What Is Peer Mentoring and How Does It Benefit Students?
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- Peer mentor programs pair incoming college students with experienced students.
- Research shows that peer-to-peer mentoring increases college retention rates.
- Students can gain leadership training and skills by serving as peer mentors.
Mentors advise mentees on career decisions, help early-career professionals advance, and shepherd undergrads through college. But what are peer mentors? And how are they different from other types of mentors?
The idea of a peer mentor may seem contradictory. Mentors typically hold much more experience than those they advise. So how can a peer mentor a fellow peer?
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Many colleges have invested in peer-to-peer mentoring programs because they pay off in major ways. Research shows that peer mentoring decreases stress and helps stop students from dropping out of college.
Serving as a peer mentor can also help undergrads build in-demand skills related to communication, critical thinking, and collaboration.
What Is Peer Mentoring?
Mentors support mentees during their education or career journeys. And the benefits of mentorship are clear. At the college level, students who work with mentors experience less stress, participate more, and perform better in classes.
But mentors don't need to be professors, advisors, or alumni to help college students. In fact, peer mentoring offers many of the same benefits that other forms of mentorship do.
So what is peer mentoring exactly? Peer mentoring describes a relationship between students in which one student helps guide the other through college. For example, college juniors and seniors often mentor incoming first-year students.
Unlike other forms of mentoring, peer mentor programs stand out for their emphasis on support and relationship-building. Peer mentors answer questions, offer encouragement and guidance, and welcome new students to the community.
A 2020 report by Mentor Collective, which runs mentorship programs on college campuses, evaluated the impact of college mentors. The research found that students with a mentor were more likely to stay in school than those without a mentor.
What Are the Benefits of Peer Mentor Programs?
Any incoming student can benefit from peer mentorship programs. Many learners find the transition to college stressful. Connecting with more experienced students can help new undergrads launch the next chapter of their education.
Recently, Lehigh University launched a peer mentorship program with the goal of increasing first-year retention — especially among first-generation students, low-income students, and students belonging to other historically excluded groups.
"We wanted the incoming students to have a deep relationship with someone older who had experience and training, someone who could help guide them through those early weeks and that whole first year," said Donald Outing — Lehigh's vice president for equity and community — in an interview with the Association of American Colleges & Universities.
The program matched 1,500 first-year students with a mentor. The summer before starting school, new students communicated with mentors through an online platform.
So far, students have reported that the peer mentorship program decreases their stress and makes them feel more connected to the campus community.
Similarly, the University of Southern Indiana offers a peer mentoring program for first-year students in its College of Science, Engineering, and Education. The program encourages an inclusive environment, helps new students transition to college, and offers support.
With many demonstrated benefits, peer mentoring programs represent a best-practice strategy for improving student outcomes.
How to Make the Most of Peer-to-Peer Mentoring
How can students take advantage of peer mentoring? First, check whether your school offers a peer-to-peer mentoring program. At larger universities, you can also ask about mentorship programs at the college or department level.
If your college doesn't offer any peer mentor programs, encourage student services at your school to invest in these programs. Students can also create their own informal mentorship programs.
First-year students aren't the only ones who can benefit from peer mentorship programs — undergraduates in their second year and beyond can also get involved as peer mentors.
As demonstrated by the Peer Mentor Program at Saint Mary's College, mentors can act as both leaders and community builders. Peer mentors participate in training programs and help new students succeed. This training helps participants develop stronger conflict resolution and communication skills.
By serving as a peer mentor, college students can build the in-demand soft skills employers want. And, as an added bonus, peer mentors get to help the next generation of undergraduates thrive at their alma mater.
Feature Image: Carlina Teteris / Moment / Getty Images