No matter how old you are, there is something intimidating about approaching a professor or counselor or adviser. Sometimes there seems to be a certain distance between student and professor that can’t be breached (or that you really wouldn’t want to breach). That is why it’s important to step outside the academic and professional circle and find a student mentor. There are countless benefits of having a student mentor in addition to official academic support. The relationship should be much more casual, meaning as a student you can confide with another peer about things that you don’t necessarily tell the person grading your papers or lifting your holds. Moreover, as a peer they are aware of things like campus climate and thus can relate to a variety of issues that an adult wont. At the same time, most students might feel awkward going up to an older student and asking: will you be my mentor? Also, how do you know that particular upperclassman is the mentor suited to you? Here are three things to consider when approaching a student mentor.

Academic Interests

This a good place to start. Even as an undeclared freshman, as interests and possible majors take shape it is extremely helpful to approach someone who is knees deep in major requirements. Many students love to talk about their majors and will love to have the chance to convince you to declare. Or maybe you are a sophomore or junior who wants to switch to another major. Reaching out to a student in that major may be a stepping stone to your goal. College is a time of academic exploration and you are undertaking that journey with hundreds of other students. Even as a junior or senior thinking about graduate school or paths after graduation, talking to a graduate student and becoming their mentee can make life after graduation less scary (maybe). That said if you wish to find a mentor in a related major or maybe in a completely different major, go for it. But it might be fruitful to find some other interest you share with them like…

Extracurricular Interests

Sport teams, volunteer organizations, student government, and other extracurricular activities are great ways to meet potential student mentors. In some cases, extracurricular activities can easily tie into academic interests. A potential political science major might find a mentor in one of the upperclassmen working in student government. Moreover, the membership in an organization may make approaching them easier than if they were a complete stranger. On the other hand, the connection with a student member doesn’t have to be academic. A potential student member may be someone who feels as passionate for the environment or social justice as you do. It would be great to talk to them about how they integrate their activism into their academics and so on. And on the whole, these type of mentorships can either start in or lead to job opportunities. This is why it is so important to be involved on campus and to form a close relationship with fellow team members, volunteers, etc.


Another important factor may be personal background. A student mentor can also be a person you go to when feeling a crisis of identity or when struggling to fit into campus. Campus community centers and student organizations are great places to make this type of connections. Perhaps you are struggling as one of four women in your huge computer science course. Or maybe you are feeling financially limited and embarrassed while your dorm mates and friends go out to restaurants every week. Talking to another student who have faced – or might still be facing – the same challenges as you can alleviate the feeling of alienation, the feeling of being different from what a student at X University should be. So go out and find the Black Community Center, the LGBTQA Center, the Jewish Student Association – your student mentor might be there waiting for you.

While the task to find a random student to open up to may seem daunting, it can be incredibly rewarding for students of all grade levels: high schoolers to graduate students. Each step of the way, students face different challenges starting from college applications to the GRE. And there are other students out there waiting and wanting to help, so go find them.

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the author

Andrea Villa is a freshman at Stanford University, hoping to major in Comparative Literature or Art History, if her rogue interest in Astronomy doesn’t get in the way. Born in Bogota, Colombia but raised in Miami, Andrea’s upbringing has consisted of multicultural blend of Latin American influences. A strong believer in the power of hard work and merit, she maintains that financial difficulties do not have to be obstacles to success. As a Gates and Questbridge scholar, Andrea aims to spread awareness about these and other programs that lend a helping hand to low income students. Her life goals include publishing a novel and travelling everywhere. She is an avid reader of fiction, fantasy, historical nonfiction, and anything else that seems interesting. Andrea loves languages; she is fluent in English and Spanish and has studied French, German, and Japanese in the past. When not working or reading or studying, Andrea can be found restlessly looking for something to do.

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