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How To Find the Right Mentor For You

Posted By Staff Writer on October 13, 2017

It's been said time and again that no man is an island. No time is this truer than when we are struggling to get through school—struggling because, perhaps, we have a different learning style than most, or because we're also trying to support a family. Or we're not even struggling, per se, but people think we must be because we're older than the average freshman. For these students, especially, a mentor is just what they need. How do you pick a mentor, though? You can't just throw a dart at a board; finding a mentor that suits your needs takes careful time, planning, and focus. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Choose someone who excels in the field you'd like to excel in, too.

This may be a no-brainer. But if you are a business major, a graphic design instructor is probably not the mentor for you. Not that there's anything wrong with graphic design, but during crunch time they're going to be full of tips on how to understand principles of design, not how to run a gap analysis. Now, there may be exceptions to this rule—someone who minored in your field, perhaps, or someone who has other basic connection points to you, like a similar take on how to study. But as a general guideline, when searching for a mentorship, start in your own department!

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2. Be the mentee you'd want to mentor someday.

It's like any relationship—you should treat others as you'd want to be treated. It will draw people to you and keep them close through the bad times. In a mentor-mentee relationship, this is extra important. You need to be the student who someone wants to help with that extra leg-up—not one that they're constantly rescuing. Basically, you don't want to be exhausting to your mentor; they'll drop you faster than a bus at your stop. Instead, look for ways to be helpful. Ask intelligent questions that are reasonably easy to respond to (“What should I do with my life?” doesn't qualify, but “How can I best prepare for this exam?” or “What are the five most important things to stay on top of in Instructor Whosit's class?” do). Remember that your mentor is a real person, with a life, a job, possibly a family, and certainly lots to do. Help them out when you can; giving back is one of the best ways to show that you appreciate being helped.

3. Find someone you admire.

This doesn't just mean professionally. If you can, find someone you admire as a person. This can be an instructor, but find someone whom you connect with on a level outside the classroom: political views, family balance, or even just the way they talk. Do they admire you for your hard work and your professionalism as a student as well as the way you talk about your personal passions?

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4. Be aware that your first choice may not work out.

You may admire an instructor, you may agree with their politics, they may be an expert in whatever field you're trying to be great in …and the mentoring may still fall flat on its proverbial face. So what do you do? You dust yourself off, thank the instructor for the time they have given you, and start searching for a new mentor. Sometimes the person you think you admire more turns out to be unhelpful, and the person you thought was a poor fit turns out to be just what you needed. Keep your mind open as you search for a mentor; sooner or later, the right person is going to come into your life and, with any luck, change your path for the better.