By Samanta Martinez-Villarreal
When I first decided to go to law school, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to live apart from my husband for a minimum of 3 years. It was just the reality of our life. At the time of my decision to attend law school, he was still in training with little idea of his first duty station location. During my 2L year, my husband finally had an end in sight to his training and his first duty station assignment. When I mentioned this development during an academic registration meeting, my counselor asked: “Have you considered being a Visiting Student to start building a network and getting moved before taking the California Bar?”
Like many law students, I had assumed Visiting Students and Transfer Students were the same. However, the two student classifications have some major distinctions. At its most basic level, the easiest way to differentiate the two is that transferring means completely changing schools, while visiting is more like a study abroad. My personal Visiting Student experience at George Mason Law School (GMU), my parent school, and University of San Diego Law (USD), my host school, has highlighted the following distinctions between being a Transfer Student and a Visiting Student:
|Transfer Student||Visiting Student|
|· Typically, can only be done after 1L year because of ABA requirements.||· Typically, students are only allowed to visit another school for a maximum of 2 semesters, so it is usually done during one’s 3L year.|
|· Transferring means that changing schools entirely. It’s as if the student had applied to that school from 1L year.||· Visiting students are essentially auditing classes. A Visiting Student will still graduate from their parent school and will likely get credit/no credit for classes they attend at the host school meaning GPA will be frozen.|
|· Because the new school will be issuing a diploma, school rank may matter, which makes it more difficult to be accepted as a Transfer Student.||· Since a Visiting Student has no real impact on the host school’s numbers (i.e. jobs, bar passage rate, etc.), it is easier to be accepted as a Visiting Student. Basically, a Visiting Student is just another body in the classroom.|
|· Transfer Students can take any classes at the new school. But they may have to make up or take additional classes (e.g. legal writing) that the transfer school requires of all students. Similarly, Transfer Students may not get to participate in some extra-circulars like Moot Court or Journal, depending on the school’s policies.||· A Visiting Student can take any classes they want at the new school, but Visiting Students register last. This may cause issues if a Visiting Student still has requirements to meet at their Parent School.|
|· The new school will handle the financial aid and tuition of the Transfer Student entirely.||· Financial Aid is still handled by the parent school, but schools will require some sort of agreement/paperwork to be sent to the host school to verify class schedule so that funds can be released to the student. The student then pays the host school and makes up any difference, as scholarships from the parent school may not be applied to the host school.|
With those distinctions made clear to me, I decided to do a visiting semester at USD in my 3L Spring Semester. For me, I wanted the opportunity to establish a network. Plus, I figured finding a job after graduation would be easier if I was in the area, instead of the other side of the country.
Applying to be a Visiting Student is quite easy. Usually, the application process is handled by LSAC, the same website used to apply to law schools. Some schools may have separate applications on their website and require a direct application. For example, USD’s Visiting Student page made it seem like the school required a direct application to their admissions. However, when I tried applying, it was an inactive link. After some back and forth phone calls and emails, I was told USD accepted applications through LSAC.
Here are some things you should do to prepare for the application:
- Talk to your parent school’s Academic or Career Services office. They can help you determine if visiting is a good step for you. Ask about the steps for starting the process. For me, I was required to fill out a Petition to Visit, in which I had to explain why I wanted to visit another school. That petition was then subject to approval.
- Check the date on the host school’s website for when they start accepting applications or email the school.
- Inquire if the Visiting Applications are handled through LSAC or if there is a direct application process.
- Ask about necessary paperwork to include. Most of my paperwork was handled through LSAC, but I needed a letter from GMU, stating I was in academic good standing and I had permission the transfer from my school. During this process, I considered another law school in the area which required letters of recommendation.
- If LSAC is handling the application, contact them early on and request to add your Parent School as an institution. You cannot add it yourself and it can take weeks for LSAC to process your request.
- Once LSAC has added your school, you will then need to have your parent school submit an official transcript to the LSAC.
- Once the application is open at the desired school, you can apply just like you would if you were transferring to another school. It is indicated as “Transfer/Visiting Application.” Once you begin filling out the application on LSAC, you can specify that you want to visit. From there, it is the same as when you applied to law schools. You will need to pay a reporting fee, so LSAC can send a completed application to your desired host school.
Acceptance and Switching Schools
Of the schools I considered applying, most stated on their websites that they would render decisions 6-8 weeks after receiving an application. Because I could not afford to wait 6-8 weeks for a decision, I asked about any expedited acceptance procedures. For USD, they required me to call in 3-4 weeks and submit an email detailing my need for an expedited decision. The time frame can be tight. In my situation, the application did not open until October and I needed to know if I would be moving from Virginia to California ASAP. That being said, I was assured that most schools will simply accept Visiting Students because those students do not affect the host school’s stats and pay full tuition. The only real reason to be denied is if the host school just does not have the seats.
Once you are accepted, there are more things you must get started on immediately:
- Set up your student accounts. Contact IT or admissions for help.
- You’ll want to register as soon as possible. Visiting Students are last to register, so in meantime, start looking at class listings. I had trouble setting up my student account, so I could not look at past or current class schedules. However, I emailed USD directly and was sent a very rough upcoming class schedule.
- Email the host school’s Career Services office about access to their job board. Some schools have reciprocity and will allow students from other schools to receive access to their job board for a total of six months. As a student of the host school, you should have access. Once you are accepted, you may find that the host school’s Career Services office is more lenient and will grant you access immediately. A friend of mine was able to do this with the school he went to visit. I tried with USD but was told my access would only start once the semester started. Alternatively, they could start my six-month reciprocity when I contacted them in November; it would freeze during Spring Semester, and then I would have access for the remainder of the six months.
- Your class schedule will need to be approved by your Parent School. Once registered, you may be required to send the registration along with syllabi to your parent school’s Registrar or equivalent office for approval.
- If you receive Financial Aid, contact your parent school’s Financial Aid office and ask about how they handle funds. I was given a Consortium Agreement to fill out. Then, I sent it to USD’s Financial Aid office, and they filled out the remainder. USD then sent it to GMU for approval. USD also filled out my class schedule, which had to match the class registration that the GMU’s registrar had previously approved.
- Start making connections! Reach out to others through groups like MSJDN to find people located in the area where you plan on being a Visiting Student.
Overall, the key to transition to a Visiting Student is communication. It may seem like a lot of steps but keep in contact with your parent school’s Career Services and the host school’s Admissions and they will help guide you. Ask questions frequently and do not be afraid of reaching out to strangers for help.