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  • A college mentor can help you get the most out of your academic program and prepare you for your future career.
  • They can provide professional advice and guidance—and may connect you to their network of colleagues.
  • Professors, teaching assistants, RAs, and advisors can all make great mentors for college.

A mentor is often seen as someone who helps guide a more junior professional through their career. That typically involves sharing their wisdom and experience, and even making key introductions that help open doors for the mentee. But mentorship isn’t just for people in the working world. A college mentor can also be a great resource. The right person can help you get the most out of your academic program and prepare you for your future career.

The benefits of having a college mentor

Mentorship is important in every stage of life. Whether you’re a college student or a working professional, it can be valuable to have someone take you under their wing. In college, having a strong mentor can lead to all sorts of potential benefits.

1. Academic success

Navigating your college program may feel overwhelming, especially if the curriculum is rigorous. The right mentor can point you to helpful campus resources like academic advisors and tutoring programs. They can also share their personal experience and provide firsthand tips for succeeding in your program. A mentor can give you the support and motivation you need to feel confident in your studies.

2. Access to a wider professional network

It’s common for mentors to open their professional network and help mentees make important contacts. If your mentor sees you as a serious student with genuine intentions, they may be happy to help you make connections. That might mean introducing you to other folks who could be helpful during your college journey and beyond—like professors, teaching assistants, and colleagues who are already working in your desired field. That can lead to new opportunities. For example, you might be introduced to someone who gets you an interview for an internship.

3. Career preparedness

Connecting with the right mentor can have a ripple effect on your career path. They may encourage you to get more involved in student organizations and events, which can look great on your post-college résumé. These opportunities can also plug you into a network of like-minded students and faculty—and allow you to take on student leadership roles. A mentor can also help you prepare for job interviews and show you how to stand out to potential employers. It’s valuable to have someone by your side who encourages you to pursue your career goals and sets you up for success for landing a job after graduation.

Figure out what kind of mentor you’re looking for

Every student is different, and what you’re looking for in a mentor will be unique to you. Finding a mentor with a shared identity can be particularly valuable. For example, a student athlete may want to connect with someone who has experience balancing academics and team commitments. First-generation college students or those in the LGBTQ+ community might seek mentors who share those identities. 

Ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of a mentor relationship. Are you looking for:

  • Academic support and advice?
  • Professional and career guidance?
  • Emotional support?
  • A combination of some or all of the above?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but clarifying your needs is an important part of finding a meaningful mentorship.

Who can be a college mentor

All kinds of people can make great mentors. That can include professors, resident advisors (RAs), coaches, club sponsors, and fellow fraternity or sorority members, or alumni. But remember that just because you click with someone doesn’t mean they’ll make a great college mentor. Here are some traits to look for:

  • They’re someone you respect.
  • They can relate to your college experience.
  • They’re a good listener and able to provide honest feedback.
  • They’re an expert in their field.
  • They respect your experience and needs.
  • They’re able to motivate you and hold you accountable for your college goals.

Where to find mentors for college

Check with your school first to see if they have a college mentoring program. The University of Washington, for example, offers one for undergraduate economics students. The University of Southern California has a program that matches first-generation college students with a USC alumni mentor. You might also meet a mentor through:

  • Classes
  • Clubs
  • School events
  • Student organizations
  • Internships

If you spot someone you think would make a good mentor, reach out and introduce yourself. That might mean sending a brief email and seeing if they want to grab a quick coffee or meet up virtually. Be yourself and share that you’re looking for some guidance and would love to learn from them. Many people are eager to help students.

I have a college mentor—now what?

If all goes well, you’ll find a college mentor who values the relationship as much as you do. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Figure out what you’re hoping to get out of the experience, then share that with your mentor.
  • Discuss communication preferences. Does your mentor prefer texts, phone calls, or scheduled meetings?
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Remember that they can’t help you if they don’t know what you need.
  • Keep a running list of questions to ask your mentor the next time you speak.
  • Always show gratitude so that your mentor feels appreciated.

Maintaining the relationship after graduation is important as well. Your mentor can continue offering professional advice and guidance. Over time, you may come to see each other as colleagues. And remember that you can seek out new mentors as you move through your career. You might even feel inspired to become a mentor to someone else down the road.

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