Much like college applications, there are reach, match, and safety schools when applying for law school, and for a lot of people, there’s that one dream school. Things might not work out as planned, though — whether because of a low LSAT, GPA, or some other reason — and you might not get into your dream school. When that happens, some people choose to go to a lesser school than their dream school, while planning to transfer later, and the intake numbers at higher-ranked schools reflect this. Does this make sense, or should you wait a year and reapply with better numbers (or just hope there’s a huge decline in applicants—quality, quantity, you’re not picky) next year?
In terms of whether or not going to a lesser school will affect your learning negatively, the answer is most likely no, unless you decide to go to a much, much worse school than your dream school (distance-learning, for-profit school), which is unlikely (because why would you?). The first year of law school is mostly the same at law schools with minor variations: you’ll be taking similar courses (Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, etc.) where there is cold calling and anxiety-inducing finals. You’ll be learning how to outline, read cases, and respond to cold calling, as well as how to write briefs and other lawyerly documents in your legal writing class.
If the first-year curriculum of your dream school or other reach schools varies a little from the school you reluctantly decide to attend, you’ll still be able to make up those classes once you’ve transferred. It’s really not that awkward to attend 1L classes as a 2L, and you get to feel superior to those panicking 1Ls while you’re still figuring out the ropes of your new school.
You’ll usually still be able to attend on-campus interviews at your new school (sometimes you’ll get to have a go at both), and, often, the employers at your new school will still have interviews in your 2L summer in order to catch any transfers (you) or other students looking for a firm upgrade.
Still, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get into your dream school, so should you wait another year to start at the school you want? It’s a roll of the dice either way, so it really depends on why you didn’t get into your dream school and the gap between your dream school and the school you’re thinking of attending.
If there isn’t much of a gap between your dream school and the school you’re thinking of attending, go ahead and start this year. Your chances of getting a job aren’t affected all that much even if you don’t get into your dream school as a transfer, and you might come to see that the law school you attend isn’t all that different from your dream school.
If there is a huge gap between the schools you get into now and your dream school, and you think the reason is because you think you could’ve done much better on your LSAT score, and not just because you were having an “off” day—you were laid out cold the weeks before the test, had an out-of-character panic attack the day of, or you somehow thought you could cruise into the test with two weeks of preparation—then it might make sense to reapply with better numbers. The odds of you getting in upon reapplication would be significantly increased, while the odds of transferring are still murky (you really don’t know if you’d be great at law school finals).
If however, you didn’t get into your dream school because of something like your GPA or personal statement, it doesn’t make much sense to wait a year and reapply. Your GPA is not like wine, and will not get better with age. If you’re thinking of attending a master’s program so you can apply to law school with a better set of grades — sweet jeebus, that’s a huge waste of money, and, if you have that much money, make a donation to you dream school and get in that way. As for your personal statement, the best you could come up with next year probably wouldn’t be all that different from the best you come up with this year, unless you manage to do something remarkable in the year in-between, such as helm a successful startup or film a critically-beloved indie, in which case, go with that and don’t go to law school.
When it comes to reapplying, play the odds. If the odds of you getting into a much better school are higher with reapplication, do that. If not, go to one of the schools that accepted you this application cycle, while keeping in mind that transferring is always an option (but not a guaranteed option).
Finally — and take this with a grain of salt — LSAC (the people who make the LSAT) seem to think it’s a pretty horrible idea. Don’t forget, though, if you wait a year and retake the LSAT, they make $$$.