Thursday, May 11, 2006

Practical Thoughts on Transfer Student Apps

While this is by no means comprehensive, and entirely based on personal experience, since it is transfer law student application season, I wanted to share some thoughts on the process. These thoughts, views, and opinions are entirely my own, and based in my transfer application experiences last year. They are by no means entirely representative, and may not be applicable to your situation, but might present some good general advice.

First, apply early and apply often.

If you have good grades from your first semester, do not wait to start filling out applications and applying if transferring is something you really want to consider (whether you should or want to transfer is a topic for another discussion, and will be the subject of my next post). Although the transfer application process is much shorter than it was when you were applying to law school the first time around, once many schools start making admissions decisions early in the summer for the few transfer spots they have, it can be that much more difficult to get in later in the game. While all hope is not lost if you apply late (or if your grades from the second semester are not posted until July) as many schools will not have filled all of their slots, making your application the earlier the better holds true for transfer apps as it did for first year applications. Plus, it gives schools time to communicate with you when they need additional documentation. For instance, one of the top 10 schools to which I applied extremely late, contacted me the first week of August to tell me my Dean's Certification from my undergrad institution had not yet been received -- by that point, my application was pretty much worthless because most of their positive decisions had no doubt already been made. You also have to consider that some of the primary reasons for transferring are to try for law review at your new school and to participate in fall recruitment. A late decision can mean not participating in either of these two important activities, which would seriously undermine your reasons for transferring in the first place.

Second, dare to dream.

One of the worst feelings is that "what if" that plagues you when you choose not to apply to schools you would love to attend, but didn't think you would get into. Sometimes, you really just never know. I didn't apply to Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, and I regret that decision only because I don't know what would have happened had I applied. I thought I was lucky to get into the top ten school I currently attend, and I was thoroughly surprised when the call from the admissions office came -- but it makes you wonder "what would have happened if..." That said, you have to stay realistic -- just don't be too realistic. It is possible to climb the USNWR by leaps and bounds -- I am proof. Just think and weigh which means more to you -- the time, effort, and money of filling out the additional applications coupled with the peace of mind when you receive the answer, or the thought that you will never know that you could have gone to the law school of your dreams if you hadn't been lazy or stingy and just applied....

Third, grades, grades, grades, and class rank.

Grades and class rank are the #1 factors law schools look at in the transfer application process. If you are not near the top of the class your chances of transferring correspondingly decrease. Transferring to a school in the top 14 is extremely difficult if you are not in the top 5-10% of your class. It is probably still possible if you are in the top 15%-20%, and as you approach the top third, it gets extremely difficult to impossible (unless you are already at a top school and you need transfer for other reasons -- those kinds of applications are outside the scope of this post). Of course the USNWR rank of your school matters, but to a lesser degree, when they look at your class rank -- someone who is at the top of her class at a fourth tier law school will probably have more of an uphill battle than someone at a first tier law school, but she should still be in a good position.

Fourth, Law Review isn't as important as you think.

Getting onto Law Review is probably less important than you might think at first. Given that the process for getting onto Law Review differs at each school, having the Law Review credential on your transfer application is not necessarily as reflective of your legal skills as your grades and class rank. I will divulge that unlike JCA on Sua Sponte, I did not make Law Review at my previous school (ranked similarly to her previous school) and yet my new school (also ranked similarly to her school) still accepted me. If your grades and class rank are top notch, schools will be willing to overlook that you didn't make Law Review, so don't let that keep you from applying. The way I looked at it, not making Law Review at my old school presented the opportunity for me to pursue Law Review at a new school if I chose to transfer.

Fifth, location, location, location.

Schools in less desirable geographic locations tend to be easier to get into in general. Not to detract from the quality and caliber of schools located in certain areas, it just holds true that certain schools in California are harder to get into because people like living there. Meanwhile, schools in snowy, cold, less urban places tend to be easier to get into because many people do not necessarily like to live in the snow, or in the middle of nowhere (especially if it is a snowy middle of nowhere). If you are flexible in terms of your geographic location, it has been widely hypothesized (and probably widely reflective numerically in the USNWR) that schools in the middle of the country tend to be easier to get into than schools located on either coast. As I said above, California and certain big cities on the East Coast have more panache than some schools not just in the middle of the country, but in less urban regions in general. Schools located in these places are just as good as they are on the coasts in desirable urban areas, and probably represent the same or similar employment opportunities, so don't shy away from trying a new location. It is only two years of your life, and you can probably handle just about anywhere for such a short duration of time. If transferring is really something that is important to you, this is something to consider.

These are just some thoughts in a nutshell. As I think of specific topics while transfer apps are in their high season, I may post them individually. My next post will be on deciding whether to transfer.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! But I don't understand why you recommend applying early. Most schools make it clear that they WILL NOT look at your application until it's complete--this includes your final grades which might not be out until the middle of the summer.

I know you talked about that a bit, but are you saying that applying early is good because they'll sometimes accept you on one semester's grades, or are you just saying AS SOON AS YOU CAN after your grades come out?

DroitFemme said...

I am aware of a few schools who have and will accept solely based on first semester grades. That said, most schools do not advertise this, and if you ask them, will not say that they will. Another reason to apply before your second semester grades post, is that it gives you time to get all of your documentation together, so that once schools receive your second semester grades they can immediately review your application. If you wait until your grades post to apply, they have to make sure they have various pieces of your application before they send it off to the review committee. Another little-known fact is that for transfer apps the admissions decision is generally up to the Dean of Admissions, and the application does not go to a committee. There are at least 2 schools in the top 10 that I know of who do this.

Somewhere else said...

I just found your blog - and it is very helpful. Thank you for your time and insights about applying early. You mentioned that transfer admissions are usually decided by the Dean and no the committee. Do you suggest contacting the Dean w/ questions prior to the application cycle?