—long-term, it doesn’t matter much where you went to school. A law degree is what you make of it, and your career success depends on factors such as your work ethic, your business, your location, and your practice area.
In the short term, however, where you went to law school can affect your job prospects. Many law firms look to your education as an indicator of your success, and in their minds, the better law schools have already weeded out the best lawyers.
“The law school you went to matters – but it does not matter forever,” said Harrison Barnes of BCG Attorney Search, a leading legal recruitment firm. “The law school is simply a way to distinguish you from the tens of thousands of people graduating from law school each year. After that, no one cares for the most part.”
Attorney Ali Mattern said that there was very little difference from a school ranked in the 60s to one in the 30s. She stated that an optional transfer is not really worth it unless you are trying to get into an elite school like Harvard.
“You should only change schools if the jump you are going to make is going to put you in a substantially better place than you are. I could have easily transferred to Fordham law school (which is ranked in the 30s) from Brooklyn (ranked in the 60s) but I did not even apply because the move was not worth it,” Mattern wrote on The Student Appeal. “The key if you decide to transfer is to make sure that the jump is significant. As a general guide, you should jump at least 35 points in the rankings and higher if you can. Also, the move should move you from one tier to another or from a first tier school to a top 5 school. I know students who moved from Brooklyn Law School to schools ranked from 20–30 and they had a tough time during the on campus interview process and did not substantially benefit from the transfer. Make your jump count!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Transfer Law Schools?
You might be wondering whether you should transfer to law schools now that you have your first semester of grades under your belt. Transfers generally take place the second semester of your 1L year (for early admissions) or the last semester of your 1L year. Transfer students continue their legal studies as 2Ls at the new school if they are accepted via early or regular admission. Your first-year credits will transfer to the new school, and your diploma will be issued by the new school.
You should think seriously about whether you want to transfer to law schools before you fill out any applications. Choosing a new law school is a big decision, just like choosing your original law school was. The following points should be taken into consideration.
The Grades You Received
If you plan on transferring to a better-ranked school (which is often why students consider transferring), you must earn exceptional grades. By now, you are familiar with the law school curve, and you know it is not easy to achieve good grades. Getting into a new school is a definite possibility if you earned high marks in your first semester. However, you may not be able to count on your grades remaining unchanged. Maintaining a high-grade point average requires hard work, and keep in mind all the students who did not do so well last semester now have experience under their belt.
Accordingly, your current GPA assists you in estimating your chances are for admission as a transfer student. ABA Standard 509 reports can be used to determine whether a school is within your reach. According to this report, the school accepted how many transfer students in the previous cycle along with their GPA percentiles so you can approximate your chances.
At some schools, you may be able to apply for early admission if you got outstanding grades in your first semester. Law schools such as Georgetown, University of Chicago, USC, and Vanderbilt offer early admission programs and do not require second-semester grades.
Goals For Your Career
You should really think about what your career goals are and how transferring can help you achieve them before you decide to transfer. If you are trying to target BigLaw, school ranking may be important—generally, the higher a school is ranked, the more companies participate in the school's OCI program, but it should not be your only consideration. You might be better off staying at a school in a certain geographic region rather than moving across the country to a school that does not do as well in that region, even if the school is higher ranked. Staying at your current school will make you an outstanding candidate, and you may actually have a better chance of landing your dream job if you stay. Alternately, you might find it beneficial to transfer to a school within your desired geographic area. You should also consider your career path long-term and how a transfer may be helpful.
Aside from the school's OCI program, you will need to consider other factors if you do not intend to target BigLaw. It might make sense to transfer if the school you are targeting has exceptionally strong programming in the area of your intended practice. You might look into classes, practical experience, certification programs, and clinics offered in the law area in which you are interested. Despite your law school resume, you are not guaranteed a particular area of practice. The legal profession is one where experience is the best teacher, so even if your school does not offer specialization, your chances of getting hired might still be good.
Your Financial Situation
Whatever your reason for transferring, you need to think about the financial repercussions. Most law schools do not offer scholarships to transfer students, and this can put a big strain on your student loans (or wallet). Consider whether you will benefit financially from transferring to a school where you will have to pay the full sticker price for two years of law school. A lot depends on your career goals whether it is worth it. The transfer may be worth it if you are sure you want to work in a large law firm and the new school increases your chances to get hired there since you will be able to pay off your additional loans with that BigLaw paycheck. On the other hand, you might want to reconsider taking on so much extra debt in other cases. There is no one right answer here - everyone has different goals and priorities. To determine whether transferring is the right decision for you, you must take into account your financial situation.
Your General Happiness
What surrounds you and how you experience your everyday life has a lot to do with how it goes. Consider the law school culture, your colleagues, and your location when considering your transfer options. Start fresh somewhere else if you are feeling unhappy where you are. Other circumstances may force you to transfer, such as a family or personal matter. In any case, remember that law school is a time for career development and is temporary. Your current school may be leading you down the right career path, and you can tolerate less-than-ideal circumstances for another two years. The best decision for your well-being depends on what you can tolerate.
Many students transfer because it is the right choice for them. Do not make the leap before considering all angles!
Is It A Good Idea To Transfer Law Schools?
In reality, transferring law schools to advance in the ranks is not always worth it. Frequently, it is not worth it. Transferring to a law school that ranks five or six ranks ahead of your own makes absolutely no sense. However, there are a number of factors to consider that may make a transfer worthwhile.
Advantages of Transferring
Better Job Prospects
You may have a better shot at a higher-ranked school if you are aiming for BigLaw employment after law school. When you drop in the rankings, the opportunities for employment with big law firms decrease.
BigLaw prospects are not the only reason to transfer. Wake Forest, Chapel Hill, and Campbell are three of North Carolina's best regional schools. Duke Law would also be included, but it is in a different legal market since the vast majority of graduates do not practice law in North Carolina. Those interested in practicing law in North Carolina but not attending one of those schools should consider transferring to one of these schools to enhance their resumes.
Disadvantage of Transferring
Losing Your Scholarship Money
My opinion is that this is by far the worst negative of transferring. You will lose any scholarship money you received from your 1L school if you transfer schools. Although I have never heard of a school offering a tuition reduction to a transfer student, that does not mean they will not offer you scholarship money.
The decision to transfer to another school may be influenced by whether you receive scholarship funds or not. If your school does not offer any tuition discounts, you have less to lose.
You are likely to lose any connections you made at your first law school. Each 1L was assigned to a section of 90-130 students, and we attended the same classes together. Some of the students felt like they were back in high school at times, but it still helped them create bonds. You also find that the 1L professors were significantly closer to their students than my 2L students. The reason for this may be that first-year professors understand that part of their job involves mentoring new students in addition to teaching. By transferring schools, you are likely to lose many of these connections.
Making New Connections May Be Tougher
There are now many stories about transfer students having a difficult time making connections at their new schools. It makes sense, students are structured to form close bonds with one another in their Inns/Sections, but that also creates a more tribal mentality among students.
While experiences will vary depending on the student and the personality, it is always challenging to be the new kid on the block.
Which Law Schools Accept The Most Transfers?
Common Transfer Schools
A number of law schools are known to accept large numbers of transfer students every year. There are approximately 100 transfer students accepted each year by Georgetown Law.
Each year, NYU, Columbia, Berkeley, Northwestern, and even Harvard take in dozens of students.
What makes transfer statistics so important? Since Duke and UVA accept so few transfers each year (around five), your chances of getting into Duke or UVA are extremely low. Being top schools, T14 schools are already extremely picky when it comes to transfers. Only a few transfer students can be selected for admission, which is even more stringent than say a school like Georgetown, whose financial stability depends on bringing in a lot of transfers.
There are many schools outside of the T14 that accept a lot of students: George Washington, Arizona State, Emory, Rutgers, Miami, UCLA, Texas, American, Florida State, and Minnesota.
Can You Transfer Law Schools After 1L?
You need to consider several factors before deciding to transfer after 1L year, no matter what your reasons for leaving your law school are. Choosing a law school is often the most important decision a student makes during their education. A transfer to a different law school can alter your entire future as a lawyer and possibly change your entire law career.
A caveat to all of this is that if you plan on transferring to a higher-ranked school after your 1L year, you will need a high GPA and high ranking. You can transfer these if you have them.
Prior to making a decision, you should take the time to weigh the pros and cons. You should consider the following eight points before deciding to transfer after your first year of law school.
1. A Greater Financial Burden
Law school is undoubtedly expensive, which is something you are always concerned about. Costs are high. However, it is the most important thing you should consider when you consider a transfer after your first year.
You will lose any scholarships or need-based financial aid you have at your current law school if you transfer. You are unlikely to receive any scholarship or need-based financial aid at your new law school. Most law schools do not offer scholarships or need-based financial aid to transfer students.
Students who transfer to law schools can make a lot of money. Those schools know that students will pay full price to transfer to a better law school if they are desperate enough to get out of their current school.
It is up to you to decide whether taking on such a financial burden will be better for you than staying at your current law school. The price is worth it for many transfer students. They weigh all aspects, especially future job prospects with their current school, and decide that paying full price is worth it in the long run.
2. Better Bar Passage and Employment Rates
Rankings of law schools are controversial. Whether a law school is contentious or not, its bar passage and employment rates are important. It is hard to pass the bar exam, and sometimes it is even harder to find a job. To be properly prepared for those challenges, you should go to law school. For your legal career, you want the best possible start.
Transferring after one year may be the right move if your school has poor graduation and employment rates. It is better to transfer when you are going from a low-ranking school to a top-ranked law school by jumping dozens of rankings. In most cases, it will not be worth the additional cost to transfer to another school that is similarly ranked to your current school with similar bar passage and employment rates.
The law school you transfer to after your 1L year must be at least as good as the one you left behind. Taking on more student loans will be a huge burden, so you need the transfer to be worthwhile for you. In the long run, a better bar passage rate and higher employment rates make taking on additional debt worthwhile.
You will be well-positioned to pass the bar if you do well in your 1L year, so this should not be your main reason for transferring!
3. A Better OCI
After your 1L year, if you are planning on transferring to a top law school you are doing so for better opportunities. If you cannot participate in your new law school's On-Campus Interview ("OCI") program, you lose half of those opportunities. In order to become a part of Big Law after you transfer, you must ensure you can participate in OCI.
Make sure you follow your email and take note of deadlines if you are able to participate. As early as July or even as late as August, most transfer law students get into their new law schools. The non-transfer peers have been preparing for OCI since the spring, and you may only have a few days to submit your bids. Be prepared to get into OCI as soon as you are admitted.
4. Location, location, location
National law schools are few and far between. If you intend to practice law, you should attend law school there. Internships at locations that your future employer will recognize can be arranged during law school, as well as courses specific to your state.
Changing law schools to the location where you want to practice law is a huge benefit to your future career in that location if you realize you do not want to practice law at your current law school.
5. Double Journal Competitions
In your search for schools to transfer to, make sure they allow transfer students to apply for journals. There are some schools that do not. While some law schools allow transfers to join journals, others do not recognize the previous year's journal competition, so you have to enter a second journal competition.
You might have participated in your old school's law review, but your new law school may not rank as highly. A law review will be replaced by a specialty journal. Check out the journals offered by the law school you are considering transferring to.
6. Lose of a Great GPA
You probably have a stellar GPA and are at the top of your class if you are transferring after 1L year. Unfortunately, your new law school will not allow you to maintain your old GPA. As a second-year student, you will have to start from scratch. Getting that high GPA will be hard work again.
Your new law school class might make you feel like just another average student rather than as the top student in your previous class. Taking this into consideration is a good idea. A top law school student with the average GPA or a lesser law school student with the top GPA? To determine this, you should not only look at the employment rates of law schools but also look at where top graduates of the school you currently attend went after graduation.
7. Different Credit Requirements
Transfer students may need to fulfill specific credit requirements at some law schools. Transfer students may not be able to take classes on a pass/fail basis.
The 1L credits you earned at your old law school will most likely appear on your transcript as pass/fail or credit/no credit credits. As a result, the number of pass/fail or credit/no credit courses you can take in your 2L and 3L year will be limited. In other words, you will probably not be able to relax as much as your peers without a transfer.
8. Burning Bridges
Many law schools frown upon students transferring. There is no escaping the law school rankings, especially for the lower-ranked schools. In order to compensate for their ranking, they emphasize their class size, professors, and buildings. Transferring may be considered uncool.
It is possible that the deans of your law school will try to convince you to stay if you decide to transfer. Your scholarship may even be increased and they will emphasize the costs of your new law school. It is important that you are certain about your decision to transfer.
There is also the unfortunate side effect of losing some friends. "Moving away" from high school can harm friendships in law school. If they decide not to be your friend just because you transferred, they are not worth it. Your new law school will introduce you to new friends.
No matter what you decide, it is a big decision. The experience is life-changing. Having said that, it can be one of the best choices you ever make.
Despite possible negative ramifications, thousands of students transfer law schools each year. Some do it because they have to for personal reasons, but many do it because they see the move as one that can improve their educational and professional prospects.
“Our transfer students come to us in search of a superior legal education experience,” UC-Berkeley Dean of Admissions Ed Tom told LawCrossing. “They are attracted by all of the usual factors, of course, including faculty, course offerings, programs, and centers. But they also want our learning ambiance, which is best described as nurturing, rather than cut-throat. They also transfer to improve their job prospects and to graduate from Berkeley, and they are willing to forego financial aid incentives that their home schools offer to do so.”
In conclusion, if you are a student considering transferring, make sure you are going to a school that is better than your original institution. If not, the reward may not exceed the risk. And remember—where you went to school only matters for your first job. After that, other factors will be much more important.
“Human nature is such that most want to apply the same philosophy to many aspects of life and want to upgrade homes, cars, and even law schools,” Mattern wrote. “The current system allows you to “upgrade” law schools by transferring to a different higher ranked school after your first year and this option could put your dreams of going to an ivy league school well within reach. In some cases a transfer makes sense but “upgrader” beware as higher rank does not always mean better.”
See the following articles for more information:
- Does Law School Rank Determine Success?
- Is Law School Worth The High Cost?
- The Law School Brain Drain: Why Are More People Failing The Bar Exam?
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