Why Every College Student Needs a Mentor
By Lauren Patetta
Finding a mentor when you’re in college—someone who can offer you guidance about your academic and career goals—and building that mentor-mentee relationship is an invaluable part of the college experience and will help you long after you graduate.
Mentors can open doors to opportunities you may not find on your own and provide valuable—often firsthand—advice as you make difficult decisions about classes, majors, internships, scholarships, further education, and more. Their experiences and connections can help you make and meet your goals and ease you through the many transitions you undergo as a young adult.
If you’re struggling to find a mentor you connect with or don’t know how to continue building a relationship once you’ve completed a class or graduated, there are steps you can take.
Finding a Mentor
It’s common to find a mentor in a well-liked professor or academic adviser, but you don’t need to limit yourself. A mentor can be anyone you go to for advice and guidance as you grow in your career, including:
- Another faculty member
- A boss
- An older peer
- A co-worker
- A family friend in your career of interest
Having trouble connecting with someone? You can always consider:
- Formal mentorship programs. Many colleges offer both peer mentorship and professional mentorship programs, which match you with someone who shares your academic and professional interests. Check your campus career center or academic advising office for information about their options.
- Your classes. If there’s a professor you’re particularly fond of, check their office hours (which you can usually find in your syllabus) and drop by to talk. You can go with a specific reason—wanting to talk about a paper or an exam—but it’s not always necessary. Doing so early in the semester can help ease any awkwardness you may be feeling, since it’s common to go to office hours to introduce yourself.
- Your academic interests. Think about the topics that really interest you, and then find a professor or expert in that field at your university. Chances are they’ll love sharing their passion project with you.
- Your dream job. Is there a career you’re really trying to pursue? Find someone who works that job and see if you can find their contact information. Like your professors, they’ll probably want to share advice and experiences.
Building and Maintaining a Relationship
Once you’ve made a connection with someone, it can be easy to let it fall by the wayside until you need your mentor for advice, a recommendation letter, or a professional reference. But mentors help best when you keep them involved in your life and interests.
Here are some tips for building and maintaining a relationship with your mentor:
- Check in often. It doesn’t need to be in-person on campus or in an office. The occasional video chat or email can help maintain the relationship, especially after graduation. You don’t need to have anything specific to talk about—it can just be looking for advice or updating them on how things are going for you. It’s easy to forget about relationships when you get busy, so try to put a reminder on your calendar to check in.
- Be honest about your interests and goals. Your mentor can guide you best if they know what you’re passionate about.
- Be open to new opportunities and connections. If your professor tells you about an opportunity, like meeting for coffee with a colleague or applying for a job they heard about, take it!
- Finally, know that it’s OK to move on. If someone you’d like mentorship from doesn’t seem to respect you or give you the time of day, it’s best to move on. You deserve someone who’s interested in you and your professional growth.