Tips for 1Ls to Prepare a Strong Transfer Application

Tips for 1Ls to Prepare a Strong Transfer ApplicationThis week we welcome back guest writer Tiffany Lo to talk about how to go about preparing the best transfer application you can.

Are you a 1L thinking about transferring law schools? If so, this post is for you! As a transfer student myself, I remember putting together my application as a worldwide pandemic raged on and interpersonal relations were developed and maintained through a computer screen.

Current 1Ls are in a similar predicament – many of them have not been able to go on campus or form close relationships with their professors and classmates. Under these constraints, campus culture has become difficult to discern. With travel restrictions, they cannot go visit other schools or sit in on classes. All of this has compounded the stress of the transfer application process.

I recently spoke to a 1L who is considering transferring. His questions spoke to the challenges with the process itself and concerns about being a transfer student, especially given the state of the world. Here are my tips for preparing a strong transfer application:

1. Craft your Narrative

As part of the application, you will submit a personal statement. This is the space to share where you’ve been and where you are going.

Personally, I explained why I wanted to go to law school in the first place, what I learned and did during my first year, and why my goals made the transfer school a better fit for me. This is certainly not the only approach, but I chose this structure to highlight my longstanding interest in the law, my participation in volunteer work, research assistant assignments, and affinity groups as a law student, and my eagerness to expand my horizons and contribute at a new school. I also highlighted my geographic ties and reflected on how the pandemic brought abstract legal concepts to life, teaching me about both the opportunities and challenges in legal practice.

The crucial piece is to explain why the transfer makes sense for you. Take some time to reflect on your goals and circumstances, do research and talk to others as needed, and determine whether transferring is the right choice.

2. Ask for Strong Letters of Recommendation

First, let me acknowledge the awkwardness of asking for recommendation letters while you are still a student. Yes, you are conveying to the recommender that you want to leave this school for another one. But I would point out that one, your professors have likely written similar recommendation letters before, and two, they understand that students transfer for many different reasons, and generally do not leave due to an inherent dislike for the school.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it would be best to be upfront about why you want to transfer. This helps your recommenders understand your perspective and craft a stronger recommendation for you.

So, who to ask? Academic recommenders, especially doctrinal professors, are preferable to professional references. The transfer school wants to know that you can succeed and excel in a new academic environment, and will assess your potential based on your first-year success: not only your performance on the final 4-hour exams, but how you participated in the classroom and interacted with your professors. The most obvious choices might be professors who gave you the highest grades, but it is more important to have professors who are familiar with you—through your class participation, office hour conversations, or research assistant work—and with whom you have a close connection. If you are early in the transfer process, be more intentional about attending office hours, volunteering in class, asking questions and seeking feedback, and if possible, serving as a research assistant. The best advocate is someone who can speak to your skills, abilities, and personality in detail and in an authentic manner.

3. Explore other Ways to Learn about Schools

With most campuses closed and classes held virtually, it has been very difficult for a student to learn about their own school, let alone experience what another school has to offer. 1Ls will have to conduct their due diligence through different means.

I recommend talking to students and eliciting honest answers about the things that are important to you. If you are curious about the public interest and pro bono community – ask about the ways to get involved and whether the school is supportive of new projects. If you want to clerk after graduation, ask about the effectiveness and availability of the clerkship office. If you are concerned about limited opportunities for transfer students, seek out former transfers and ask about their experiences. However, I would caution against giving excessive weight to any one piece of advice or feedback. Experiences often differ. The best way to get an accurate picture is to survey multiple people, synthesize their insights, and make a personal judgment based on what you value. Of course, if you notice any red flags, you should investigate them and see if the problem is persistent.

In our virtual world, facilitating connections is undoubtedly more difficult. A silver lining I have noticed is that people have become more compassionate and understanding. Professors and admission officers know about the challenges of law students trying to advance their personal and professional growth. Still, the barriers of space and poor internet connection make communicating more onerous. Now more than ever, it pays to be proactive and unabashedly advocate for what you want.

For more insights into the transfer process, check out my podcast episode here.


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About Tiffany Gee Ching Lo

Tiffany Gee Ching Lo is a student at Stanford Law School. She spent her 1L year at the New York University School of Law, where she was involved with Alternative Breaks, Women of Color Collective, and Law Revue, and worked as research assistant. Tiffany received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude with double majors in Political Science and Rhetoric. Tiffany developed an interest in the law from a young age, and have worked in law firms and courthouses in Hong Kong–where she grew up, around the San Francisco Bay Area, and in New York. In her spare time, Tiffany enjoys painting, playing the piano and cello, trying out new recipes, and watching late night talk shows.

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