It’s not often an alumnus ends up an an Ivy League Law school, and the last person to predict it would be the alumnus himself.
Matt Mellema graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s in English, wanting to be a writer, but is now in his third year at Yale Law School, on his way to taking the bar exam this summer.
He remembers with fondness the time he spent at John Brown, especially teachers who had a great impact on him, such as Robbie Castleman and Dave Vila, professors of biblical studies. Patty Kirk, writer-in-residence, also had a profound impact on him.
“Anytime I use an adverb in anything, I view it as a little failure,” Mellema said, referencing Kirk’s oft-expressed views on adverbs of manner.
Mellema said he never planned on studying law. He described a picture of a Bohemian writer in New York or Los Angeles, drinking coffee, living minimally and writing every day.
“Unfortunately, I made a very bad Bohemian,” said Mellema. After graduation, Mellema ended up as a tour guide at the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, Co. It was then that Mellema’s father suggested taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardized test for law schools all over the United States. At first, Mellema was hesitant.
“I thought going to law school was basically selling out,” he said. Gradually, however, he realized that his analytical and research skills would translate very well into law, and “It seemed like a lot of people who had law degrees also wrote books, so I wasn’t abandoning my English degree.”
With these on top of the possibility of a more dependable career, Mellema began studying.
The LSAT is divided into sections of logic games, analytical problems, and reading comprehension. Mellema began taking practice tests over lunch breaks and in his free time, taking the LSAT in the spring of 2010.
“The night before I could not sleep at all,” said Mellema. “I was thinking, your whole future depends on what you’re going to do tomorrow.”
Mellema took the test and walked out feeling like a failure, but he need not have worried. A perfect score on the LSAT is a 180, and an average is 155. Mellema scored 170, placing him in the 97th percentile nationally.
With his high score under his belt, Mellema applied for the best law schools in the nation, starting with Yale, which has been the top-ranked law school by U.S. News and World Report since 1987. Unfortunately, Yale waitlisted him the first year.
Mellema was patient, however, and went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, Ca., reapplying to Yale the next year. The Yale admissions teams have a good opinion of Pepperdine students in general, and it didn’t hurt that Mellema ranked second out of 180 students. For his second year, Yale accepted him.
Mellema found Yale a very different environment than he was used to.
“It’s a very weirdly high achieving group of people. When I was at JBU, I didn’t view myself as super high achieving,” Mellema said.
In addition to the high-pressure academic environment, Mellema said that there are very few Evangelical Christians among his classmates. In the Christian Students’ Fellowship, there are only about fifteen steady members.
“We’re sort of a curiosity, like [other students] have never seen one in the wild before,” Mellema said.
However, Yale does not seem to be hostile toward Christians, and Mellema has made many friends among his compatriots.
Mellema is now in his third year, taking classes about bioethics, literature, and international law. He still looks forward to writing in the future, and is also planning on clerking for Co. State Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid.
“I’m really appreciative of my time at JBU,” said Mellema. He encourages students to look into law school as a way to seek a diversity of new career options, but warns, “Make sure you count the cost before you do it.”
Mellema asks students to pray for him in the coming days as he prepares for the bar exam in summer, for boldness in living according to his faith and clarity in his future career choice.