How College Mentors Can Foster Student Success

A college mentor can support students in their academic and professional pursuits. Learn what a good mentor looks like and how to find one.

portrait of Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
by Melissa Venable, Ph.D.

Published on December 10, 2021 · Updated on December 11, 2021

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How College Mentors Can Foster Student Success


Whether you're in college or a recent grad, you've probably heard how important professional networking is as you work to establish your career. Finding a good mentor is not only useful for networking but can also provide benefits like career support and advice.

Mentoring relationships help connect you and your goals with opportunities to succeed. The 2018 Gallup Alumni Survey found that "college graduates are almost two times more likely to be engaged at work if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams."

The study also revealed that college graduates with faculty members who "cared about them as a person" tend to benefit from higher levels of well-being.

How Mentors Help Students During Transitions

Times of transition ⁠— such as making the move from high school to college or from college to your first job ⁠— can be daunting.

Having adequate support during these times can improve your experience and your ability to succeed. This support can come from many places, including mentors who share with you what they learned when they underwent similar transitions in their lives.

Students can connect with potential mentors in many ways, such as by talking with faculty members, on-campus supervisors, and academic advisors.

Formal mentorship programs are also common at high schools and on college campuses. The goals of these programs include increased retention and graduation rates, higher academic achievement, and guided career exploration.

College mentorship programs can be particularly beneficial for specific groups, such as first-year students, first-generation students, and students of color. According to MENTOR, at-risk youth who have a mentor are 55% more likely to enroll in college than those without a mentor.

Research from the College of Charleston found that for first-year Black students, "the mentoring relationship can provide academic, social, and career guidance that is invaluable during the undergraduate years."

What Are the Signs of an Effective Mentor?

Not everyone is an effective college mentor or willing to devote the time and attention this kind of relationship requires. You'll need to keep in mind several characteristics as you look for and connect with mentors in your life.

MENTOR suggests that all good mentors meet the following criteria:

The 5 Types of College Mentors Students Need

Multiple mentors can work well for many students. Professor Greta Hsu from UC Davis describes having more than one mentor as possessing a "developmental network."

Business expert Anthony Tjan says there are five types of mentors everyone can benefit from having in their lives. These mentors cover a variety of needs, life roles, and support sources.

Think about how the following types of mentors can assist you as you move through college and into a career.

1. An Expert in Your Field

Find a college mentor who can share advice about navigating the career path you're pursuing or want to pursue based on their experiences. They can keep you informed of current trends, answer questions, help you expand your network, and guide your decision-making.

2. A Personal Champion

We all need someone who's always in our corner. This type of mentor cheers you on no matter what, helps you understand and learn from your failures, and enthusiastically shares in your success.

3. A Peer

Not all mentors are older or more experienced than you. Build a co-mentoring relationship with someone who is going through similar experiences. The potential benefits of peer mentoring include an open sharing of challenges and opportunities and finding ways to collaborate.

4. An Anchor

This type of mentor is someone who keeps you grounded. This person considers your school and career goals as part of your whole life, reminding you of your priorities and prompting you to stay focused when the going gets tough.

5. A Mentee

Look for opportunities to share your knowledge and advice with someone with less experience than you. You can learn a lot about yourself by helping others.

How to Find a Mentor in College

Many institutions offer mentorship programs for college students. Talk to your academic advisor, career services office, writing and learning center, and professors to learn more about what your school offers.

Similarly, try to get involved in student clubs, volunteering, and other campus activities. These opportunities can help you meet and get to know people who might later become mentors to you.

You can also contact your school's alumni association — even before you graduate — to see whether a program is in place to match you with a graduate interested in mentoring a current student.

Mentors can be found off campus as well. For example, participating in an internship is a great way to help you meet people in your field. Both internships and part-time jobs can easily lead to mentorship opportunities and possibly even full-time employment.

Some professional associations connect students and early-career professionals with mentors. For instance, the National Association of Colleges and Employers sponsors mentorship programs for new career counselors.

You can also use CareerOneStop's Professional Association Finder to locate professional organizations in your field of interest.

How Do Virtual Mentorships Work?

Virtual and remote internships are becoming more common due to changes spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Such changes suggest that it's possible mentorships, too, will begin to assume a predominantly virtual format.

Here are a few steps you can take to make the most of working with a mentor virtually.

Communicate Your Needs and Expectations

You and your college mentor should have a conversation about how and when you'll connect with each other. While some may enjoy spontaneous text messaging and weekend calls, others may prefer scheduled video conference appointments and email exchanges.

Coordinate Meetups and Schedules

Working with a virtual mentor may mean adjusting your schedule to accommodate different time zones and work calendars. Schedule regular meetings and conversations, but be flexible when the need for rescheduling arises, which it likely will at least once.

Collaborate — Together You Make a Team

Unstructured conversations can be a helpful, easy way for you and your mentor to connect. However, try to think about ways you can structure or plan for meetings to address specific topics, events, and activities together.

Remember that a successful mentorship involves two-way communication — it's not up to your mentor to keep the relationship going. This is particularly true of virtual mentorships, which rely on shared initiative to keep you connected.


Feature Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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