Archive for July 13th, 2010

#AskJeremy: Applicant Question – Can I Transfer To The JD-MBA Program?

The business and legal industries are radically changing.  Today it’s impossible to escape complex legal issues as a CEO in business. Similarly, if you’re a leading corporate lawyer, you consistently run into firm and client business issues, especially in today’s environment.  How can an employee who’s been in the industry for years keep up? And even if they can, would they be better off being trained in both business and law?  While some students know early that they want both degrees, others decide to make a career change later in their careers.  And then there’s a third group that comes to the conclusion during their first year of law school.

I recently received an email about someone in that very position.  They are interested in attending Northwestern Law and asked about transferring from Northwestern Law into the JD-MBA program.  If you’ve done a few Google searches, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not a topic that has a whole lot of public information, and in my view one where the answer is highly dependent on the specific person.

Nonetheless, I’ll provide a few of my thoughts here, and also present you with how I might think about the decision if I were in your shoes.  But I’ll also preface that given the lack of information, I won’t make many assertions and unfortunately can’t provide many data-driven answers.

See below for the question and below that for my response.



Dear Jeremy

Thanks for the blog. I was wondering how feasible it is to transfer from the NU JD program into the JD/MBA program. I spoke to admissions, but they did not seem to provide a very clear answer. Do you know if JD transfers to the JD/MBA program are common?




Hi (Name)

Thanks so much for visiting my site and for sending your question. I’ll preface my response  by saying that, as I alluded to in my intro paragraph, this is definitely a tricky topic, which is likely why the response from admissions may have “seemed” a bit unclear to you.  Not only is it a topic without much concrete information to begin with, but it’s also one that’s turns out to be more convoluted than you might think.

As you’ve probably already noticed here on Northwestern’s website, the JD-MBA program, unlike Northwestern Law School, does not accept transfers from other schools.  I suspect there are a number of reasons for that, one being that the JD-MBA program is considered a real joint “program,” not two disjointed graduate school programs.  As such, it has a handpicked class that gets to know each other well during the first year, the students are afforded the opportunity to strategically take certain electives in the fall that you would likely not take at another school, and we go through the same recruiting process together for our shortened and more intense first summer.

On the other hand, as you deduced, there is no “formal” policy against transferring from the law school to the JD-MBA program.  So why the unclear answer from admissions?  Probably because the process is  unclear, and also because transfers are not typical in the program.  One reason may be because transfers are not typical to MBA programs generally, which is the program you’d be in at the start of your second year upon transferring.  And if you’ve taken the time to look at our site, the JD-MBA application process at Northwestern is managed out of Kellogg.

Another reason, which is much less concrete, is that admissions has always been somewhat of a “black box” anyways. And that’s not just at Northwestern, but it’s the case at most top schools, especially business schools.  That’s because admissions has to balance determining the composition of a class, aligning competitive test scores and GPAs, looking at things like diversity of background and country of origin, read your personal story and assess fit to the program, and in the end make sure all of that fits together every year.  And for Northwestern, this is true not only of Kellogg but the JD-MBA admits must fit the same way at the law school and in the JD-MBA “program” specifically.  A herculean task by all measures, and one that can’t be described in a simple email or phone chat.

And one last reason that it’s difficult to measure success (i.e. “feasibility”), because there’s not much good data out there. For one, it’s hard to say how many people actually apply to transfer every year.  People certainly do, but I suspect a number of applicants don’t disclose to students that they apply, both (i) because of the complicated nature of the process and (ii) because of the competitive nature of getting admitted to Kellogg.  So it’s impossible to tell you how many people apply every year, and I also can’t estimate any number that might come to Northwestern Law with the hope to come to the JD-MBA program.  My hunch is that the latter number is not that big.

But perhaps more importantly than the pure numbers, is the probability that many transfer candidates don’t submit their best applications. That’s because to apply to business school as a 1L is a hard task. Taking the GMAT, writing your essays, interviewing, and worrying about your application are hard enough on their own, let alone balancing that with being a 1L, which has long been considered the hardest year in any graduate school.

Similarly, the application process to business school tends to be more difficult because the application is so different. Law school admissions have long stressed grades, writing ability, and the LSAT. On the other hand, business schools tend to emphasize things like quantitative skills, leadership qualities, and management experiences. So they look for different things in the application, and as a result, it’s likely many law students don’t submit the right information in their applications.

Further, there’s also the challenge that most candidates have that the biggest qualification for top business schools is strong work experience, and at a school like Kellogg it’s usually either prestigious or very interesting experience. And that’s in addition to managing teams, leading high impact projects and having strong sense of where you want to take your career, something many law student don’t bring to the application process because their focus was different and are often a tad younger.

As a result of everything I just described above, I’ll reiterate that law students likely don’t always submit the best applications, so this should not necessarily discourage you from applying if you do come to Northwestern Law.  Instead, remember that people have applied to transfer from Northwestern Law and have gotten in before.  And so a low acceptance rate may not be as relevant to someone who really does fit the MBA profile and has significant experience. If you have the experience, credentials, and a good application, but for some reason never knew about the program, then in year’s where there’s space, they will probably consider your application.

In sum, transferring into any program that has all these requirements would seem to be a convoluted process, and a nearly impossible process to quickly explain to a “potential” applicant to the program.  Ultimately, you’ll have to really asses your desire to obtain both a law degree and business degree, and balance that with the risk of not getting into Kellogg and only obtaining a law degree only.  On the other hand, if you decide the risk is not worth it and wait to apply to the JD-MBA program, that ‘s also risky, because the JD-MBA class is small and getting the program is competitive.  And in the end, it’s just a balancing test of sorts, and a decision that only you can make.

So take your time to think about it.  Collect as much information as you can. Talk to students in all of the respective programs. And try to speak with admissions, who will know more than any other source.  And after that, all you can do is use that information to formulate a plan. And that plan should be one that makes the most sense for you in terms of fit and interests.

And in the end, no matter what you decide (MBA, JD/MBA, or JD application), your success will likely hinge on your ability to not only prove you have what it takes to get in (intelligence, scores, experience, etc.) but also on writing the right type of application for each school and in the process evincing why you would be a good addition to the class.

I hope this helps.  Best of luck whatever you decide!

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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