Transferring to Another Law School

by Nebby

(Back to Guides)


May your Arrow fly straight and your aim be true.

Advice for Transferring to Another Law School
I. Introduction
II. Why Transfer?
III. Where to Apply?
IV. What Factors are Considered in Transfer Admissions?
V. What are Competitive 1L Stats for Top 14 Schools?
VI. Do Softs Matter?
VII. The Application Requirements
VIII. Personal Statement
IX. Letters of Recommendations
X. Early Action/Early Decision Transfer
XI. Is it Worth It to Go?
XII. Other FAQ
XIII. Recommendations

I. Introduction

This post should help all the 1L’s out there who have crushed their first year of law school. Much of the transfer application is similar to the application you completed when you were an 0L, so I will focus on the aspects of the process that are unique to transferring.

For some background, I attended SUNY Buffalo Law for 1L and transferred to Columbia Law School. Most of the information here comes from my experiences and my observations of others' experiences.

II. Why Transfer?

Understanding why you may want to transfer helps you choose where to apply, helps you write your personal statement, helps you explain to your professors when you ask them for letters of recommendation ("LORs"), and helps you answer questions during interviews.

The two main reasons to transfer are:
- Employment prospects/job placement/better OCI/better prestige/academia/clerkships
- Personal reasons/geographical desires/family/spouse/significant other/parents/kids

Transferring does come with some sacrifices, which include:
- Giving up your 1st year grades (your grades do not follow you to the new school)
- Giving up your scholarship and paying a lot more for the new school (only HYS give need-aid to transfers—no other school gives aid to transfers, except in incredibly rare circumstances)
- Giving up Law Review
- Doing the entire law school application over again and paying the money for the applications
- Some transfer stigma
- Moving to a new place and losing your old friends
- Possibly not being able to use your 1L year professors for clerkship recommendations (some schools discourage professors from writing recommendations for students that transferred out)

III. Where to Apply?

The first thing you should do is look at your prospective school's ABA 509 because schools are required to provide info on transfers, including the total number of transfers and their 1L GPAs broken down into the 25th percentile, 50th percentile, and 75th percentile.

Below are the number of transfer students the top 14 schools took in the most recent transfer cycle (click the school name to access their ABA 509). Note: this is the number of students who ended up transferring; there is no data on how many students applied and how many received an offer of acceptance.

Number of People Transferring into the top 14 schools (based on the 2017 ABA 509):

1. Yale – 8
2. Stanford – 8
3. Harvard – 40
4. Chicago – 17
5. Columbia – 46
6. NYU – 58
7. UPenn – 9
8. Michigan – 14
8. UVA – 4
10. Duke – 4
10. Northwestern – 27
12. Berkeley – 33
13. Cornell – 8
14. GULC – 105

IV. What Factors are Considered in Transfer Admissions?

The three main factors are:

(1) 1L rank/percentile and/or GPA,
(2) The current school you attend (i.e., Top 14, Top 20, Top 50, Top 100, Top 150, Top 200)
(3) Soft factors (personal statement, work experience, LORs, etc.)

Transferring is mostly a numbers game (like your GPA/LSAT for regular admissions). Your competitiveness is mostly determined by your 1L rank/percentile and/or GPA. Some schools do not rank or provide percentiles for their classes—or the percentiles have very wide ranges—therefore for some 1Ls the only metric will be their GPA. The higher your rank/percentile/GPA, the better chance you have of transferring.

Undergrad GPA and LSAT is not considered a relevant metric for transferring, therefore it will not hold you back and only your 1L rank/percentile/GPA matters.

After your 1L rank/percentile/GPA, your school rank matters. For instance, someone with a 3.6 GPA from a Top 20 law school is more competitive than someone with a 3.6 from a Top 100 law school.

Soft factors matter. A good personal statement should explain why you want to transfer. If you can articulate a good reason, then you will be more competitive than someone who cannot. In addition, if you landed a competitive 1L summer internship, this will make you more competitive than someone who did not.

V. What are Competitive 1L Stats for Top 14 Schools?

There are some basic metrics that I have seen result in fairly accurate results. Percentile has always been a reliable indicator, but some schools do not provide ranks/percentiles, and therefore you only have a GPA.

For 1L students who only have a GPA but no rank/percentile, the ideal is to be above the transfer school’s 75th GPA percentile. However, this also depends partially on school rank. E.g., someone attending a Top 20 school with a GPA between 50th and 75th percentile has a similar chance to someone attending a Top 100 school with a GPA above the 75th percentile.

Below is a guide to these metrics:

To be a competitive transfer candidate for Yale and Stanford you need:
Top 8% at a Top 20
Top 3% at Top 50
Top 1% at Top 100

Below are the 1L GPAs - if it is empty, it is because they admitted less than 12 people (schools only have to report GPAs if they admit 12 or more).

To be a competitive transfer candidate for Harvard you need:
Top 12% at a Top 20
Top 6% at Top 50
Top 2% at Top 100

Below are the 1L GPAs

To be a competitive transfer candidate for Columbia, Chicago, NYU:
Top 10% at Top 50
Top 5% at Top 100
Top 2% at Top 200

Below are the 1L GPAs

To be a competitive transfer candidate at the rest of the T14:
Top 15% at Top 50
Top 8% at Top 100
Top 4% at Top 200

Below are the 1L GPAs - if it is empty, it is because they admitted less than 12 people (schools only have to report GPAs if they admit 12 or more).

To transfer into the Top 50 you need:
Top 15% at a Top 100
Top 8% at Top 200

To transfer into the Top 100 you need:
Top 15% at Top 200

VI. Do Softs Matter?

They do—but not very much. My guess is that 1L grades and the rank of 1L law school account for 90% of your competitiveness. As always, good softs may matter in tie breakers and can definitely hurt though if you mess them up. When people with the right numbers get dinged, my guess is that the softs went wrong somewhere.

Underrepresented Minority (“URM”): No boost. There is no evidence of URMs getting a boost in transfer admissions. This may be in poart due to the fact that a transfer class is generally small relative to the rest of the class, therefore more transfer URMs do not have much of an effect on the diversity statistics of the law school.

Unique Softs: Yes, a small boost, similar to regular admissions.

Awards (e.g., CALIs) or Invite to Law Review: No boost. Getting onto law review is usually a function of good grades, which all of your transfer competitors will also have, therefore it will not differentiate you from them (much). Likewise, getting awards is due to having good grades, which all of your transfer competitors will have as well.

Extracurricular Activities/Work Experience: Yes, a small boost. Leadership always looks great, and the fact that you can participate in clubs and do well shows good time management skills.

1L Summer: Yes, a small boost, if you obtained a difficult to obtain 1L summer position, such as a 1L summer associate position at a big law firm or an internship at a federal Court of Appeals. The rest of the typical research assistants, judicial internships, government, public interest work, etc. are fairly common and do not do much to differentiate you from your peers.

Personal Statement/LORs: Yes, a small boost. A personal statement that provides an articulate answer for why you want to transfer to X school will be better than a general personal statement. Likewise, a solid LOR from a 1L professor that knows you well will be better than a LOR from a 1L professor who wrote you one because you did well in their class but might not know you that well personally.

Undergrad GPA/LSAT – No boost. Schools do not have to report transfer Undergrad GPA/LSATs, therefore they do not care.

Going to a Local School: Yes, small boost. There is some anecdotal evidence that:

Berkeley prefers transfers from within California;
Chicago and Northwestern prefer transfers from the Chicagoland area or the Midwest;
Duke and UVA prefer transfers from the South;
UPenn prefers transfers from the mid-Atlantic region; and
Cornell prefers students from New York (state) or the surrounding area.

The other top 14 schools not listed do not appear to exhibit any sort of geographic preference. If you are interested in one of the schools listed above, then you should still apply. They still take lots of students from outside of their region, but a survey of the schools they take the most from indicates some regional grouping.

VII. The Application Requirements

In case you forgot, most applications require:

- LSAC online application
- Application fee
- Personal Statement (1-2 pages, often requiring you explain why you want to transfer)
- Resume ( with your upcoming 1L summer position included)
- 2 LORS from 1L professors (your legal writing lecturer counts, too)
- Official Undergraduate Transcripts (and any non-law school/graduate school transcripts)
- Official 1st Year Law School Transcript
- Dean’s Certificate/Letter of Good Standing. Each prospective transfer school will have a form that your 1L school will have to fill out. Usually, your 1L registrar takes care of this. Most schools require your 1L school to send it directly to the prospective transfer school.

Pay attention to the application requirements for the schools you want to apply to and plan to finish many of them early. Also, pay attention to the due dates! Some schools have due dates of June 15 and some go as late as July 15th. For schools with earlier due dates, you will want to plan to have all of your materials in as early as possible so that the last thing you are waiting on is your official 1L transcript. Your prospective transfer law school understands that grades are often released at a crawling speed, so if your school is a bit slow, it is not a huge deal.

Like the normal admissions process, transfer applications are looked at on a rolling basis. The earlier you can get in all your materials, the better.

VIII. Personal Statement

You know the drill, just write about yourself. Most schools have general instructions that ask you to write about your background and why you want to transfer.

My personal statement was 2 pages double spaced, which allowed me to single space it for those that asked for one page. The first half of my personal statement was about my background and the second half focused on why I wanted to transfer to X school.

What do you write about? You can write whatever you want! Some people do not address why they want to transfer, which might not matter (not every school inquires for your reasons for transferring). However, I recommend tailoring your personal statement to the schools you apply to. Since you are only applying to 3 or 4 transfer schools, it does not take much time to personalize each personal statement.

IX. Letters of Recommendation

There may be some awkwardness, but chances are, your 1L professors have dealt with this situation before. Both of my LORS came from professors who were incredibly nice and supportive. One was my 1L Spring ConLaw professor and the other was my 1L legal research and writing lecturer.

Remember, LORs are not as important compared to your grades. However, you should still try to develop personal relationships with your professors—especially those you will want to write you a letter.

Preparing for Good LORs During the Year

Hopefully you decided to transfer early during Spring 1L and can prepare to get good LORs. What this means is you always go to class, do not sleep in class, and try to ask occasional questions/minor participation. In addition, you will go to office hours, which is the most important part. During office hours, you will ask productive questions AND bond with the professor by asking some non-law questions (about their background or their career paths). In addition, this will demonstrate your personality and unique background so that they will remember you and have things to say when they later write your LOR.

Many professors are surprisingly open and understanding when talking about transferring, so do not be shy and feel free to just ask them for their advice and their take on transferring. This also makes it a lot easier for when the time comes for you to ask them for a LOR.

Choosing A Professor

You need to recognize the conflict of interest that exists. Professors are duty bound by the school to try and keep good students. On the other hand, they are paid by the school to provide services (like LORs) to students in a sense and also duty bound to help their own students out (as a human being in a master/apprentice relationship).

Some things to consider:

- Your personal bond with the professor – Did they really like you? Did you both bond in office hours? Do they even know who you are?
- Your grade in the class – Try to pick professors that gave you an A or A-.
- How nice your professor is – You want someone to write a good LOR with nice things to say, and nice professors typically make better recommenders.
- How long they have taught at your law school – Is your professor new? If so, she may feel less attached to the school and thus there is less conflict about writing a letter. Legal research and writing lecturers typically have their own practice outside of law school instruction, and they definitely understand the professional reasons why you want to transfer. On the other hand, if your professor has taught at your school for 20 years, he or she may be more attached to the school. Yet, at the same time, they may also be more accustomed to the realities of transferring and therefore might be able to write a letter and provide good advice.
- Your professor’s alma mater – This may be obvious, but it is a lot less awkward to ask your professor for a recommendation to Harvard if she went to Harvard.

How to Approach Your Professor:

You should ask your professor for a LOR in person. This is an important conversation deserving of face-time, and you should NOT ask for this over email or a phone call (unless absolutely, 100% impossible to ask in person).

If you can, try to have at least one professor be from your fall semester, because it will be easiest timewise. I asked my first professor in March of 1L. Also, if you do it during the semester, you can go to their office hours to ask.

If you have to meet with your professor after finals, this will be harder, but still doable. This is the only instance where a phone call may be your only option, particularly if you are not in your 1L city due to an internship over 1L summer.

X. Early Action/Early Decision Transfer

Yes, this does exist. In case you did not know, you can transfer after your fall 1L grades and without your spring grades. A decision is usually give in April or May. The application process has the same requirements as normal transfer admissions but with earlier dates:

Chicago: April 15 – BINDING DECISION (you have to go if you are accepted)
Georgetown: March 16 – EARLY ACTION (you do not have to go if accepted)

These are the only T14 schools that have this option. Your GPA for spring 1L semester is generally irrelevant (though C’s or lower might raise an eyebrow). Chicago also requires you get “consistent” grades throughout the year. When asked, the Chicago admissions office said this meant that you should not drop more than 0.2 or 0.3 points on your GPA or drop more than 10-20%.

Should I Do Early Action?

My personal recommendation is to go for it, but only if you really want to go to the school. If you had spectacular knock-em dead grades first semester, you will likely get similar grades second semester. I have actually never heard of anyone getting top grades 1st semester, then getting average grades 2nd semester (though I am sure it is possible).

I applied EA to Georgetown as an insurance policy, knowing that I would go to a higher ranked school if I did well again Spring 1L. WARNING: Holding onto my EA seat at Georgetown into the summer ended up costing me $1600. Georgetown makes you pay a seat deposit in early May and then again in June. I did not hear back from other schools until after the seat deposit deadlines, which means I lost $1600 (it was worth).

What are my chances?

Unlike early action for regular admissions into law school, the requirements for early action transfers are stricter. You need slightly higher grades than regular transfer admissions. My guess is that because they cannot see your second semester grades when making their decision, they have to hope that people who do well first semester will also do well second semester.

To be a competitive ED transfer candidate for Chicago:
Top 8% at Top 50
Top 3% at Top 100
Top 1% at Top 200
Above Chicago’s 75th GPA percentile for transfer students, which for 2017 was 3.86

To be a competitive EA transfer candidate for Georgetown:
Top 12% at Top 50
Top 5% at Top 100
Top 3% at Top 200
Above Georgetown’s 75th GPA percentile for transfer students, which for 2017 was 3.73

XI. Is it Worth It to Go?

Yes, I think you should transfer.

Before I even read your stats or background, I recommend transferring because most of the time, that is the right answer. When someone asks whether they should stay or go, a few factors come into play:

1. Current school and prospective transfer school
2. Geographical preferences
3. Current school’s financial aid package
4. Employment goals (BigLaw, government, public interest, clerkship/academia, etc.)

First, if your goals are reasonably attainable from your current school, then you probably should not transfer, unless you are receiving little to no financial aid.
Second, if your goals are not reasonably attainable from your current school, but you have a large financial aid package ensuring you will graduate with less than $100k in debt, then you might not want to transfer.
Third, if your goals are government or public interest, are not attainable from your current school, but are attainable from your prospective transfer school that has a good loan repayment assistance program, then you may want to transfer.

Below are some common scenarios and my recommendations:

REMEMBER: You will not get any financial aid at the school you transfer to, unless you qualify for need-based aid, which is only offered at HYS.

Top 14 + full scholarship -> HYS
- Do not transfer. There is nothing a top student at the T14 cannot do that a HYS student can, and the additional ~$150k in debt is not worth the marginal benefit. However, if you could qualify for need-based aid, then transfer.

Top 14 + half or less scholarship -> HYS
- Transfer, so long as you are okay with the additional debt.

Top 20 + full scholarship -> non-HYS T14
- Do not transfer. There is nothing a top student in the Top 20 cannot do that a non-HYS student can, and the additional ~$150k in debt is not worth the marginal benefit.

Top 20 + half or less scholarship -> HYS
- Transfer, so long as you are okay with the additional debt; unless your goals are easily attainable from your current school, then do not transfer.

T1/T2 + full ride -> T6
T3/T4 + full ride -> T14
- Transfer, unless you want to practice in the geographic region your current school is in and your current school places well in that region.

T1/T2 + half or less scholarship -> T14
T3/T4 + half or less scholarship -> T20
- Transfer.

Transferring up 10 to 20 spots in rank:
- Do not transfer, unless you have a good personal reason and are independently wealthy to the point that additional debt does not matter.

If you have a geographical preference at your old school + full ride + no big law or academia desires -> T14
- Do not transfer.

If you are unsure, feel free to make a thread in the forum.

XII. Other FAQ
What do I do about early deadlines when I have not even heard back from other schools?

This often arises with Berkeley, Stanford, and GULC, who have June 15 deadlines. People get their acceptances and must accept by around mid-July. However, they have not heard back from HYSCCN. Here are you options:

1) ask for an extension
2) ask the schools you have not heard from to politely “hurry up” and tell them you really want to go there
3) accept at the school but withdraw later (for example, Berkeley requires some integrity but no seat deposit, so I am sure they will understand if you have to accept early but later go to Harvard)

Do transfers get scholarship money?

Generally, no. However, some 1L schools will offer more money to get you to stay, but this is not common. Only HYS offer need-based aid to transfers.

Can I try out for law review at the new school?

It is possible. Most schools allow it. However, you will need to research the school's law review's admission process and see if transfers have their own process or if they have to participate in the same process as native students (this is the case at Harvard--prospective transfers have to participate in the April law review process, which is months before a prospective transfer even knows if they will be admitted).

How do transfers fare at OCI?

Transfers do well at OCI due to their good grades. However, most law firms will view you compared to your old school and not your new. So if the firm would not even hire a top 1% student from your 1L school, then they likely will not hire you at your new, much higher ranked school as a transfer.

Is there a transfer stigma and how easy is it to adjust to the new school?

This depends on the person and the school. Generally, the 1L years are cliquish and it will be harder. However, if you are social person, you will still have friends at the new school. Many schools also have a transfer student organization to help ease the transition.

Doing 2 OCI’s and Double Dipping

Some people ask "Can I do OCI at my new school and my old school?" The answer is maybe, but it is definitely unfair and you should not do this.

Should I go to a law school with the intent on transferring to another one?

DO NOT DO THIS. Statistically, it is difficult to do well enough to transfer. Do not attend a school you would not be comfortable graduating form.

How do transfers generally fare at their new school grade-wise?

They generally do well. Transfers students are often gunners to begin with and will work hard. Some people say you take a 10-20% ranking drop at your new school, but I have heard of many cases where transfers do just as well as they did in their old school.

XIII. My Final Words

This post will always be a work in progress. I realize that there is a lot of uncertainty and disagreement regarding the transfer process, so feel free to tell me if you believe that something is wrong. As always, if you had a successful transfer cycle, I encourage you to share your wealth and be a contributor to the forums.

If you have more questions, feel free to PM me or post them here in this thread.

- Nebby


(Back to Guides)


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