Finding A Mentor
Whether you’re looking to make the jump between school and university, or to make a name for yourself in your chosen field of work, you’ve probably thought about how much easier some things would be if you could just ask someone who’s already been through it about their experiences. Finding a mentor can seem like an impossible task if you don’t already have family or school contacts. We’ve put together a guide to finding a mentor, covering exactly what it means, where to look, and how your mentoring relationship might work.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone with more experience in a certain field, who agrees to offer you advice over a period of time. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to school and work matters; many schools will get older students to mentor first years, as will most university departments. It’s also common for people on graduate schemes to be assigned a mentor at work. The difficulty often comes when you’re at a stage of change, whether it’s moving from school to uni, uni to work, or one job to another.
Do I need one?
It’s more common to have a mentor in some fields than it is in others. Students applying to highly competitive programmes like medicine, or competitive universities like Oxford or Harvard, might particularly benefit from a mentor because application processes can seem confusing or daunting. Similarly, the arrangement is often more common in business careers because the industry highly values connections and learning from experience. That said, it can be really helpful to have someone to ask any questions, regardless of your chosen sector.
So, how does it work?
Mentoring can be very formal, or really informal, depending on how you found your mentor, your personal preference, and pre-existing commitments on both the mentor and the mentee’s part. You may decide to meet up for a coffee anything from once a week to twice a year, and discuss your progress, ask any questions you have and plan what you’ll do before you next meet. Alternatively, you might just text or email them any questions you have, as and when, communicating on more of an ad-hoc basis. A university admissions mentorship could last until results day, the end of the first term, or the end of your degree, whereas a professional mentor might be willing to continue in the role for decades.
Who should I choose?
A lot of the qualities you’ll want to look for in prospective mentors will be personal to you, and who you think you’ll work best with. That said, there are a few general tips it can be helpful to follow in your search. First of all, make sure they’ve got relevant experience. If you’re looking for uni admissions advice, try to find someone currently studying or recently graduated from the exact course at the exact university that you’re interested in. They’ll be able to speak from personal experience, both of the admissions process and what the department is actually like for students.
As you begin to look for career mentors, you needn’t try so hard to find someone doing exactly what you want to do. Instead, look for people with skillsets or qualities you admire, such as leadership or organisation, or find someone who can give you insights into the general field of interest. Your career path should be your own, so rather than trying to copy someone else’s find someone who can teach you important skills which will come in helpful in your own journey.
More generally, good mentors will be patient, well-informed and good communicators. If you can find someone you enjoy spending time with, that can also be a bonus.
Where can I find a mentor?
You might already have links to a possible mentor through your family, friends, school or workplace. If there’s someone you know who works in a similar field to the one you want to work in, or studied the same degree, ask if they’d be happy to give you some advice. They might even be able to introduce you to one of their acquaintances who is even better placed to mentor you.
It’s okay if you don’t have anyone suitable in your immediate circle though – most people don’t! While lots of people would be flattered if someone they didn’t know asked them to be their mentor, you have a much better chance of success if you ask someone you’ve already established a connection with.
Try taking one of these routes instead:
1. Attend networking events geared towards the subject, university or career you’re interested in.
Rather than being the 829th person to approach the keynote speaker asking for advice, speak to other attendees who look older or more experienced than you are. If you get along well, exchange contact information and build a rapport, before asking them to mentor you. Chances are someone slightly further down the career ladder than CEO will have more time to mentor you, too.
2. Consider a mentoring agency.
Scholastica Be is a programme of monthly coaching sessions aimed at 12-25 year olds, to help you decide where you want to go, and help you get there. This is just one of the ways we support students past the summer.
3. Build organic relationships.
Whether it’s staying in touch with the owner of the boutique you worked in on Saturdays when you were 16, or the people you meet during a work experience placement, fostering professional connections is a surefire way to move in the right circles and find a mentor. Whether it’s your original contact, or someone they introduce you to, you’re far more likely to get them as a mentor if you have a human link. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends, but you should make sure you reply to their emails in a timely fashion, and help them out if the opportunity arises.
So, there you have it. Mentoring can be a really valuable tool, and if you think you would benefit from it, we hope you now feel more confident in trying to find a suitable mentor.
Remember that we’re always here to help, so get in touch if you’re on the hunt for a mentor and think we could help.
Explore the Oxford Scholastica Academy
Our two-week summer courses for ages 12-18 are designed to help you explore a subject you are passionate about, through masterclasses, intensive practical challenges and our outstanding tutors. You’ll discover your potential future university course and career while getting a taste of student life in Oxford.