"I wanted to be in a school that would have a better reputation abroad," says Burger-Jimenez, who's interested in international law. She decided to transfer schools and spent much of her first year working on applications.
The application requirements for transfer students are similar to what's required of aspiring first-year law students. Candidates submit transcripts from previous schools, letters of recommendation, an essay, a letter of good standing from their first school and other material. It can take months to pull it all together.
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"I started getting everything ready in January," says Burger-Jimenez. She completed her transfer applications by May of 2012.
Many schools allow students to start submitting application material in the spring, but don't fully review applicants until they submit their first-year grades. The competition to be admitted is often steep.
"We generally admit less than 10 percent of the applicant pool," says Kathryn Espiritu, the director of admission at the School of Law at Fordham University. The New York school typically receives between 300 and 350 applicants.
At University of Chicago, maybe 15 or 20 percent of the approximately 200 applicants annually may be admitted, says Ann Perry, the associate dean of admissions and financial aid for the law school. Boston University may accept between 10 and 50 students out of 100 to 125 applicants, says Alissa Leonard, the assistant dean for admissions and financial aid.
Admissions experts suggest students focus on the following areas to make their transfer applications stand out.
• Grades: A student's academic performance during the first year of school can be critical for successfully transferring.
A prospective first-year student's LSAT score can be one of the most important parts of an application, but for transfer students this score may be less important, says Leonard. More weight may be placed on their grades.
"They're really the best indication of a student's capacity to excel in a law school classroom,” she says. Espiritu agrees that having excellent grades is one of the best ways to beef up an application. At Fordham, competitive applicants typically are in the top 10 to 15 percent of their class, she says.
• Letters of recommendation: Many schools require at least two letters of recommendation, one of which is from a law professor who has taught the student. The professor's letter should tell the admissions committee "how they’ll perform in the classroom. How they handle assignments and exams," says Perry.
Burger-Jimenez says it can take time to build a relationship with professors who could recommend you. "You have to excel as a student in their class. And also you have to show interest for the subject," she says.
She encourages students to ask thoughtful questions in class and visit them during office hours.
[Find out what it takes to change law schools.]
• Resume: If an application asks for students to submit a resume, they should be sure to update that resume with their summer employment plans after their first year, says Boston's Leonard. Highlighting what they'll be doing in the legal field when school is out can make them more attractive candidates.
"It shows that the student is taking his or her development as a professional seriously,” Leonard says. Spending their vacation working in a legal environment, she says, can demonstrate that the student has a better understanding of at least one practice area and how to work in a legal setting.
• Essay: One of the biggest mistakes transfer applicants can make is not writing a new personal statement, says Leonard. "It reflects a certain lack of industriousness."