What do you want from college? Okay, strike that. The better question would be, “What do you must take from college?” I bet degree, knowledge, practical skills, and a network of friends will be on everyone’s lists. However, a mentor doesn’t make a frequent appearance on those – which is just too bad.
“Who needs mentors?” you might say. “I have a bunch of instructors, right? If I run into academic difficulties, I can hire tutors. Or engage help from paper writers cheap. Or just study harder with all the internet of knowledge at my fingertips. Isn’t mentor a kind of spiritual thing, anyway?” Well, it is, and it isn’t. Let’s unpack this.
Who is a mentor?
A mentor is someone with experience in a walk of life you are aspiring to tread one day. Mentors are meant to give you tips and inside information that will make your journey easier. However, it is also a very personal relationship. It is not unlike having a more experienced friend who knows you and supports you. They steer you in the right direction when you are lost and give you a nudge when you hesitate. A mentor is someone who helps you discover your strengths and is emotionally invested in seeing you thrive.
As a rule, we see a mentor as someone older and wiser – a teacher, a counselor, a coach, or a senior family member. Yet your peer can also be your mentor. If they have expertise in a sphere you are interested in, why not pick their brain? For example, you want to take up dancing, and they have been applying themselves at the bars since they were three. They can fill you in on the particulars – from remedies for muscle soreness to logistics of touring.
Why do you need a mentor?
Sounds good, but not really indispensable? How about some rock-solid facts? The Gallup Alumni Survey conducted in 2018 showed that graduates were almost twice more likely to feel engaged and thrive at work if they had a mentor while at college. Nothing new, according to faculty and career advice experts.
As Marie Carasco, an assistant professor at Azusa Pacific University, puts it, “A mentoring relationship can be a dynamic and insightful experience for college students who, in this stage of life, are laying the groundwork to identify and pursue their purpose.” College is a pivotal time when you are at crossroads. You decide what your destination should be and how to get there. Someone with a map is a very desirable companion, don’t you think?
Carasco’s colleague from APU, Rev. Kelly Roth, also stresses the benefits of mentorship during college for students’ spiritual wellbeing: “Having someone to walk alongside as they’re discovering new things about the world, about themselves can only enhance their spiritual life.”
However, a career adviser and a role model isn’t everything a mentor can be. There is a very practical plane to college mentorship. College can be an intimidating place for a freshman. Everything is new – the people, the spaces, the rules – even the food! Quite often, orientation doesn’t give enough info, and new students feel on campus like a fish out of water.
Having someone to show you the ropes can save you a lot of time and stress. Where’s the library, what’s the shortest way from your dorm to the canteen, how to book a time slot in a laundry room – that sort of stuff. Moreover, someone familiar with the school can point you in the direction of resources you wouldn’t even know are there! For example, I didn’t suspect until my senior year that my university participated in the student exchange program, and there were plenty of opportunities to study abroad. All I needed to do was apply. Yet, I never even knew I could until a friend who was applying asked me if I were too. She literally led me by the hand to the International Liaison Office in some obscure corridor at the back of block C, where I had never ventured before.
If you find a senior student or a faculty member that would mentor you, you wouldn’t be as oblivious as I was to the rich opportunities that your college offers.
What mentor does?
Maybe not everyone needs a mentor, but having one is definitely a positive influence. Mentorship is particularly beneficial for first-generation students, minority students, and members of other underrepresented groups. They are more likely to grapple with stress and have fewer resources to deal with common challenges of higher education, such as study loads, financial difficulties, and uncertainty. Mentor provides the emotional support a student can lean on when feeling overwhelmed.
If you are still deliberating whether you will benefit from being a mentee, consider this:
- Mentor encourages you to pursue your goals and dreams, gives constructive criticism and advice, and simply offers a sympathetic ear when you are going through a rough patch. They also provide a broader perspective and push you to step out of your comfort zone to pursue new opportunities, learn, and grow.
- A mentor is often the one who helps you find your hidden talents. Knowing your strengths and abilities is essential, and many students have discovered them through mentorship. They realize with amazement that they can be good at things they have never tried before, like performing, writing, or public speaking.
- Having a mentor, you avoid many mistakes you would have otherwise made. A person with experience can forewarn you about some common pitfalls and push you to continue when you feel like giving up. They will warn you if they see you heading in the wrong direction with your study/life balance or neglecting your mental wellbeing.
- Mentorship is also a great way to learn some professional communication skills. You will be actively interacting with an established adult, which is a valuable practice for your future job search and work environment.
How do you find a mentor?
Some colleges have dedicated programs that connect students with mentors – either peers or faculty members. If you didn’t hear about any such program during the orientation process, consult your advisor or turn to your college’s career office. They should point you in the right direction. There are alternatives, of course:
- Online programs. This way to find mentorship is especially relevant in the time of distant learning, quarantine restrictions, and uncertainty. Free platforms like StudentMentor.org and Mentoring.org connect you with a suitable mentor or local mentoring organization.
- Student organizations. Fraternities, sororities, athletic and hobby clubs, academic societies, and other student organizations might work for you too. Besides providing a social group and peer support network, they might have a formal mentorship program – or just connect you with senior students and alumni through get-togethers.
- Alumni network. Your university graduates or recipients of the same scholarship as you might be willing to pay it forward by mentoring their younger peers. Even if there isn’t any formal program, typically, you should have no problem getting contact information for alumni. There is no harm in approaching someone you never met via email and telling them you’d be grateful for advice and guidance. Just make sure you go about it as polite and professional as you can.
- Internships. This is a great way to find a mentor in the professional field you aspire to work in. You can either connect with other employees for peer mentorship or establish a relationship with a manager or whoever is in charge of your internship.
- Informal mentorship. To receive all the benefits of mentorship, you don’t have to enter into any formal arrangement. Sometimes, such relationships develop naturally when you look up to a teacher, a coach, a peer, or a family member who takes an interest in your success. Even without asking this person to take on the responsibility of mentorship, you can reach out to them and ask them for advice.
Now, as you can see, a mentor can be many things. However, they aren’t omnipotent. They won’t solve your problems, make important decisions for you, or make your dreams come true. All they can do is help you discover your abilities and become a well-rounded person. The rest is on you.