Why Students Need Mentors

My younger daughter attended a small high school. Her grade had a single advisor whose door was always open — a one-stop-shop for questions about classes, help talking to a teacher, or just somewhere to decompress during a hectic school day. When my daughter needed anything, she knew exactly where to go.

In her first year of college, everything is more complicated. She needs help, but at the same time she’s now responsible for managing her own life. Fortunately, she’s found mentors — a collection of important people who offer guidance and encouragement.

Colleges build support systems that allow first-year students to mature into their new independence and ensure, as much as possible, that they adapt and succeed. There are people everywhere on campus who can help your student with various challenges. Next time you talk, find out if your student is forging these essential relationships.

Social Life

The Resident Assistant or Advisor (RA) is the bedrock of first-year residential experience. If your student doesn’t click with their RA, encourage them to reach out to an RA on a friend’s floor. Maybe there’s an older student in a club or organization that your student has joined who feels a bit like a big sister or brother — someone who can answer basic questions and help them navigate new relationships and a new routine. Every student benefits from having a social mentor.

Academics

Your student is assigned an academic advisor. Typically the advisor is in a student’s department of interest and familiar with the requirements for the major and graduation. Typically students are required to meet with their academic advisor prior to registering for courses each semester.

Even if they aren’t required to, encourage your student to meet regularly with their advisor. The class dean is also a good person to know. If your student is in a specific program, like pre-med or engineering, they should get to know that program’s advisor, too. Academic mentors provide guidance and direction, which every student needs.

Athletics

If your student is an athlete, the coach will be their guide to practices, training and NCAA regulations. If the coach isn’t approachable about off-field issues, your student can befriend an assistant coach, someone in the athletic director’s office, even a trainer or team captain. College athletics often bring unique social pressures and may demand academic strategies different from what your student has faced before. Encourage them to find an athletic mentor to help steer them through whatever comes up.

Study skills

No matter how accomplished your student is, they may need help with a hard class or just learning to manage the workload in general. The campus writing center, tutoring programs and TAs (Teaching Assistants) in their courses are all good places to find a study mentor — someone your student can work with to achieve academic confidence and competence.

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Scott Sager is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York, who recently retired his long-running column “The Dad.” The father of a daughter in college and a new college graduate, he has past lives as a social worker, preschool teacher and at-home parent and brings a broad perspective to varied topics touching on family life.