Switching it Up: Transferring after 1L


I didn’t go to law school thinking I would transfer. I enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, happy to spend three years in our nation’s capital studying at one of the country’s best law schools. But when I got back my 1L grades, I realized I had a shot at transferring to the schools I never could have gotten into originally, given my LSAT score and undergraduate GPA. This fall, I enrolled at Yale Law School as a 2L; I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Here’s some wisdom about transferring after 1L that I picked up along the way:

Thinking About Transferring Before You Apply To Law School

  • Don’t count on transferring. The most important piece of advice I could give is to go to a law school that you’ll be happy graduating from after 3 years, not one that you think will be a stepping stone to somewhere better. Transferring after 1L is never guaranteed, as you’ll be up against students at the top of their classes. Sometime law schools are actually harder to get into as a transfer student than applying originally. If you’re able to transfer, fantastic! But don’t choose a law school with the idea that you’ll only be there as a 1L.

Thinking About Transferring As A 1L:

  • Don’t retake the LSAT. Luckily for you, law schools don’t look at your LSAT score as much as they look at your 1L grades. Law schools use the LSAT because it is a good predictor of success in law school. But admissions departments don’t need to predict a transfer student’s success—they already know how successful you are based on your grades.
  • Concentrate on your grades. Grades are the single biggest factor admissions departments examine when looking at students transferring after 1L. Though of course there are exceptions, you’ll likely need to be in the top 25% of your class to transfer. Your grades show admissions officers that you know how to think critically about the law, and that you can perform under pressure better than your peers. If your grades weren’t what you were hoping for first semester, don’t panic. Your second semester grades count just as much as your first semester’s. In fact, if you show improvement in the Spring, that shows that you can adapt to a challenging environment. If your grades were good in the Fall, congrats! But remember that you’ll need to keep those grades up in the Spring to successfully transfer.
  • Make connections with your professors. Most law schools will require one or two letters of recommendation from faculty at your 1L school. It’s not always easy to get to know your professors when you’re in large lecture classes where they might not even know your name, but you can do it. Actively participate in class. Go to office hours, and ask the professors about their professional interests, not just problems you’re having in their classes. If you’re not sure where to start, approach your Legal Writing professor. This professor has seen your writing and analytic abilities, and probably teaches the smallest class you have. Moreover, just about every internship and clerkship will require references and/or letters of recommendation from your professors, so doing this legwork will help you even if you’re not able to transfer. Keep in mind that some professors will not write letters of recommendation for students wishing to transfer, so it is a good strategy to cultivate relationships with two or more professors.

General Things To Think About When Transferring after 1L:

  • Think carefully about why you want to transfer. In your application, you will undoubtedly be asked to write an essay about why you want to transfer. Is it because you can be closer to your family or the market in which you want to work? Does the new school have professors you’d like to study under or programs and clinics of interest? Would you rather be in a small school with an intimate environment or a large school that has more opportunities? You’ll need to have a reason other than “Well this school is better than my last one.”
  • Don’t badmouth your old school. In that same “why transfer here?” essay, make sure to not say anything bad about your current school. You can say things like “I’d prefer a school that offered a clinic on X subject area, which my current school does not have,” but NOT things like “I’ve had a horrible time at this school and I can’t wait to leave.” Make sure your application is professional.
  • You might get a better job, but it’s not a guarantee. It’s true that some employers may realize your potential even though you went to your old school as a 1L. For 2L OCI (“On Campus Interviews”) in particular, though, firms will know that you haven’t yet benefitted from your new school because you haven’t yet attended a single class. Apply to firms and internships that you would have applied to at your old school, then add in a few “reach” jobs as well. Regardless of how that round of interviews goes, you should have no problem
  • Transferring after 1L will be an adjustment. It’s not always easy to transfer. You’ll be leaving all your contacts and friends at your old school, only to be thrown into a new environment where you may not know anyone. Large schools can be great to transfer to because they have tons of opportunities available and they’ll accept more transfer students. However, it may also be more difficult to find friends and professors you like at a large school. Small schools can be insular and their transfer classes are smaller, but you’ll get to know your classmates faster. You can absolutely overcome these difficulties! Just know that they’ll be there.

Good luck transferring after 1L! My decision to transfer law schools was one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I hope your transfer experience will be as wonderful as mine has been.

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