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.
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…
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.