Being away from home and in college has its ups and downs. You’re no longer in super close contact with your family and friends, and you’re left to figure out what you want to do in life all on your own. That can be incredibly difficult! Plus, you have to deal with getting good grades, finances and taking care of yourself. For these reasons and more, it’s important to find someone to help you through that journey.
Having a mentor benefits your academic career and even just your life choices. Without a mentor, I don’t think I would even be applying to graduate school right now. Like most people, I knew nothing about college when I was a freshman, and my parents didn’t really have much education either, which put me at a disadvantage. However, by surrounding myself with the right people, I was able to find my way successfully. I want to one day be that figure for others and help them find their path in this crazy world as well. So, to start that process, here are five tips I would recommend when looking for a mentor-like figure.
1. Think about what you need from a mentor
Self-reflection is the first step in being able to find a mentor. What inspires you? What’s your motivation? Maybe it’s to go to continue further with schooling or maybe it’s to head right into the working world after graduation. There are so many possibilities. A mentor also doesn’t even have to be older than you. A mentor could also be someone your age or close to it. I met someone the other day that was younger than me who has been to Russia, Mexico and all over the U.S. basically for free. If travel interests you, that also might be something to consider. Even if you don’t exactly know what you might want yet in life, talking to a variety of people can really help determine your path.
2. Go out of your way to make meaningful connections
Finding a mentor isn’t always easy. I didn’t find mine until the end of my junior year of college, but I also wasn’t really going out of my way to find one until then. Taking that initial first step in introducing yourself and getting to know others might be hard, especially when you’re away from the comfort of your home or hometown. Getting involved on campus through RSOs or Greek life can really help to meet those people who will be more than happy to help out with your future. People most likely aren’t going to ask you if you necessarily want or need a mentor, so putting yourself out there is very very important.
3. Find similar passions & interests
It’s just like making a friend! You pretty much are when finding a mentor. There are some people that just aren’t compatible, but there are so many people who are. This campus is pretty big, in my eyes, but I also come from a small town. When going to a large and diverse university like Illinois State, there’s no doubt that each and every person can find someone with similar passions and interests.
They might also be found in even the most random of places. My mentor also didn’t have a family with much education but was still able to graduate with his Ph.D. He also is half Hispanic just like I am, and that’s kind of rare to find. All the subjects he taught and studied really interested me, so I reached out and now I do research for him and I’m also one of his teaching assistants. I’ve been able to learn so many life lessons from him just because we started off with all of those similarities, passions, and interests in life.
4. Go to class
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but as a college student, I know how easy it can be to skip classes. You’re now in charge of your own life and whatever you want to do, you basically do anything you want as a college student since we’re out on our own in the adulting world. I always recommend going to class anyway because you’re literally paying a good chunk of money for it, but going to class and actually participating gets your foot in the door. I used to HATE participating in class, I never would if I didn’t have to. College really helped me break out of my shell though.
The more you participate in class and actually go to class, the more you get out of college. Participating and going to class leads to making those important connections that one might have with a mentor. Following this step led me to grow closer with a lot of my professors especially. It’s hard to see them as actual people sometimes since they’re in charge and have that authority, but every professor I’ve had at ISU has been so understanding and more than willing to help out their students in whatever endeavors they come across. Their job is to teach you, so you might as well take advantage of that in all aspects.
5. Network, network, network
Talking to new people is one way to find a mentor, but you might not always click with everyone you meet. Those people you don’t click with probably do click with people who could be potential future mentors. The world is big, but you’d be surprised by the little ways that stuff like that connects sometimes. Even once you do meet the people you’d consider mentors, they can open up so many paths for your future just by having those small connections to others.
For example, a professor might be friends with the department chair for your desired graduate school program. They could even know a few things or two about your goals based on others in their field who might have gone down similar paths. Once there’s one connection, there’s bound to be more.
Navigating your way through college isn’t easy. On top of exams, assignments, socializing, self-care, and potentially a job, students are expected to figure out their futures. It’s important to have figures such as mentors in your life to help you find ways to cope with all of the stressors of college. It’s easier to go through obstacles when you have someone by your side who knows what it’s like, has been through those obstacles, or knows how to help you get through the obstacles.