If at first you succeed…

Transferring to a better law school after your first year

If you want to go to a top-tier law school but don’t get in before your first year, you still have one more chance—transferring after your first year. Some top schools take a large number of transfers, especially Georgetown, which admitted 113 transfer students in 2014, and George Washington, which enrolled 97. NYU (53) and Columbia (46) also took relatively large numbers of transfer students. Harvard took 33, but most had a 3.86 GPA or better.

In order to transfer to a top-tier school, you need to do extremely well during your first year, and also have a good reason for transferring. That could be a desire to return to your hometown, an interest in a program at your target school that is not offered by your current school, or a desire to practice in a different geographic area. Law schools recognize that students’ plans change and take this into account in granting transfer admission. LSAT scores are less important in transfer admissions than in first-year admissions.

While transferring may get you a degree from a higher-ranked law school, it does come with some disadvantages. You will enter your new school without the social advantages of the first-year class, and you may have difficulty participating in some on-campus recruiting activities or registering for popular classes. You are also unlikely to receive merit-based financial aid, although you are still eligible for federal need-based aid.

Because transfer admissions occur in the late spring or early summer of your first year in law school, the admissions cycle operates more quickly than for regular admissions. If you do very well in your first semester (3.7 or above), you should investigate transfer admissions during your second semester. This usually requires obtaining a reference from at least one professor at your law school. Most law schools require second semester grades and thus defer a final decision until June or July.

Finally, many law schools allow students to spend their third year as a visiting student. They do not confer a degree, but they do allow students to move if they get married, have children, or assume other unforeseen responsibilities. Visiting students are usually not eligible for financial aid.