The University Network

Finding a Mentor in College

All walks of life feel strange to the newcomer. Regardless of age, status, or other seemingly relevant circumstances, individuals need guidance. As a college freshman, this was the last thing I could admit. I wanted to believe I was self-sufficient, intelligent, capable. I wanted to believe, after leaving home for the first time, I didn’t need anyone else.

My father drove me up on move-in day and helped me unload the car of everything I deemed important enough to bring to the first year of my new life. I’d never been one to hold onto excess, so there were only two suitcases we needed haul up the steps to my room. The dorm was smaller than I anticipated, and the goodbye harder. We parted ways, and I told myself I was ready for an independent life. I was on my own, and that was supposed to be a good thing. No more asking for help.

Two years later, I will confidently say that success and asking for help are inextricably intertwined. Self-sufficiency doesn’t mean isolation. My college experience has shown me that, beyond doubt, the most content individuals are the ones that make the effort to reach out for guidance. There is something so fundamentally worthwhile about having an older, wiser companion to show you the ropes. I highly recommend everyone find a mentor; college is a time of self-discovery, and it runs much more smoothly when you can speak to someone who’s already been there.

Bear in mind, a mentor does not exist to tell you what to do or the right way to do it. Instead, he or she should serve to give you an opinion, an educated guess back by personal experience. Think: you are looking to find an internship, and don’t know where to begin. You’re confused about your vocational direction and want advice regarding how to proceed. This, of course, extends to personal situations as well. Your parents are ready to split ways and you need emotional support. You want to find out if your best friends are real friends. Even if you think you know what you want, or how to get it, or the answers to life’s biggest mysteries, it never hurts to talk it through with someone else.

One key idea I would like to stress is that a mentor should not be limited to the counselor/advisor issued to you by your school. Personally, I had trouble connecting with my freshman year advisor, which only perpetuated my initial theory that college was a road to travel solo. Although he was extremely approachable and intelligent (as most professors are), his field of expertise had nothing to do with my majors. He was biology. I was economics and communications. He could tell me everything I ever wanted to know about gene manipulation and protein synthesis, but that didn’t strike me as particularly valuable. He couldn’t offer me the guidance I needed within my realm of interests. Your mentor should be an older adult with whom you share similarities and, above all else, with whom you feel comfortable. Your mentor is your friend.

By this point in my undergraduate studies, I can thankfully say I’ve found one or two adults that speak with me regularly and offer sound advice. Finding a mentor improved the quality of my college experience, as I feel more confident when afforded unfamiliar opportunities. I’ve dropped the flawed freshman year mindset that I don’t need anyone else, and now everything seems a little less scary.