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Why mentorship is key to the college experience
April 27, 2022

Be Seen, Be Supported: Why Mentorship is Key to the College Experience

Finishing up high school means a world of opportunity ahead of you. The college experience means exploring new courses and programs. Fitting into a new community. Thinking in real terms about your career. It can be a lot to navigate on your own. When you’re figuring things out for yourself, that adds pressure. But you don’t have to go it alone: having a mentor can change your life, while you’re in college and beyond.

What’s a Mentor?

A mentor is a friend, teacher or colleague that is ahead of you in experience, age or grade level. Maybe they’re a junior or senior when you’re a freshman. Or a faculty or staff member. Someone who has walked in your shoes and is willing to share the wisdom they’ve gained. Someone who is focused on helping you reach your full potential. Someone who sees you and supports you. 

Yes, it’s nice having someone tell you how the cafeteria works or what to wear to a special event. But there’s so much more to a mentor than just tips about the college experience. Over time, a mentor can help in bigger ways. This could mean making connections and introductions to help grow your network. And as you prepare for graduation, a mentor can talk through career options — what life is really like outside of college. This helps guide you toward a fulfilling job and community after you leave your college world behind.

Benefits of Mentorship

A mentoring relationship helps you grow both personally and professionally. Positive mentors are natural role models. They help shape your behaviors, work ethic and social persona in a positive way. They provide professional guidance and help you identify and work toward your professional goals. Often, they can connect you to others in your chosen field, giving you a professional leg up after graduation. In the collegiate setting, mentors provide insights into college culture and help you navigate issues of time and stress management. A good mentor will also be there simply to listen when you need someone to talk to. And you can always benefit from hearing about the lived experience of someone who has been in your position before.

Finding Mentors

It’s common to have several mentors throughout your life. While in high school, that could be your favorite teacher or a guidance counselor. Later in life, it may be your boss or a member of your community. During big life changes, a responsive mentor can help you navigate tough decisions and process experiences. But how do you find a mentor who can help you in your current academic or professional setting? Finding a mentor can happen organically if you’re open to it. Often, students and young professionals have access to individuals specifically placed in mentorship positions. Other times, you may not know someone who really understands your situation. Reaching out to someone and asking for help can be intimidating. A recent survey by Inside Higher Ed reported that 55% of students polled have never had a mentor because they didn’t know how to meet one.  Let’s look at some effective ways to establish a mentor/mentee relationship.

1. College Mentorship Programs

If receiving mentorship through your college experience is important to you, identifying schools with engaged mentorship programs is a must. Does your college of choice have an established mentorship program with a history of placing students in positive mentor/mentee relationships? Does the program match younger students with older students, professors, counselors, staff, alumni and professionals? What does the mentorship look like in practice — weekly meetings, mentoring opportunities with faculty and staff or professional workshops? Look for mentorship programs that begin at the start of your college career. Forming mentoring relationships will help shape your habits and build important communication and socialization skills.

2. Working Outward

Finding your first mentor in a new setting like college might be tricky. But once you tap into the resources offered by your school or job, you’ll find that your network of mentors can expand quickly. Many colleges try to extend a student’s circle of contacts through opportunities offered by the career center. Your school can also put you in touch with alumni on a similar career path. Alumni networks are an excellent resource for students and young professionals seeking mentorship.

3. Internships

One way to find mentors in your field of study is to work as an intern. Intern programs offer real-world professional experience to students still completing a course of study. Interns are paired with a supervisor who acts as a mentor in the professional setting and provides feedback and guidance on the student’s development. Look for programs that facilitate ways to research and land internships.

A Cycle of Mentorship

As you learn from your mentor, growing and taking more risks, you’ll adopt some of your mentor’s skills and habits. You’ll make them your own. Soon, you’ll outgrow your status as a mentee, making your own way personally and professionally. Then, when the time is right, you’ll be ready to become a mentor to the next generation of students/professionals making their way behind you.

This cycle of mentorship exemplifies the virtue of “paying it forward.” When you’re guided on your journey through college and into the professional world, you’ll be prepared to provide sage wisdom based on your experience. Traditions and best practices are passed down through the cycle of mentorship. But new knowledge and understanding make their way into the mainstream this way, too.

Becoming a mentor for someone else isn’t just a one-way street. You’ll also learn from your mentee, reinforcing a growth-mindset as you continue to develop into your best self.

No matter where you choose to study, going to college represents an enormous transition. College is a transformative time — it is the bridge between your student days and your professional life. This transition can be scary, even overwhelming. But with the extra insight, advice, reassurance and encouragement a mentor provides, this transition becomes a little more manageable. For 55% of students nationwide to lack a mentor is unfortunate. But by doing some research and actively seeking a mentoring relationship early in college, you’ll be among the students who find that mentorship is a path to success.

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