Transferring Law Schools: How I Jumped Ship

Ashley KirkwoodPlease welcome back Ashley Kirkwood, with more on the logistics of the law school transfer process. As she explained in her first post, she recently transferred to Northwestern Law — after being rejected from every law school she initially applied to.

Welcome back, Ashely!

“It is going to be nearly impossible to transfer from here to that law school! That is one of the best schools in the city!” I heard this more than once. But I internalized: “It is rare for people to transfer from here to that law school, so you need to strategize.”

Keys to a Successful Law School Transfer Application

Here’s how I transferred in a nutshell: I received exceptional first year (“1L”) grades, applied strategically, connected with the schools I applied to, and assembled a well thought-out application.


You need good 1L grades to transfer to a highly ranked law school.

Grades are the most important factor in determining whether or not you will be accepted as a transfer student.

The higher your 1L grades are, the more options you will have as a transfer student.

Further, some schools use grades to determine the amount of scholarship money a transfer student will receive.

Some schools give transfer students scholarships, some do not.

Everyone says your 1L year is hard, but employers and law schools still expect stellar academic performance. After making the grades, the rest is easy.

I came to law school with a goal. I sought to receive all A’s, and that’s what I earned. I believed that I would get all A’s. That is vital because law students get really down on themselves and can be, well, negative. That doesn’t work for me.

My first year of law school, I wrote my name at the top of a sheet of paper. On that same sheet of paper, I wrote all of my 1L courses and put an A next to each and every one. Why? I needed to literally see myself getting great grades. I did this whenever I felt discouraged. For me, it helped. However, I wasn’t just doodling my name and grades — I studied a lot too.

Stellar grades alone won’t cut it. To increase your chances you need to make yourself the complete package and apply strategically.

Applying Strategically

I had a list of schools that I planned to apply to as a transfer law student.

I chose where I would apply based on a school’s employment numbers and national ranking.

I applied to two schools that I considered safety schools. I classified these schools as safety schools because, when I called their respective admission’s offices they told me that, based on my class rank and GPA, I would receive admittance and scholarships.

I also applied to four reach schools. I classified these schools as reach schools because they were all tier one schools. The rankings of the schools ranged from fourth to fortieth in the nation. Out of the four reach schools, I was denied from two and accepted at two. The schools that denied me were the highest and lowest ranked reach schools that I applied to.

Two of the reach schools interviewed me. Both schools accepted me. In the interviews, I connected with the school representatives and conveyed my dedication to both their institutions and the legal profession.

Overall, four out of the six schools that I applied to as a transfer law student accepted me.

In addition to applying strategically, for my first choice, the school that I now attend, I did a little extra. I made sure the school understood how much I wanted to attend.

Speaking With Admissions

I did not apply anywhere before speaking with the school’s admissions office.

Every school that I applied to knew my application was coming.

I set up appointments with admissions counselors and asked detailed questions, which allowed me to weave in selling points for myself. For example, “My aunt and uncle both graduated from here and they speak highly of the alumni network. Does the law school have an alumni mentoring program that I, as a transfer student, could take part in?” I genuinely wanted to know the answer to the question but I also wanted the admissions counselor to know that I have family members who attended the school.

I went to the admissions office often. I called or visited every time that I received new grades or won an award. This showed real interest. Also, speaking with the admissions office allowed me to meet people who would inevitably read my personal statement.

Personal Statement

All of the schools that I applied to requested transfer applicants to include a personal statement. Each personal statement prompt requested that I, as an applicant, address why I decided to transfer. Obviously, I wanted to transfer because attending a higher ranked school would expand my job prospects. Outside of that, I had a few other reasons. But I needed to prove it. So I did some research.

I frequently visited my first choice before being accepted as a transfer student.

While visiting, I got a feel for the school and the students. This helped tremendously. I even went to the school’s law library to study sometimes. Being at the school frequently allowed me to make my personal statement, well, personal.

For instance, if I wanted, I could write that, “I have visited the school on numerous occasions during my first year of law school and have gotten lost. Each time, students gave me directions and spoke about their magnificent experiences at the law school. Speaking with current students, I realized the supportive environment of the school and I desire to study in an environment like that.”

Outside of just getting personal statement material, visiting the law school allowed me to visualize myself attending the school. Sounds cheesy, but if I can see it I can believe it.

In addition, my personal statement detailed my journey to law school. I wrote about my past academic struggles.

I was transparent because candor matters — especially in the legal profession.

I did not hide my imperfections. I told my story and explained my past decisions by taking responsibility and showing the changes that I made.

I also highlighted my academic accomplishments. I wrote about my law school grades.

The admissions committee had my transcript, but I explained how I got straight A’s.

I wrote about the office hours that I attended. I wrote about the sample exams that I created for myself from past exams. I recounted how my study partner — who also transferred — and I would time ourselves taking practice exams to prepare for finals. If you don’t tell the admissions committee they won’t know.

Think of your personal statement as a math problem. You have to show your work.

Don’t just state conclusions about yourself that you can’t prove.

For example, saying you like a particular program at a school is great, but how would the admissions committee know that you are telling the truth? They won’t. However, you can email a professor who helped create that program. If that professor is still at the school, set up a phone conversation. Learn interesting aspects of the program that are not on the school’s website. Then, write about what you learned from your research.

Taking those extra steps makes you much more credible. That type of initiative proves that you have a real interest in the program. Make your personal statement personal.

Letters of Recommendation

I received letters of recommendation from past employers and professors. I asked my 1L summer associate supervisor for a letter of recommendation and he obliged. If you have a prestigious 1L summer position, it may help to get a letter from your supervisor because they can speak to your ability to work in a legal environment. If not, you can have a former employer write a letter of recommendation — if you left on good terms.

Whether or not you receive a letter of recommendation from a previous employer should depend on what your potential law school values. My current law school values past work experience, which is why I sought letters from past employers. All schools will value grades. Thus, you will definitely need letters from past professors.

Some students are nervous about asking professors for letters of recommendation.

I was not self-conscious about asking professors for letters of recommendation. I knew my professors and worked hard in their classes. When I asked for letters of recommendation, I was direct. I told my professors that I wanted to transfer law schools. After which, I asked for a letter in support of my application.

None of my professors shunned me. If they could write me a letter of recommendation they did. If they couldn’t they didn’t. All of my professors were great. They did not make it awkward. I still talk to many of them to this day. It helped that I was a diligent student and genuinely enjoyed getting to know all of them. Get to know your professors. You may develop lifelong mentors. Further, you never know when you will need them to recommend you.


For transfer admittance, some schools require interviews. I enjoy interviewing so the interview helped me.

I prepared as though it was a job interview.

I showed up early, brought an updated resume — which included my 1L summer associate position — and came with a positive attitude. I addressed all questions in the interview, especially the questions that were not asked.

I am realistic with my abilities and know my strengths and my weaknesses.

When I say weaknesses, I do not mean the weaknesses that you reference in a job interview. I know my real weaknesses, the ones that an admissions committee looking at my complete file would see but may not feel comfortable asking about.

For me, it was my undergraduate GPA. Well, undergrad in general. If you do an admissions interview, and you have anything in your background that you know makes you a weaker candidate, you have to address it in the interview, whether or not it is asked. You cannot hide. They will find out. Be honest. Explain briefly and move on. Your past is just that, your past, but you need to address it. So address it.

You will undoubtedly receive questions about why you decided to transfer. Be gracious in your response. I spoke highly of my previous law school.

When asked why I wanted to leave, I framed it in terms of facts.

For instance, when asked, I would say something like, “My previous law school focuses heavily on public sector careers, though that is a wonderful career path, I plan to work at a large law firm upon graduation. In fact, the firm that I plan to work for recruits heavily from this law school.” I kept it factual. I enjoyed my first year of law school but I had to make a career decision. Simple.

The interview process will vary depending on the school. I did two admissions interviews. Both asked about my past. I used the interview as a way to highlight additional accomplishments and explain any inconsistencies within my admissions file. It went well. Both schools that interviewed me accepted me. Both schools are ranked as one of the top twenty-five law schools in the nation.

Different Strokes

People transfer for different reasons. My close friend got into one of the top five law schools in the nation and opted not to attend. She inevitably transferred after deciding that she wanted to work for a large firm upon graduation. Her process was easier. Mainly because she had a different situation than me. She transferred to a school that accepted her straight out of undergrad. Now, not only is she attending a tier one school, but she received a full-tuition scholarship to attend. That being said, there are many roads to the same goal. I am simply writing about my personal experience.

Take Away

The process is long. Transferring is a challenge because there are many moving pieces. Also, you never know how stiff the competition will be to gain transfer admittance.

Additionally, you have to do all of this while getting exceptional grades during your 1L year. Plan early. Write a good personal statement. Request letters of recommendation in advance. Order transcripts in advance. Plan to complete this process well before finals examinations. Have everything ready to go so that when the school you are applying to begins accepting applications, you are ready.

I used a Vince Lombardi quote in my personal statement so I will leave you with some of his wise words:

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

Do your best and it will all work out.

— – —

Thanks, Ashley! Extremely helpful advice all around. If you missed part one, check it out here.

More about Ashley
Ashley Kirkwood graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (“UIUC”) with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration. While attending UIUC, she majored in international business. Currently, Ashley attends Northwestern University School of Law. She writes for a law journal at Northwestern and recently accepted a summer associate position with a large Chicago law firm. To contact Ashley, email her at View her LinkedIn profile here.

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  1. This article was a breath of fresh air, compared to the other article I’ve read regarding transfers.

    I enjoyed the author’s honesty, and the practical strategy she laid out.

    I plan to implement some of her strategies during my process.

  2. Ashley, this is an awesome, incredibly helpful article. Thank you! It’s difficult to find good, informative articles about transferring law schools. Yours is one that I will bookmark and use as a resource for years to come. Thank you so much for all your detailed advice and for being so honest with your tips. Congratulations on transferring to Northwestern Law and I wish you much continued success!


  1. […] Please welcome back Ashley Kirkwood, with more on the logistics of the law school transfer process. As she explained in her first post, she recently transferred to Northwestern Law — after being rejected from every law school she initially applied to. Welcome back, Ashely! “It is going to be nearly impossible to transfer from here { Continue Reading } […]

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