Should I go to a low ranked law school and transfer?

Law School Expert Blog

“Should I go to a lower ranked school and try to transfer to a better school next year?”

I am often asked this question on my blog. I see too many law school applicants making short term decisions at the expense of long term decisions, and I am writing this post to try to talk you out of it. Sometimes the rolling admission cycle feels like it’s putting pressure on you to hurry, or you talk yourself out of applying to a reach school now, or parents tell you to get yourself back in school or they won’t support you anymore. If you’re feeling like it doesn’t matter where you go to law school, so long as you go, you should probably stop and assess the situation. (footnote: people who are going to law school just for fun and have money to spare, and who have no intention of trying to be hired by someone else upon graduation do not need to read this post).

Where you go to law school matters. How much you pay for law school matters. Just because you can get into law school now and you want to start now, doesn’t mean you should. What if you can’t transfer? What if you’re not number one in your class? What if you have a family emergency and miss three weeks of classes? You can’t bet on transferring.

If you tell yourself that you’ll go to a low ranked school, in a location where you don’t want to be, and that it’s just temporary, you’re making a big mistake. Where’s the fire? Wait. In the big scheme of things – and I can say this now that it’s been 20 years since I started law school – a year is not a big deal. Take the time to improve your application, retake the LSAT, get more work experience, work on you, and I promise it’s very unlikely you will ever regret the decision to wait. But you are likely to regret your decision to hurry.

28 Responses

  1. That’s true. Don’t ever go to law school with the mindset of transferring. You can do that in Undergrad but not so much in law school. If you go to a low ranked school the curve is even more brutal and thus it’s much harder to be at the top of your class.

  2. I am applying for law schools right now… how do I answer this question?
    EXCLUDING ONLY PARKING VIOLATIONS, have you ever been detained, arrested, formally accused, cited or prosecuted for the violation of any law (including ALL traffic citations, such as speeding, reckless driving, running a red light or stop sign, failure to yield, etc.)? If YES, electronically attach a statement, including at least the following information for each instance: date, description of the offense(s), and disposition.

    I have had numerous speeding and moving violations. Most of them, I can’t remember. Do i need to list all of them? How accurate do I need to be?

  3. Hi Ann,
    I am an international student from China who have spent last four years studying in States. Applying law school is really a last minute call for me. I made my decision to take February LSAT by the end of last December. Even though I scored 157, which is not too bad, I still feel like I could’ve done a lot better had I had more time preparing it. My gpa for first two years in college was as terrible as I could be, given English is not my first language I struggled a little bit. Now I have a cumulative gpa 2.67, which is still not decent but a lot better than what it was two years ago.

    So my question is should I wait for another year to apply while giving a second shot at LSAT, taking a one year graduate program, or just apply with what I have in hand right now. Will a good master gpa have any bearing on application? And will my international background have negative, or positive effect on my application?


    1. Hi HG,
      I think you reached out to me individually and I spoke with you about this, yes?
      The key will be choosing schools where your current score will be competitive – I just don’t want you to make a good short term decision at the expense of a better long term decision. What I mean by that is that in the long run you would do better by improving your LSAT score and applying early in an admission cycle and putting thought into your application materials. But if your desire to stay in the country outweighs that and you don’t care how much you pay for law school, moving ahead works.

  4. Hi Ann Levine,
    I also agree with Mark’s replies. If want to join or transfer into a law school try to choose middle rankings one. Low schools couldn’t provide you proper educations and also it didn’t value at much. So my suggestions is to find a middle rank one and continue your law study.

  5. Hey Ann,

    I am a 1L that started in the Spring and have to take classes in the summer (mandatory) … I have my sights on transferring back home to University of Miami. Should I start the transferring process now or wait until 2017 …

  6. Hello. I am a 32 yr old mom of 2 kids with a stable job in IT…who dreams of going to law school. If you’re still reading, I’d like to ask you if you think this is possible, or if you think this is an extremely bad idea. I would quit my job to go through 3 years of intense study, reduce our family income by half (my husband has a stable job also in IT), and (this is where the guilt kicks in) possibly partially neglect my kids. My plan of action, if I was to pursue this, is to start studying now, take the June LSAT, (and re-take in Sept if necessary), and apply this fall for next fall admission. Or, just scrap the idea altogether, in which case I would always be haunted by the fact that I never went to law school. So, what do you think I should do? Relegate this hare-brained scheme to the mental dustbin or screw everything and go for it?

    1. IK, see how you do on the LSAT, what schools and scholarships it would qualify you for, and then make your decision. But don’t take June unless you’re really dedicating the next 6 weeks to this – wait til September.

  7. Hello Ann!

    I kind of made a late decision to apply for 2016 after I scored fairly well on the February LSAT (162) after minimal studying and taking Ben Olsens class. I have a mediocre GPA (3.1, according to LSAC) and a 3.5 in a one-year graduate program. I want to study environmental and land use law and I’ve applied to schools super late (between March 31st and yesterday). I’ve gotten in to Oregon, Lewis and Clark, and Georgia State with substantial scholarships, waitlisted at Wake Forest, and still waiting to hear back from Tulane, Georgia, and UNC.

    To be honest, I would without a doubt go to UNC if I got in. Barring that miracle, I’m wondering how much rankings really matter. All of these schools have environmental law programs (Georgia’s being the weakest) and that’s why I applied to them. Would I be better off going to the highest overall ranked school I get into? I’ve seen rankings of environmental law programs that have Lewis and Clark and Oregon ranked high, but these programs are ranked low overall. I’m tempted by these schools because of this but also because they gave me the kind of scholarship money that would make it significantly cheaper than in-state tuition at UNC..

    Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi JamesB,
      First, tell UNC you would absolutely attend if admitted.
      Then, in addition to thinking about ranking, think about location. Where do you want to work? What job opportunities would you like nearby? Will the law school give you access to these opportunities?

  8. Cleps. I was told by my political science teacher that Cleps look bad on law school applications is this true ?

  9. I’d like honest opinions and insight from anyone who can give them! (And sorry for the long post)
    So, I just graduated from undergrad and will be starting law school in the fall and I AM going into my 1L year with heavy consideration of transferring. I applied to 18 law schools, initially, with the knowledge that I was a pretty average applicant. My LSAT was a 159, which typically put me at or JUST below the 25th percentile for my top choice schools. My undergrad GPA was average. And the charmed and secure life my parents have been able to give me did not give me an in for a compelling diversity claim.
    I was a very average law school applicant and my acceptances and rejections showed it. I was accepted with scholarship to many schools in the 50s to 60s (like Baylor), I was given full rides to such places as Penn State (ranked 74, I think, at the time), and was waitlisted and UC Irvine. Ultimately, the UCI waitlist didn’t pan out so I happily accepted an offer and scholarship from Pepperdine.
    For awhile, I carefully weighed Baylor or Pepperdine (kind of an odd position for me, since I’m a major secularist and those are both pretty conservative private schools) and opted for Pepperdine as CA is my goal career market. However, being a native Texan and having a serious boyfriend that is attending law school in another state, my greatest goal is to acquire an education from a school that will grant me the most mobility upon graduation.
    So, what do y’all think? Could a person transition from Pepperdine (65) to a top 30 (especially given having been waitlisted at 28)? What’s some advice on things I can and should be doing to improve my changes (aside from striving for the highest possible GPA)?
    Thank you so much!

  10. Hi Ann, I had a quick question about the admissions process. I am currently a freshman at a local community college in my hometown and plan on transferring to Michigan State University once I have a sufficient amount of credits. I have always had an interest in law, as my mother is an attorney and I have grown up hearing wild and fascinating stories surrounding her career. I also am currently employed as a receptionist/assistant at a private law firm. When I apply to law schools once I finish my undergraduate education, will I need to include my community college transcripts or just my university transcripts? At the university I plan on attending, your GPA does not transfer with your credits. (HUGE fan of the blog by the way. Reading it has given me so much peace of mind about the admissions process I will encounter a few years from now.)

  11. Dear Ann,
    I am in a bit of a quandary. I finished #1 of my 1L class at St. Thomas Law in Miami, FL and received 4 Cali Book Awards during my 1st year. Everyone is telling me I need to transfer but STU is offering me about an 85% scholarship. Im most interested in transferring to FIU, which is very up and coming, with a great reputation. Im nervous about losing my GPA, the additional student loans, and losing the faculty/alumni connections I have made at St.Thomas. Many people tell me I should go out of state and apply to a T14 school, but I dont think I want to leave Florida. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! I love reasing your blog!

  12. Hi Ann,
    I have completed my first year of an evening program ranked at the very top of my class. The only evening programs in Boston are at tier 3/4 schools. I am a little older than the average student, in my mid 30s, married with a child, and work full time to support my family during the day. Due to my station in life, initially I entered law school with a pragmatic plan. Though I’ve always had visions of practicing at the highest level, I would use the JD to move up to a higher administrative position within my current employer, or move to the legal department of my employer. With my academic success and finding that I thoroughly enjoy the study of law, I now want to consider a wider variety of legal employment, specifically big law. I have a decent network and have begun meeting with people to discuss this plan. Most echo the same thing: “it is very very very difficult (closer to impossible than it is to possible) from a low ranked school, especially part time, to earn a summer associate position and thereby big law job.”
    Do I continue on at this school ranking at the top of the class and trudge the uphill battle to earn a big law job by overcoming this obstacle with the use of my network and work experience in hopes of landing the dream job while having the pragmatic plan still as a fall back? Or, do I transfer to a higher ranked school after my 2LE year, quit my job and take out massive loans to support the family on the hopes that my big law job prospects will be more definite from the higher ranked school?

    1. TR, this is really a tough one…. I am not familiar enough with the Boston legal market to answer it. My expertise is really on the getting in, and not on the job prospects side. I think you try, you apply for the jobs you want, and you attend events and impress people and see what can happen. Being top of your class without debt might be worth the lower salary for the first few years out of law school….

  13. Hi Ann,
    I am a recent college grad that has taken a year off to work. I’ll be applying to law schools through rolling admissions after this February LSAT. My undergrad GPA was pretty bad with juggling sports and not taking things seriously until it was too late (2.4). My first question is, do law schools consider what school one goes to for undergrad when looking at a GPA? My school is ranked very high and has rigorous academics.
    My second question is in regards to me transferring from a lower ranked law school to a higher ranked one. What is consider a lower ranked school? As in, how many rankings can one jump if they were do make all A’s in 1L? I am confident I can get into Loyola Chicago Law with my current LSAT scores and strong resume, but if I go to a school ranked #82 does that mean I would be unable to transfer to a T14 school? Or even a top 30 school?
    My third question is does location matter when transferring? I have a friend that recently transferred from Texas A&M Law to University of Texas Law in Austin that claims coming from another Texas school, as well as residing in Texas was helpful in the process.
    To conclude, would it be a possibility to plan on going to Loyola Chicago and transferring to say Boston University or even Northwestern since it’s down the road.

    Thank You!

    1. Hi – the quality of your undergrad matters, but it’s not going to make up for your GPA. If you were participating in varsity level athletics, that will help a lot.
      You can transfer up with strong grades, yes.
      Because transferring often occurs with just a few weeks of notice, people often prefer to transfer locally, yes.

  14. Hi I haven’t taken LSAT yet and entered law school. Working on a business venture, but not sure where its gonna be at a couple months from now.

    How likely is it that I can jump from a tier 4 school to a tier 1/2 school?
    All the schools in puerto rico, where I’m wanting to move to are tied and ranked 151.

    How much would letters of recommendation from influence admissions? Dad’s a senior judge 😉

  15. Hello Ann,

    I am international applicant looking to get into a school’s JD program with advanced standing ( credits based on the legal education I obtained in my country). I have offers from University of Arizona and Richmond Law. I am waiting to hear from Emory, Wash U, UChicago and couple of other schools. Can you tell me how much role the rankings of the law school play in your success once you graduate and start looking for jobs ( keeping in mind the employers, who would be willing to sponsor you for H1B). The two years JD program also do not offer any scholarships opportunities so the cost of attendance is high so if you could explain the significance of rankings of schools for candidates in my situation. University of Arizona is ranked 42 but is a very affordable school with a tutions of 30k whereas Wash U and Emory are better ranked school (18,22 respectively) have a tuition fee of 55k or above. Please help me understand how much impact ranking has on your success in the job market for international student.



  16. I am IL at a school ranked in the 100’s I really want to transfer back to Pittsburgh and hopefully go to The University of Pittsburgh ranked at 74, a good bit higher than my current school. Do you think this is a realistic goal as I did my undergrad in Pittsburgh as well as the fact that my current school is also in PA? Thanks?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *