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How to Find a Mentor in College

A college mentor can mean a big difference for many students. This guide explains what a mentor is, how you can find one, and how to make the most of your mentorship and the opportunities this unique relationship offers.

Why Mentors Are So Important for Students

College can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences that life has to offer. If you're like most students, however, at one point or another during your time in higher education you'll face a range of different issues. You might struggle with coursework, encounter financial difficulties, or feel unsure about your career path. You may also go through tough times in your personal relationships or wrestle with mental health issues. If you're a first-generation college student or a member of an underrepresented group (students of color, LGBTQI, or undocumented), these obstacles may loom larger, having a greater impact on your college experience. But when you feel like you're sinking under the weight of college stress and other problems, a mentor can be a lifeline.

There's significant evidence that meaningful mentor relationships can make all the difference when it comes to having a positive college experience, reaching graduation, and even starting down a fulfilling career path. Yet, from 2016-2019 only around 10% of students in higher learning had access to a mentor. And of those students who did have access to a mentor, only 17 to 25% of students took advantage of the many benefits of learning from and receiving guidance from a trusted mentor.

That's why we've created this guide -- to shine a light on how a mentor can help you while also giving you some tips for finding one. We'll cover a variety of ways to connect with a mentor, what to look for in a mentor, and how to get the most out of your mentorship.

What is a Mentor?

First, it might be helpful to understand what a mentor is and isn't. A mentor is typically defined as a more experienced person who guides a less experienced person by modeling positive behavior and helping them navigate new professional and/or personal situations, both emotionally and practically. A mentor can act as a:

Mentors can offer you encouragement, helpful advice, and even constructive criticism. Mentors in college are typically professors or staff related to your degree program or the department to which your degree belongs. For instance, a supply chain management major might find a mentor within the school's business department who can offer guidance specific to the field.

There are also student mentors who are typically upperclassmen who sign up to show the ropes to first-year students (we'll cover these in more detail later on). You might also find mentors who are local business leaders or are members of professional organizations or non-profits. Some schools, non-profits, and businesses even have a mentor coordinator to helps students and/or interns find the right mentor match.

It's equally important to know what a mentor isn't. They aren't gods who can solve all of your problems or magically make your dreams come true. That part is up to you; you have to be willing to put in the work and do your part to get the most out of this mutually beneficial relationship.


Six Reasons You May Need a Mentor

There are all sorts of reasons you might need a mentor. Here are just a few to consider.

1
You're Transitioning to College

Going to college for the first time is a complex process for many reasons, not the least of which is the logistical transition from high school. You're dropped on a campus and asked to figure out where everything is -- your dorm, your classes, college offices, the cafeteria, the gym, and 50 other places you'll need on a daily basis. Student mentors know where everything is, which office can help you with which problem, and all the little tricks and tips that can help you adjust to campus life.

2
You Need Academic Help
3
You Need a Social Group
4
You Want to Investigate New Opportunities
5
You're Going Through a Tough Time
6
You Want to Learn How to Formally Network


What to Look for in a Mentor

Many schools and organizations give mentors and mentees a session or two to feel one another out and see if they're a good fit. Here are a few things you might look for when gauging whether you'll have a productive mentor-mentee relationship.

They're Enthusiastic About Being a Mentor
They're Transparent
They Listen
They Fit You
They Push You
They Aren't Trying to Mold You into Them
They're Experts

The Benefits of Having a Mentor in College

If you're debating whether a mentorship can really help you succeed in college, you're not alone. Many students wonder how much it can benefit them until they actually start a mentoring relationship. If you're still on the fence, here are a few ways that a mentor can be an invaluable asset to you on your college journey.

Mentors Provide Perspective
Mentors Can Improve Your Communication Skills
Mentors Reveal Your Hidden Abilities
Mentors Help You Avoid Rookie Mistakes
They Push You

How to Find a Mentor in College

There are all sorts of ways to find a mentor for college. Below are some avenues you might investigate to secure one for yourself.

College Mentor Programs

Your college may already have a program in place for students to connect with mentors. These might be peer mentoring programs, where, as an incoming student, you are paired with an upperclassman who's charged with giving you a tour of the campus, helping you figure out class schedules, providing you study assistance, and giving you the tools you need to manage your time.

Or, there are programs that automatically hook you up with a professor or staff member who will act as your guide to academics, on-campus social life, and all the other logistical hoops that college has to offer.

Some mentoring programs may be geared to your particular situation. For instance, many schools have mentorship programs designed specifically for first-generation students, undocumented students, LGBTQI students or indigenous students.

If your school's mentorship program isn't mandatory -- or if it's not front and center at orientation -- you might try going to your college's career office, your campus's academic planning office, or your advisor, and they should be able to point you toward one or more mentoring programs.

Network with Your School's Alumni

Alumni who love their alma maters are usually eager to give back and that can often open up opportunities to find a mentor. Some schools have alumni mentor programs. If yours doesn't, you may still be able to speak with an alumni association to get contact information for members. When you reach out to a potential mentor, you might explain that you're a current student in X program and you'd love to meet for 20 minutes to talk about their experiences.

There's never any harm in reaching out to (sending an email or calling) someone you might not know well personally and expressing a desire to learn from them or maybe get some guidance. Just be sure to always be courteous, understanding, and professional when contacting someone about a mentorship.

Internships

If your degree program includes an internship -- or you choose to add one to your curriculum -- you've given yourself a fantastic opportunity to engage in two types of invaluable mentorships. The first might be fellow entry-level employees. They will likely be closer to your age, so you may be able to relate better and they might give you insight into the position you hope to one day occupy.

The other mentorship would be with a leader or manager at the company. You'll probably have a contact there who's in charge of your internship, and they might be a good mentor candidate for you or they may be able to help you connect with someone at the company who'd be a good fit.

Clubs, Fraternities and Social Groups

Clubs, sororities, honor societies, fraternities, and other student organizations often have mentorship programs. Check with your school's student organizations to see if there are any that might work for you.

Informal Mentors

A mentorship doesn't necessarily have to be a formal affair. In fact, your mentor might be to your right or left. You might build a professional relationship with a professor with whom you have a connection or you may become friends with an older student who can show you the ropes. In cases like these, you might not formally ask the person to take on the responsibility of being your mentor. You might instead ask them if they have some time to meet and answer a couple of questions. Or, offer to take them out for coffee or get some lunch together. Then, at the end of your time together, you might see if they'd be willing to make it a regular thing.

Other informal mentorships can be developed with sports coaches, professionals from the community, or even family members who've been where you want to go.


How to Get the Most Out of Your Mentorship

Even though we've talked a bit about how the best mentorships feel effortless, they shouldn't actually be effortless. Your relationship with your mentor is one of the most vital components of your success in college, so you want to make sure you're doing your part to get everything you can out of it. Here are some tips to do just that.

Be Curious
Be Honest and Direct
Show Respect
Know What You Want and Set Goals
Leave Your Ego at the Door


MentorStudents.org

MentorStudents.org is a completely free service designed to connect high school and college students to professional mentors in a wide range of fields. After registering, students can search for potential mentors and request a meeting. Some interactions are one-on-one, while others are done in a group setting where students take turns asking questions. All sessions are FERPA-compliant, meaning they take privacy seriously. Mentors include startup founders, CEOs of major tech corporations, authors, marketing experts, and other professionals.


LGBT Graduate Student Mentoring Progam

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (APAGS-CSOGD) boasts a one-year mentoring program for graduate psychology students who identify as LGBTQ. Mentors are also part of the LBGTQ community and they offer friendship and guidance that centers on the unique challenges faced by this underrepresented group.


Marymount Manhattan College First Generation Mentor Program

Colleges across the country have seen the impact mentorship can have on first-generation college students, so many have created mentoring programs specifically for them. One example is the MMC First Generation Mentor Program, in which students meet with a faculty or staff member one-on-one throughout their first year in school. Students also get the chance to participate in workshops that promote wellness, professional development, and academic achievement.


MENTOR

MENTOR connects mentors and mentees to programs that serve specific populations all around the country. You can pop in your zip code, the distance, your age, and the type of mentoring you're looking for and find results that match you perfectly. Mentors are available for college/postsecondary students, LGBTQ youth, first-gen college students, and low-income students, among others.


Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) Mentoring Programs

Sigma Phi Epsilon, a fraternity devoted to professional development, scholarship, life skills, and leadership for college males, offers a robust mentoring program at its chapters on campuses across the U.S. Several programs are available, including the Balanced Man Program, which offers mentorship to undergraduates to guide their physical, intellectual, and professional growth.