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Using Mentors in College

Jennifer King Logan

Written By: Jennifer King Logan

Published: 10/4/2022

As you go through college and then transition into the workforce, there will be many times when you have questions or simply need a sounding board to help make important decisions. You can always turn to trusted friends, family members, and school advisors, but another great source of support is a college mentor. Ideally, your mentor will have experience in the field you're preparing to enter and be able to offer valuable insights into your profession. If not, you can still benefit from an objective mentor's guidance.

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Why College Students Need Mentors

Mentors can be beneficial to you in many ways throughout your college career. Early on, a mentor can give you honest and specific insights into the field you're interested in, which can help you determine if your career choice is right for you. Your mentor may also be able to provide guidelines for academic success and assist you in choosing the best courses and extracurricular activities for your career goals.

Mentors also have connections of their own, which can expand your professional network. Through their contacts, they may be able to help you find experiential learning opportunities, such as externships, internships, and co-op jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, college mentors can share their own experiences and offer guidance, which is especially valuable when you're encountering new situations. For example, you may be a first-generation student with many questions about higher education. Or you may be getting ready to graduate and need help preparing for job interviews.

We asked a number of professionals who have worked with mentors for their input so you can make the most of the experience. Luke Lee, CEO of PalaLeather, says, "Mentors are incredibly valuable for their experience, knowledge, and guidance, and they provide invaluable input to young professionals. Mentoring helps you gain exposure to different perspectives and challenges you may encounter along your career path."


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Luke Lee, CEO of PalaLeather, says, "Mentors are incredibly valuable for their experience, knowledge, and guidance, and they provide invaluable input to young professionals. Mentoring helps you gain exposure to different perspectives and challenges you may encounter along your career path."

How To Find A Mentor In College

Mentoring relationships can take many forms. You may find someone who lives near you, or you may connect with someone who lives far away. Your mentor may be significantly older or fairly close to you in age. You may work with your mentor one-on-one or as part of a group. In any case, there are numerous ways to find mentors for college students:

  • Through a mentorship program run by your college
  • At school, such as a professor, teaching assistant, administrator, or staff member
  • Through your school's alumni association
  • Through your college's career services center
  • On the job, including internships and co-ops
  • Through your professional network
  • On social media, especially LinkedIn
  • Through an online mentorship platform, such as SCORE, GrowthMentor, or Pelion
  • At meetings of local volunteer organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club or Rotary International
  • At meetings of professional organizations focused on your industry

What To Look For in a Mentor

Many people have the wisdom and experience to mentor college students, but only some have the right characteristics to be good mentors. There are some qualities that are common among effective guides.

You'll want to look for someone who is willing to share all of their experiences — both their achievements and mistakes — so you can learn by example. At the same time, a mentor should be a good listener and show respect and understanding for your perspectives, opinions, and feelings. Your guide should be focused on helping you articulate your goals and charting a course for academic success, wellness, and professional development.

You and your mentor also need to be comfortable with each other. This quality can be hard to define, but you'll know it when you've met the right person. Falen O. Cox, a founding partner at Cox, Rodman, & Middleton, LLC, says it's a matter of finding someone you "click" with. "Mentoring can be an intimate relationship," she notes, "one where you share your dreams and fears — a person you go to with questions when you're too embarrassed to ask anyone else. As a result, you want to make sure that it's someone you feel comfortable being vulnerable around."

How To Ask For Mentoring

Mentoring relationships often start as friendships or work relationships and evolve naturally over time. However, if you've had one or two conversations with someone who meets your criteria for a guide, or if you're working through a mentoring program, you can formally ask that person to be your college mentor.

Start by setting up an in-person or virtual meeting. When you talk, explain why you think the person would be a good mentor and what you hope to gain from the relationship. Be specific in setting objectives, so your prospective mentor understands what's expected. "You should never enter into any type of mentorship without having some sort of idea of what you want to accomplish," explains Jonathan Saeidian, founder and CEO of Brenton Way. "By establishing goals, you are giving yourself a focal point of attention and focus."

You can finish your proposal by asking if the person would be willing to mentor you and, if so, how often they'd be willing to meet. Your contact may need some time to consider your idea, so leave the door open for future discussions and end by thanking them for their time.

Mentors can be instrumental in guiding you through many career paths, including careers in business, communications, and political science.

How To Interact With Your Mentor

Once you've found a mentor, having the proper mindset and taking the right steps can enable you to get the most value out of the time you spend together. Here's what our experts have to say based on their mentoring experiences.

Be honest. Right from the start, you need to be ready to show your mentor both your strengths and your weaknesses. "For your mentor to be able to help you, it's vital that you're honest about your successes, failures, and challenges," says Lukee Li, cofounder of Neutypechic. "This vulnerability will create a more trusting and open relationship that will be more beneficial for both of you."

Schedule routine check-ins with your mentor. Having time set aside for conversations will allow you to prepare for a productive session. "Regular meetings should be scheduled with your mentor," advises Brandon Walsh, parenting expert at DadsAgree.com. "Mentees should have a set structure, which will help them to prioritize their mentor relationship." 

Develop meeting agendas. Before each meeting with your mentor, review what's been happening in your life and write down topics and questions for discussion. Madeline Svoboda, EdS, a school psychologist, adds, "Take running meeting notes that are shared with both parties. Note-taking not only shows respect for the mentor's input but, more importantly, serves as a reference always available to you. Add questions or thoughts that arise throughout the week to your meeting agenda, so you have an organized purpose for the meeting."

Just listen. As much as you may want to talk out your issues in front of your mentor, it's not therapy. You're there to learn. As Stephanie Dalfanzo, an integrative hypnotist, explains, "We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. If a mentor is willing to share their time and expertise, even if you think you already know something, by listening, you just might hear the perfect nugget to propel you into success."

Be open. Not only do you need to listen, but you also need to be ready to absorb your mentor's knowledge and act on it. Dr. Slava Shut, a physical therapist, explains it this way: "When you work with a mentor, you have to be two things — teachable and coachable — because you need to learn and absorb all information, but you also need to take directions and trust what they are instructing you to do, even if you have the slightest doubt. It's like playing a game and having the coach give you a play but then telling them you won't do it. At that point, you have already lost the game." 

Practice patience. Always remember that your mentor has many responsibilities, so they may not be able to respond quickly every time you need them. "Don't take it personally if your mentor fails to respond to an email," notes Calloway Cook, president of Illuminate Labs. "The more successful they are in their own career, the more busy they likely are, so I've learned to just allow some time to pass and follow up."

Express gratitude. More than anything else, you should thank your mentor frequently. Saying it with simple words is often enough, but Asker Ahmed, director of iProcess Global Research, Inc., offers these additional ideas: "Mentors provide a great service — guidance, a wealth of experience, and encouragement — for free. Don't take this for granted. Take them out to dinner as much as possible. Include them on your holiday shopping list. Mentors help us because they are paying it forward. Add to that satisfaction by showing them you appreciate them."

Give back. You may think you don't have much to offer your mentor, but you do. If nothing else, simply being a sympathetic listener can be helpful, but sharing your opinions and experiences may also benefit your guide. "It's important to remember that a mentor relationship is not a one-way street," says Alan Duncan, CEO of Solar Panels Network USA. "You should also be prepared to offer help and advice to your mentor when needed."

Mentors can be especially helpful in complex careers like nursing, medical assisting, or nutrition.

Commonly Asked Questions About Mentors

Can You Have More Than One Mentor?


Yes, you can have more than one mentor at any given time throughout your college and professional career. You could have different mentors for the different aspects of your life or for various functions within your career, such as professional development and industry profile.

Can I Work With My Mentor Virtually?


Yes, with so many online tools available, you can work with any mentor virtually. This dramatically expands the number of people who could serve as a guide for you. While phone, email, and text communication can be used for mentoring, video chat may be the best tool so that mentors and mentees can see each other.

What Is Peer Mentoring?


Peer mentoring occurs between two people who are relatively close in age or experience. For example, a college senior may act as a student mentor for a first-year student, or an entrepreneur with five years of experience may serve as a business mentor for a new business owner. The advantage is that the mentor has recently addressed the same issues and questions as the mentee, allowing the mentor to have greater empathy and understanding.

Why People Agree To Be Mentors

Although it may seem like an imposition to ask a busy person to mentor you, many people see it as an honor to support students. Those who are successful in their chosen profession often enjoy mentoring college students to succeed, seeing it as a way to give back to their community. So don't be afraid to ask someone for mentorship. You'll both benefit from the relationship.

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