Deciding where to apply to law school and then ultimately which one to attend is a long and detailed process. At the end of it, you hope that you will thrive and be happy spending the next several years at your chosen school. But for one reason or another, some students—3.6% in 2021—decide to transfer law schools.
There are quite a few reasons why law students transfer, and not all of them are equally valid. As with any other decision regarding law school, transferring is a personal choice that requires a thoughtful analysis of your circumstances.
In this post, we at Stratus present the common reasons why law students decide to transfer as well as factors that influence this decision.
Why Do Law Students Consider Transferring?
Although transferring law schools is a personal decision, there are a few common situations in which the idea crosses students’ minds.
Excellent 1L Grades
One reason for considering a transfer is receiving stellar grades during the first year of law school. No matter where someone attends law school, ranking toward the top of the class is a real accomplishment. Given law school’s grading curves and unique exam structure, both employers and schools will react favorably to excellent 1L academic performance.
Students with outstanding 1L grades who had a strong GPA and a weak LSAT score, or vice versa, are typically more predisposed to consider transferring. Once they excel in their first year, these students feel they have proven that their weak GPA or LSAT score was not indicative of their law school potential. Although LSAT scores and GPAs significantly impact where law school applicants are initially accepted, these factors do not always predict how someone will do in law school. Strong 1L grades are a better indicator.
Students also might decide to transfer law schools because of new personal obligations. For example, if a student’s spouse receives a job offer in another state, and the spouse must keep that job for the foreseeable future, then the student might want to attend a school in that state to be close to their spouse. Additionally, if the student knows they want to work in that state after graduation, they might have a better chance of getting hired there if they attend an in-state school.
Similarly, if a student’s financial situation changes, they may need to transfer law schools. For example, if a student loses their job or scholarship and is attending a private and/or out-of-state school, they may be able to save money by attending a state school in the state where they reside. However, anyone who is considering transferring for this reason should ensure they meet the state’s residency requirements, as most state schools do not allow someone to move to the state just to receive in-state tuition.
Factors to Consider About Transferring
Many law students find themselves in the above situations, but not all of them decide to transfer. Here are some factors to keep in mind if you are considering transferring law schools.
One factor to consider is how transferring law schools will impact your legal career. You are attending law school to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, at least in the short term, your law school record can dictate what legal job you get after graduation. Therefore, it might seem like transferring to a higher-ranked school is the right move, but that is not necessarily the case.
Although attending a higher-ranked school might open some doors and help you land more interviews, so can a strong law school GPA—which you should have if you are considering transferring to a higher-ranked school. This reality weighs more heavily if you are considering transferring somewhere, say, ten spots ahead in the US News & World Report ranking. You might be better off being near the top of your current class than being in the middle at a school ten spots ahead. Now, if you were going from an unranked school to a school ranked 50th, that is likely a big enough shift to make transferring the best move.
Alternatively, you might feel that you did so well during your first year that you can repeat that success at any new school. Additionally, after your first year of law school, you have more control over the classes you can take, so you can select a new school that offers classes and professors that suit your learning style.
Furthermore, every now and then, law schools can have real issues. For example, a school is plummeting in the rankings, and many negative stories regarding its internal workings start to have an impact on the educational environment. If you are attending a school like this, it could be in your best interest to transfer. A school’s reputation is unlikely to completely collapse overnight, so you should not flee at all costs. But if transferring does not negatively impact the other factors in your life, then doing so could have a positive effect on your legal career—by removing your association with the problematic school and enabling you to flourish in a more stable environment at another school.
You should also consider your ability to adjust to a new law school. Many people have a hard time moving, getting acclimated somewhere different, and making new friends. If you do not do well in these situations, it could hurt your mental health—which could also harm your grades.
Even if transferring does not impact your grades, prioritizing your mental health is important at every stage of your life. Therefore, if you feel that you would just not adjust well somewhere new, or you do not want to be away from your spouse or other family members for so long, or there is some other reason that you would be miserable at a new school, then it might be best not to transfer. Two years of your life is a long time to spend in a place where you will not be happy.
On the other hand, you might feel the need to transfer because your current law school is impacting your mental health. Maybe the culture is not a good fit, or you do not like the town where the school is located. In situations like these, there is nothing wrong with transferring, but be sure to weigh all of your options.
Your finances should also play a role in deciding whether to transfer. If you are attending a school where you have a scholarship, and you are transferring to a law school where you do not, you will have to find a way to make up that money. Alternatively, if you lose your scholarship at your current school because of academic reasons, or you lose some other form of funding (such as a family member no longer being able to contribute to your tuition), it might make sense to transfer to a school with a lower tuition—often a state school.
However, be sure to look at the situation beyond just tuition. Typically, you should be able to secure some sort of loan to cover a tuition gap, so the question becomes is it worth taking out a loan? The answer will vary depending on your situation. If you want to go into “big law” and your current school does not have a strong pipeline to these firms, but the school you are considering transferring to does, then it could be worth it. A big law salary will go a long way toward paying back that loan. If your career prospects will not change much as a result of transferring, then it might not be worth it—especially if you are unlikely to make enough money after graduating from your new school to pay off your loans.
Additionally, if you are considering working in public interest, then your transfer decision depends on what particular kind of career you want. If your heart is set on the federal government or a prominent nonprofit, then certain schools will likely have a better pipeline to these sectors—and in this case, you have to determine whether that experience is worth taking on more debt. If you want to work in county or state government and your school has a solid pipeline there, then transferring probably is not worth it.
If you want to transfer but the cost is prohibiting you from doing so, make sure you have received all of the relevant information on financial assistance from the new school you want to attend. Even if the transfer offer did not include merit aid, the school might provide financial aid depending on your personal financial situation.
The Bottom Line
Deciding whether to transfer law schools is one of those situations where there is often not a clear right or wrong answer. Therefore, it is important to weigh all of the factors pertaining to your situation and avoid making an impulsive decision.
If you decide that transferring law schools is right for you, check out this blog post on how to stand out and be sure to sign up for a free consultation with a Stratus admissions expert to discuss your transfer application strategy.