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by Shelley Awe | January 22, 2020

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For all of you 1Ls, it probably feels like you’ve just barely settled into law school life. But if transferring law schools is on your radar, now is the time to start researching, paying attention to deadlines, and planning your applications. Whether you entered law school with the intention of transferring or are just wondering about the process, read on for an overview of what you need to know.

What is Transferring?

Transferring is the process of enrolling at a new law school following (usually) the completion of your 1L year. Students accepted as transfers complete their 2L and 3L years—and receive their law degree from—their new school. Note that transferring to a new law school is not the same as visiting another law school. A visiting student spends a term or year at another school but then returns to and graduates from his or her original law school.

Why Transfer?

Often, students transfer to another school for career prospects, whether that means the opportunity to participate in another school’s OCI, the ability to target a different market or geographic region, or the chance to take unique classes and programs offered by the school. Otherwise, students might transfer for personal reasons, such as family relocation, a desire to be closer to family or friends, or the feeling that their original school was not a good fit.

Before deciding to leave your current school, however, you should be aware of the pitfalls that may come along with transferring. First, transferring to a new school means losing any scholarships you received at your original school, and most incoming transfer students are not eligible for scholarships from their new school. Transfer students also have to start fresh in building relationships with professors and fellow students—some of the most valuable resources in your future job hunt. Further, transfer students may not be eligible for certain opportunities at their new school, such as the ability to join a journal or receive academic honors. 

That being said, transferring is a smart choice for many law students. Moving to a school with a higher rank, in a certain region, or with a specific program may increase your employment options. If you are truly unhappy at your school, finding the right fit will benefit your mental health. If you are focused on a specific region, moving there can help you establish your network. Just make sure you've considered all the pros and cons before making the jump. 

Who Can Transfer?

To be accepted as a transfer student, you must have a very strong 1L academic record. The exact requirements vary by school, but are usually specified in terms of your class ranking (top 5-10 percent, top one-third, etc.). Research these requirements to ensure you’re targeting realistic schools. In addition to each school’s website, the best resources for determining your transfer odds are ABA 509 reports. These contain valuable statistics from previous years, including the number of transfers a school accepted, a list of schools where students transferred from, and the GPA spread of accepted transfers.

How Do You Apply to Transfer?

Much like your initial law school applications, law schools usually require submission of transfer applications via LSAC. A transfer application generally consists of your 1L transcript, a letter of good standing from your current law school, a personal statement, letters of recommendation from one or more of your 1L professors, and sometimes, an interview. The process can take a significant amount of time during an already-hectic semester, so it’s a good idea to start working on your application early. Often, the hardest part of the application process is getting the materials you need from your current law school and professors who are busy year-round, so be sure to ask for these items as early as you can.

When Do You Apply?

Most law schools accept transfer applications during the late spring and early summer and require a transcript for your entire first year. Some schools, however, offer early application and admission programs that may provide a decision before you’ve even finished your second semester of law school. Before applying early, make sure you’re aware of any contingencies, including whether the early application is binding or conditional on second semester performance.

To minimize the pre-OCI scramble, it is in your best interest to apply early even when a school doesn’t have an official early application program (most schools admit transfer students on a rolling basis). Further, pay close attention to any deadlines for OCI participation, which some schools have in addition to a general transfer application deadline.

If you’re considering early admission programs, you may need to act soon. The following (non-exhaustive) list includes schools that have early transfer application programs for Fall 2020 admission:

  • Boston University: Applications open February 1, and students can choose to apply early action with only first semester grades considered. Early admission requires that the student confirm intent to enroll within two weeks of admission.
  • Cornell: Early transfer admission requires receipt of fall semester grades by February 1, and admission is conditional on spring semester grades.
  • Emory: Has a binding early decision program, but the 2020 deadline has not yet been released. (Last year, it was June 1, 2019.)
  • Florida State University: Applications open on April 1, and students with only one semester of grades will be considered but must be in the top 25 percent of their class.
  • George Mason University: Early decision application is due March 15 and is non-binding.
  • Georgetown: Early action transfer deadline is March 15 and requires at least three reported grades from the fall semester.
  • George Washington University: Applications received by March 1 are automatically considered early action; admission is non-binding and provisional until receipt of spring semester grades.
  • UC Davis: Applications open January 1, and while there is no separate early deadline, applicants may be admitted based on first semester grades.
  • University of Alabama: Students may apply as soon as first semester grades are received and can request early consideration based on one semester only.
  • University of Chicago: Early decision applications are due on May 15 and are binding.
  • University of Georgia: Early action application is due April 1 and decision is non-binding.
  • University of Wisconsin: Applications for early review are due April 15, and admission is conditional on spring semester grades.
  • USC Gould: Early action application is due March 16, and you can select to apply binding or nonbinding.
  • Vanderbilt: Early action applications are due May 15, and acceptance is contingent on spring semester grades.

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