Why Mentoring Matters – and How Students Can Find a Mentor
By Matt Konrad
When it comes to college success, mentoring matters.
Study after study show college students who meet regularly with a mentor do better in school, and are more likely to graduate on time. As reported by the Pathways to College Network, “Undergraduates who receive out-of-class mentoring from faculty demonstrated increased academic achievement, while mentored first year students are significantly more likely to return to college for a second year … [and] mentoring minority college students results in those students being twice as likely to persist as non-mentored minority students.”
For college students — and especially for first-generation, minority and low-income students — a mentor is just as vital a part of the college experience as textbooks, lectures and all-night study sessions. A good mentor can help you set and achieve regular goals, provide you with experienced expertise and guide you through the confusing world of college and financial aid paperwork.
But finding one isn’t always easy. Here are some tips to help you connect with a mentor who can help you succeed.
You Live Online — Your Mentor Might, Too
Chances are, you’re spending a good chunk of your day online. Your phone is how you talk with friends, register for classes, keep up with the news, order your lunch — and it very well could be where you find your mentor, too.
If you’re in high school and preparing for college, you can get a head start using the virtual mentoring program provided by UStrive. Part of the Strive college accessibility movement, UStrive matches students with mentors, and provides a platform where your mentor can help guide you through the college selection and admissions process. You can connect via text, phone or video chat; in addition to a dedicated mentor, UStrive also provides application and deadline trackers and other tools to help you get ready for college.
If you’re already in college, you can use StudentMentor.org to connect with a mentor for free. The customized, flexible service lets you select from a personalized list of potential mentors; you can decide if you’d like a long-term or short-term mentorship, and you and your mentor can pick the schedule and channels that make the most sense for your meetings. With a network of more than 20,000 students and mentors, StudentMentor is a great place to start.
Finally, Mentoring.org provides a national search of mentoring organizations — you can’t connect directly with a mentor through this app, but it will provide you contact information for places to find mentoring in your hometown, or near your college. If you prefer the face-to-face option, this will help you start your search.
Find Out What Your School Can Offer — and Get Specific
When it comes to in-person mentoring, your high school or college may also be a good option. Colleges want you to succeed — and to help you do so, many of them offer faculty, volunteer and peer mentors. Whether you’re at a big school like the University of Southern California, a small school like Evergreen State College or a two-year school like Miami Dade College, you can likely find a mentor right on campus.
As you move into your junior and senior years, you’ll be getting more involved in your major. That means you’ll also have more mentorship opportunities within your department. Some fields of study require that you connect with a professor or advisor; even if yours doesn’t, it’s a good idea. If you really like a particular class or teacher, ask if you can meet with them on occasion. They’re busy, but most faculty members are eager to foster your love of learning. (The same goes for older undergrads and graduate students in your department. An hour spent over a coffee can provide tons of insight about what you can expect!)
Even if you don’t seek out “official” mentoring, be sure and take advantage of your campus’s built-in, unofficial mentoring opportunities, too. Visit your professors during office hours; check in with your academic and financial aid advisors every few months; spend some time with classmates discussing the last chapter you read. Every conversation can be a chance to put your experiences in a new perspective.
Finally, plenty of high schools and colleges offer structured mentorship programs that can connect you with peers, volunteers and experts. Organizations like AVID, BridgeEDU and Mentor Collective partner with schools to create mentoring experiences tailored to local student needs. Check with your counselor or advisor to find out if an option like this exists on your campus, or search the linked websites to learn more!
Take Advantage of Your Scholarships — and Pay it Forward!
Scholarships provide money for college, of course — but that’s not all they provide. At Scholarship America’s 2019 Partner Summit, we heard from both students and scholarship providers how important mentoring and community-building are to making a real impact.
For example, the prestigious Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation doesn’t just match students with mentors. They’ve built an entire platform where their 6,000 Coca-Cola Scholars can meet, match and start discussions. With thirty years of alumni all gathered in one place, it’s a powerful way for scholarship recipients to connect with mentors at all stages of their education and careers.
Our Partner Summit also highlighted the mentorship work of Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars, which connects students to community leaders and alumni starting in their sophomore year of high school. And we heard from Chick-fil-A about their Remarkable Futures Scholarship — recipient Devin Lintao’s personal mentor was none other than Mark Cathy, grandson of Chick-fil-A’s founder.
Not every scholarship program provides its recipients with mentoring. But, as you work on your scholarship applications, take notice of those that do. Money for college is great; money that comes with a built-in support community is even better — especially when you can start paying it forward and becoming a mentor to your younger peers, while you’re in school or after you graduate.