Pursuing higher education, as part of the plan to reach ambitious goals, can be a daunting task in itself. Meeting graduation requirements, getting the grades, and finishing them within the ideal time frame.
But one thing that can be difficult even for the best students is gaining the knowledge to know what activities, outside of the classroom, can really set you up for success in whatever direction you plan to go after you get your degree. One way to gain some guidance in this department is to find a college mentor.
College mentors are people who have been somewhere you’d’ like to go, doing something you’d like to do, or just successful people with experiences that you can draw from in deciding the next steps for your own journey. Here are some tips that I’ve picked up over my time with mentors in college on how to plan, find, and grow a strong mentorship.
Recognizing what you want in a college mentor:
Before you even start your mentor search, the first step is to take a second to write down what you’re looking for in a mentor by having a plan for the things you want to learn. This plan may change and the items on your list may be switched out as time goes by, but starting off ask yourself the following questions:
Your biggest short and long term goals:Make sure to start here. The goal of a mentor is to provide advice and experiential knowledge that will help you get to where you’re going so it’s worth taking a moment to see where that ideal destination may be. If you have goals that are very different from one another, answer these questions multiple times for each set of goals that you feel a single mentor could help you with.
Example: if you want to one day open a restaurant and also want advice on becoming polylingual, this may require two mentors so answers these questions for those goals separately.
Steps to reaching those goals that you are both sure and unsure of: Lay out a rough game plan for yourself in terms of getting to these goals and look at the gaps in your knowledge of how to get there. Those steps you’re unsure of can make for really fruitful ideas of what kind of college mentor you need.
Your ideal college mentor: Based on the goals you have, the sketch of a plan you’ve drawn up, and the gaps in your knowledge, write one more list of the attributes you want in a mentor.
Do you need someone who is tech savvy and can give you guidance on app development, do you need a lawyer who can really share some ins and outs of the law school process, do you need a marketing expert who can show you how to maneuver your way into a large company, do you simply need an upperclassman to give you some tips on how to get through finals?
Whatever the case may be, write it down so that when you start looking, you’ll make sure to hit those major points and the rest will fall into place.
Anything else: In addition to guidance on the next steps, is there anything else that you are looking to find a college mentor to help you with? (connections, job search, resume review, taking a look at written content, etc). This is meant to be a personalized experience, so make sure you get at least a skeletal understanding on what you’re hoping to get out of a mentorship.
After you’ve planned specific goals that your feel one mentor could help you with and have completed this wishlist of sorts for a potential mentor, it’s time to start looking!
Mentor/mentee relationships can come about in many different ways. I’ve met some of my mentors in really structured settings and others by simply being proactive. Here are a few of the ways I’ve found some really amazing mentors:
School mentorship program with alumni: Schools, especially at the university level, have tons of amazing alumni and it’s not uncommon to find schools with a program that links successful alumni to current students. Use the resources and connections if your school offers them. Talking to someone who has made it from the very place you are can be invaluable insight into what could be next for you.
I contacted my school’s alumni program and ended up being matched with a phenomenal entrepreneur who really gave me perspective on just how many options are out there.
Internships: Finding an internship in your field of interest can create opportunities to form great mentorships if you share your passions and seek guidance from the knowledgeable people around you. Especially within a company infrastructure, not only does this allow you to form great relationships with industry professionals, but it also offers greater opportunity for connection outside of the your current position.
Networking: Go to events, speak with fellow students, engage with faculty, get used to sharing your interests and asking others about theirs. Opening the door for connection and overlap between your interests and the expertise of others can sometimes be better than anything planned.
Send an email: Take a shot. Unexpected opportunity can come from simply reaching out and expressing a genuine interest in someone else’s work.
People are busy and it is likely that they won’t respond, but I speak from repeated personal experience when I say that the 10, 20, even 30 unanswered emails you may send are worth the one that does respond and says “Yes”. You may be surprised to find out that people are willing to help when they have time and are given the opportunity.
Making the most of your college mentor/mentee relationship:
When you finally find a college mentor, it is really in your best interests to discuss the parameters of the relationship with your mentor. Will you meet weekly, monthly, every other month? Will it be on the phone, over video chat, in person? Regardless of what you all decide on, make sure the both of you are on the same page.
Communicate: Always remain polite, but remember it’s important to be okay with communicating what you would like to do and sharing your preferences, especially if they ask.
It can be intimidating to speak with someone older than you and express the decisions you’d like to see made, but it’s necessary when it comes to finding a mentorship arrangement that really aids you in your journey. It also allows a moment for you both to really determine what amount of time you’re willing to commit, and how in depth the involvement will be.
However, leave room for spontaneity and allow the relationship to develop, just give yourselves a base of expectations to start with.
Introductions: After laying a baseline, it’s always a good idea to make time for introductions. Learning about your mentor is just as important as them learning about you. There will be experiences and expertise that your mentor will have that you had no clue about. This way, you get a more complete understanding of how much they can actually help and share with you.
Alternatively, it is important for them to learn about you in this introduction process because they can listen to your interests and think of knowledge to share with you that you wouldn’t have thought to ask for. The more telling your introductions are, the more likely you are to connect with your mentor and really spark each other’s interest moving forward.
As time progresses and you continue to meet with your mentor, be prepared for each session. When you find a mentor, odds are they will ask you what is it that you’re looking to get out of the mentorship. Essentially, what do you wanna know.
Make a list: To better equip yourself with everything you need for a productive session, write a list of things you want to ask about during the likely short sessions you will meet. And make this a running list. I keep a small notebook and every time I run into something unfamiliar that I think my mentors can help me with, I write it down as a talking point for our next meeting. This way, your meetings will be packed with fruitful conversation revolving around things you would like to know about.
It is much harder to free recall questions when a new mentor is right in front of you rather than when those questions actually pop up. Try to make that practice a habit and make a new list for each meeting. You want to be sure that you are getting the most out of your mentor’s time as well as your own.
Be honest: One additional tip to get the most out of your mentorship is to find a deep appreciation for honest feedback. This is the only way to get better, refine your ideas, and make your processes more efficient. Allowing someone, who has been where you want to go, to critique your procedure, your timelines, and your thought processes can save you time, broaden your perspective, and give you insight on common mistakes before you make them.
Good college mentors will ask you questions that make you think and fully consider all of your goals and ideas. Although this may be uncomfortable, it’s probably the best thing they can do for you.
For example, I had an idea to start a teaching program and I showed one of my mentors my business plan, how I was going to do it, and all of these other amazing ideas. Her response was, “that’s amazing but WHY are you doing it? You never shared that part.” It was a question about purpose and it’s one that is important but sometimes overlooked.
I was taken back because I had skipped over something so simple and had never really thought to put it into words. I had an idea but in the business, good intentions aren’t enough. It dawned on me that I needed to know what problem my idea was solving. This question lead me to dig deeper and find the root of the problem I saw and why I felt like I could fix it. I offer this point to you because it’s not uncommon practice for students to do things for the purpose of padding their resume or looking better for the next admissions board, but good college mentors will see that and ask you questions that help you to see where your passions lie and where you need to let things go.
I regained my passion because she showed me that in order to get others to believe in my cause, I had to show them there was one but I had to remind myself of it first.
Conversation that yields growth should make you think, it should make you uncomfortable, embrace it.
One last point and caveat:
Point: You can have more than one college mentor. After you get one mentor, don’t stop looking for more. The more you know the better.
Caveat: quality is #1. Make sure that you get a good vibe from your mentors. Speak with them, get a sense of how much they expand on the points you make, how interested they are in what you’re discussing, seeing if they take notes during your meetings, whether the conversation is simply pleasant. These are great indicators that you’re on the road to a fruitful connection with someone who is interested in being here for you.
One awesome mentor is way better than 5 that simply don’t care. Time is precious, spend it with those who care about making you better and your mentors are certainly included in this.
– Draya T.
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