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Finding a Mentor: Going Beyond the Typical Student-Professor Relationship

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

What would life be like if we had to face difficult times and decisions without any idea of what to do or what to expect? If no one had gone on before us and there was no light to shine upon our paths, how dark and intimidating would life be? Human existence thrives on example and influence. We learn from others’ experiences, and our ambitions can be drawn from the inspiration of those who went on before us, those who are older, who are wiser.

In the same way, college, career, the impending responsibility of adulthood can look unapproachable, and while it is important that you come out of college chalk full of academics with a bright, shiny degree to show for it, it’s just as important to come out wiser and more savvy on life. Wise words of a mentor play an essential part in how successful you’ll be in college and in life. The hard part is finding someone you trust to lead you in the right direction.

Don’t Settle For the Lousy Advisor

While at school, you will most likely be assigned an academic advisor, probably a professor in your intending major. The purpose of your advisor, ideally, is to help you create a course plan that is efficient and productive without being overwhelming, to keep you on a steady path toward graduation, and to recommend good professors. Unfortunately, many things in this world do not work out according to their ideal scenarios. Good advisors can be one of those things. Not too often are professors passionate about their role as an advisor if they are assigned to that task begrudgingly. The book “All-in-One College Guide,” by Marty Nemko which I’ve referenced to in the past noted that nearly all of the colleges reviewed in the book, “advising is the #2 student complaint. (Parking is #1.)” There obviously lies a problem.

Your job is to make sure you are getting the best counsel you can receive. Don’t settle for an advisor who is not attentive your needs or passionate about your success. You are wasting your time.

Finding the Best Professors

As a freshman, you don’t really have much ground to stand on when it comes to knowing of great professors that will build up your college experience. However, there are ways of going about the search.

  • Ask! Ask! Ask!

Ask those who would know—students, your advisor, other professors, department secretaries, teaching assistances, or your RA.

  • The Right Place, The Right Time

There are places, events, and times that make your “asking” more worthwhile. For instance, orientation, clubs or extra-curricular meetings.

  • Research

Exceptional professors are usually known for how good they really are. And so, there are different ways you can research to find out who they are—teaching awards, or student ratings (check with the government office). You can also play “the investigator.” Talk to the professor and ask him questions; get a feel for his or her style of communication, level of expectation, and eagerness for the subject. I would also suggest getting a copy of their course syllabus as well as making a trip to the bookstore and thumbing through the required books.

Choosing a Mentor

I’ve had many mentors in my life, and now I can look back and attribute much of my learning and growth from the patient, kind, and truthful words of those mentors. I’ve also come to appreciate that I will never grow out of my need for a mentor, for from their experience, I can learn, in every season of my life. When you face college, you need more than someone recommending what class schedule works best for you. You need someone who will encourage you in your frustrations, keep you accountable for your mistakes or looming poor decisions.

Characteristics of a Mentor

A mentor should have qualities and characteristics that show love, trust, wisdom, and that align with your beliefs. Choose someone that is at least 10 years older than you, someone who has “been there,” “done that,” and “come through from” the point you are. Consider the saying, “Let the old teach the young.” You cannot learn from someone who has not yet acquired the wisdom from experience. (This is very important.)

If you find a professor that meets these characteristics, offer to be a student assistant, involve yourself. Most college professors are encouraged when students show initiative, and most would be willing to meet and counsel.

Most importantly, find someone who you trust will not lead you astray. Some professors can be so wrapped up in themselves, they mistake their own sentiment for truth. Many students leave college intoxicated with a new found wacky agenda some professor decided was principle. Find a mentor that has the same belief system as you.


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