A Foundational Guide for Mentoring Students

September 15, 2023 Watermark Insights

A Foundational Guide for Mentoring Students

When higher education institutions create mentorship programs, students and faculty can see an increase in engagement, retention, and productivity. Mentors can encourage students and guide them to success, but you must have a program outline and communicate your expectations and ideas with your team. 

Mentorships enrich both the mentor and the mentee, and students can make valuable connections, discover new opportunities, and seek expert knowledge and skills for their careers. Our guide for mentoring students will teach you the role of a mentor and discuss how you can create a mentorship program for your students. 

Advisors vs. Mentors: What's the Difference?

Advisors and mentors may seem similar, but they have very different roles. Although both have professional experience, advisors and mentors use it differently to guide others. Advisors have a formal function and give others a sense of direction. Mentors perform a similar role but use personal experience, knowledge, and skills to lead others to success. Mentors can act as role models and develop deep connections with mentees, while advisors have a more surface-level relationship. 

Many people can be advisors, while only some can serve as mentors. An advisor directs others to perform tasks, but a mentor guides mentees through career and personal development. Mentors consider personal obligations, passions, and goals and encourage mentees to seek their own paths. On the other hand, advisors do not take a social-emotional approach but expect others to complete objectives despite them. 

Advisors have a formal function and give others a sense of direction. Mentors perform a similar role but use personal experience, knowledge, and skills to lead others.

Students may have an advisor who tells them which classes they should take, when to begin an internship, or which clubs would be most beneficial for their resume. In a sense, the advisor encourages the student to check off the boxes that will enable them to graduate on time. A mentor is more inclined to know the mentee personally. Mentors will understand the student's motivation and suggest courses, clubs, internships, and other valuable resources that align with the student's interest. 

Types of Mentors

Mentors can take different roles and structure the relationship in various ways. Although many believe mentors must be old and wise, mentors can also be young, bright minds or peer mentors. Some mentors provide emotional support, teaching coping methods and stress-relieving practices, while others share industry knowledge and expertise. Still, other mentors act as an all-encompassing helping hand who guides mentees to success in one form or another. 

Types of Mentors

Types of mentors include:

  • Experts: These mentors have in-depth knowledge of their field. Experts could be practicing work in the industry or have decades of experience with work. These mentors help students hone and realize their strengths. 
  • Champions: Champions are support mentors who advocate for the mentee. These mentors help students discover opportunities and make connections they can carry into their careers. 
  • Copilots: Peers can be mentors for each other in a copilot relationship. This mentorship benefits both parties, and they support each other and collaborate while holding one another accountable. 
  • Anchors: Life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. When the ride gets wild, students can benefit from having someone who can see the silver linings and help them overcome obstacles. 
  • Mentees: Young mentors can keep a fresh perspective and engage with the younger generation by taking a leadership role on campus. 

Mentor Responsibilities

A mentor relationship may take many forms, but no matter the structure, those in mentorship roles must maintain specific responsibilities. These responsibilities guide the mentorship process and ensure mentees get the most value from the relationship. Current or prospective mentors who understand their responsibilities can use this knowledge to improve their mentorship.

Work Toward a Specific Goal Together

A mentoring relationship functions best when both sides work together to set goals. Depending on the nature of the relationship and the particular mentee, these objectives may change. Establish goals early in the mentorship to set the path to follow as the relationship continues. These goals can include general development, career-focused objectives, or emotional support.

Though many goals focus on advancing the mentee, mentors may also set goals for their own development, like growing their leadership or communication skills. The mentor should share these goals with the mentee so the mentee can provide feedback that helps the mentor improve their skills.

Answer Specific Mentee Questions

Once the mentor and mentee have set goals, the mentee will often come with questions. Mentors answer these questions, drawing on their own experiences and successes to provide valuable feedback that the mentee can use as they work toward their goals. Mentors must consider each question thoughtfully and spend time formulating responses. They can refer to their story or information gained through experience to give actionable advice.

Reach Out With Support When Needed

Mentees rely on a mentor to guide their success in a particular field. The relationship works best when both individuals play an active role. The mentee may come with questions, but mentors should also reach out to offer support. The particular support provided will vary based on the relationship and the mentee. A mentor has experienced similar struggles in their journey. They can use this experience to listen to the student and provide encouragement. 

Creating a Mentorship

College or university student mentoring can be incredibly beneficial for students and staff when everyone practices the proper methods. Additionally, mentoring higher education students can benefit your instructors and faculty, but you should establish a program that works for everyone. Encourage your team to collaborate and determine the best schedule, policies, procedures, and student mentoring report format.

Establish the Relationship

A mentorship is only as strong as the relationship between mentor and mentee. At the beginning of the mentorship, you should establish goals and expectations so both parties understand their role. Mentors must also take the first step to develop the relationship with their mentees to create a trusting rapport. 

A mentorship can operate through three relationship formats. A structured format is built around a mutually beneficial goal, and this mentorship creates a continuous environment for learning and development.

A mentorship can operate through three relationship formats. A structured mentorship centers around a mutually beneficial goal, and this mentorship creates a continuous environment for learning and development. A requested relationship is one where mentees present mentors with questions, and they figure out solutions together. This relationship does not require structure, and mentors do not need to plan materials. Lastly, a suggested relationship encourages mentors to reach out to struggling students and give support. 

Create Boundaries

Any professional relationship requires boundaries, especially in higher education institutions. First and foremost, the mentor and mentee should always feel respect from the other. Mentorship is a deep connection — neither party should feel that one is more important than the other.

The mentor and mentee should create a schedule together and determine their preferred methods of communication and when it is appropriate to reach out. A mentorship doesn't always mean unlimited access — face-to-face communication at set intervals sometimes works better than consistent online or phone communication.

Before engaging in this professional relationship, the mentor and mentee should also discuss confidentiality. The mentor relationship often involves both parties sharing personal information with someone they trust. The mentor and mentee should discuss privacy and how the concept applies to various scenarios in their professional relationship.

Set Expectations

Expectations layout the foundation for the mentorship, that will be continually built upon.

When mentors and mentees express expectations in the beginning, both people can move forward knowing what the other expects. Expectations will lay the foundation for the mentorship, and the mentor and mentees will craft a relationship around this foundation. These solid frameworks will also show the mentee what role their mentor is playing. They will know whether it's appropriate to ask their mentor for emotional or mental support or if they should rely on them to discover exciting courses of study. 

Generally, mentees expect their mentors to be available at set intervals and provide trustworthy advice. Mentors anticipate that mentees will take their advice seriously and take responsibility for the relationship, as the mentee's goals drive the progression. Mentors or mentees who expect more or less from the relationship should discuss these ideas with a mentor to ensure both parties know what to expect.

Know Your Limitations

A mentorship is nurturing and continues to grow as the relationship continues. However, a mentorship should be a reliable connection rather than a constant obligation. Although many mentorships become lifelong friendships, others can be more formal, and mentor and mentee must exhibit the same amount of effort. Although mentors want to help students grow, they must ensure they understand their learning experience and not overwhelm them or provide uninteresting opportunities. 

Mentors and students should practice self-care and understand when to give themselves a break. When people overextend themselves, they become burnt out and less helpful to others. Additionally, if students feel their mentorship is a chore, they may avoid contacting their mentor or neglect their other work. 

Tips for Mentoring Students

Tips for Mentoring Students

Schools need mentorship programs to encourage, engage, and motivate students to finish their studies and reach their goals. Students can become more connected with their course materials, make new connections, and have a more satisfying campus experience. Create a mentoring program at your institution, and check out these tips for mentoring students:

  • Identify clear goals and expectations
  • Adapt a flexible schedule
  • Encourage self-advocacy
  • Utilize a check-in system to receive updates
  • Establish deadlines and stick to them
  • Hold regular meetings to report progress
  • Encourage students to ask questions
  • Give quality feedback on assignments, projects, or tasks
  • Discuss student motivations and interests
  • Understand that your student may get busy 
  • Notify students about departmental changes and events
  • Present campus clubs, activities, and opportunities 

Evaluating Mentoring Program Success

After a higher education institution develops a mentoring program, the next step is determining the program's success to guide future improvements. Mentorship brings several advantages for students, mentors, and educational institutions. Schools use such programs to accomplish goals like student retention. Students benefit from mentoring by achieving academic or career success, and mentors gain practical skills like leadership.

These benefits only happen when institutions have straightforward ways to measure success, like:

  • Data collection: Monitor data, like student retention rates, to determine whether adding to or refining your mentoring program has improved student outcomes.
  • Mentee feedback: Collect information from program participants and see their perspectives on where the program does well and how it could improve.

Explore Mentorship Programs With Watermark

At Watermark, we understand the importance of mentorships and want to help you craft a program that works for your faculty and students. We encourage higher ed institutions to utilize success coaches to create holistic educational experiences and guide students to their goals. We can help you design a program that benefits your students and improves your institution. 

Browse our case studies to see how we've helped other higher education institutions engage students, or contact us to learn more about what we can do for you. 

About the Author

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut euismod velit sed dolor ornare maximus. Nam eu magna eros.

More Content by Watermark Insights
Previous Article
Top 5 Challenges for Student Retention
Top 5 Challenges for Student Retention

Higher education institutions can fight the challenges of student retention. Learn about the most significa...

Next Article
4 Ways To Improve Student Engagement
4 Ways To Improve Student Engagement

Learn four essential strategies to improve student engagement, boost learners' interest in their education,...