Mentorships have been powerful resources throughout history. Meaningful mentoring relationships, such as one between Alexander the Great and his tutor Aristotle, create both a lasting bond and benefits for both sides. How is this relevant to you? Mentorship can and should start early. Even as a high school freshman, when stakes are not too high, you have much to gain from talking with upperclassmen to seek advice about how to navigate courses and extracurricular activities.
Types of Mentorship
Mentorship comes in many different forms. In some ways, your parents and teachers act as mentors when their decisions or values influence the way you make your own choices. The type of mentorship relationship can range anywhere from being casual acquaintance to being part of a very formally structured mentorship program.
The way mentorship is formed influences the relationship dynamics later on. For example, you first get to know your mentor just as a friend in the class year above you. You greet each other in the hallways as friends. As your friendship develops, you might learn inadvertently about how she approached a class project or what challenges she had to work through in her leadership position. This type of mentorship is organic and very natural.
On the other end of the spectrum, some organizations create mentorship programs that are very structured in nature. Typically, the group matches the mentors and mentees up based off of similar interest or fit. You’ll most likely be seeing a stranger’s face on the other side of the Skype call the first time you interact as a mentorship pair. These mentorships work well because typically the goal of the mentorship is very specific (eg. applying to college or improving leadership skills). As a result, the mentors have had experience and have learned from their experience, and they are willing to share it with the mentees. In addition, formal mentorship programs will often follow a set of topics of discussion or schedule set meeting times.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies the type of mentorship that forms as a result of a mutual agreement to develop mentorship. Typically, the mentor and mentee are simply acquaintances to begin with. The mentee could have initiated a conversation and requested the other person to be a mentor. For example, an upperclassman did a very impressive science project on a topic that you are also passionate about. You could initiate the conversation and discuss inspirations and challenges of the project with them.
College Application Mentorship
Specifically, mentorship works well for high school juniors and seniors going through the application process. Some programs establish connections between high school students and current college students to provide high school students with an opportunity learn from someone who has gained perspective looking back on the process. That one looming typo on your essay may seem like the end of the world, but your mentor could redirect your attention to more important things in life, like cherishing the remaining days of senior year.
Small steps can go a long way. Don’t be intimidated by people with more experience. Most of the time, people love giving out advice. Instead of thinking that college students are too busy enjoying college to answer your question, take a minute to distill your questions into concise forms and share your appreciation for their help and time, then send an email and see what happens. Keep in mind, though, that college students are busy people, so give them a couple of days before sending a follow up email. Lastly, be personable in your conversation. Instead of just typing “PLEASE EDIT MY ESSAY,” take a moment to ask them about their lives and try to develop a more meaningful relationship. It takes courage to reach out, but you gain much in return.