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What is a Mentor?

Last updated October 30, 2023

Mentorship is more than a buzzword; it’s a meaningful connection that can guide you in your journey toward personal and professional growth. We’ll dive into the importance of mentorship, how to find the right mentor, and why fostering these relationships can be pivotal for your success!

What is a Mentor?

Imagine having a compass that not only guides you through uncharted territory but stays with you on your journey, helping you navigate the twists and turns along the way - that's the role of a mentor. Whether you are in high school, about to enter college, or taking your first steps into the professional world, a mentor can provide invaluable insights and support.

Mentorship often begins in academic settings, where educators become mentors, guiding you through challenges and fostering your passions. Building relationships with your teachers and professors can lead to references and recommendations, creating a valuable network that can open doors to exciting opportunities in the future. Here are ways mentors can help you through different stages of life:

High School

In high school, mentors often show up in the form of teachers, counselors, or older students who have walked the path you're on. These mentors get to know you over several years, witnessing your growth, interests, and aspirations. They encourage you to reach for the stars and become your guiding light through the academic maze. Building strong, lasting relationships in high school can set the stage for long-term mentorship. These mentors can provide not just guidance but also references and recommendations when the time comes to apply for college.


As you transition to college, mentorship takes on a new dimension. Professors and advisors become vital mentors, guiding you through higher education. They've known you for multiple years, and have watched you evolve academically and personally. This extended relationship allows them to offer insights and advice tailored to your journey. They help you set academic and career goals, navigate challenging courses, and explore opportunities you might have overlooked. Moreover, they become champions of your potential, writing letters of recommendation that open doors to internships, scholarships, and graduate programs.

Post-College and Beyond

As you transition into your professional journey, seasoned professionals or supervisors take on the role of mentors, drawing from their own experiences to guide your career choices. Unlike in high school or college, this stage of mentorship is often open-ended, extending for as long as you and your mentor find it valuable. Mentors help you avoid common career pitfalls, share insights into what’s happening in your field, and introduce you to valuable networking opportunities. They become your trusted advisors, supporting your growth and development in the ever-evolving professional landscape.

What’s the Difference Between Mentorship, Coaching, and Therapy?

While they may seem similar to one another, it’s important to know the differences between mentorship, coaching, and therapy. These are all important resources for you, but knowing what you need - and being able to ask for exactly what you need from someone - is key to finding the right support.

Coaching focuses on skill development and performance improvement, often in a specific area. Coaches provide structured guidance and clear plans to reach specific goals, helping you reach your full potential. Therapy, on the other hand, is centered around addressing your psychological well-being. Therapists are trained to help you navigate emotional challenges, mental health issues, and personal issues. They offer a safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings, providing tools and coping mechanisms to enhance your mental and emotional health.

Mentorship is like having a knowledgeable friend who gives you guidance based on their own experiences, helping you in both personal and professional aspects of life. Mentors provide a broader perspective and help you make informed decisions, both personally and professionally.

Two women gardening outside, engaged in conversation - What is a Mentor?

How to Find a Mentor

Identify Your Goals

Make a list of what you want from mentorship—for example, career advice, skill development, or personal growth. At the heart of successful mentorship lies a clear sense of purpose, and identifying your goals will guide you toward the ideal mentor. Are you seeking guidance to transition smoothly from high school to college? Are you interested in learning more about a particular industry? Or do you want to develop specific skills that can set you apart? Clarifying these goals up front helps you define the type of mentor you need.

Seek Common Ground

Once you've outlined your goals, the next step is finding a mentor who aligns with your aspirations. But where should you start on this journey? The truth is, there are caring adults all around you who can offer guidance and support. Mentors can be anyone, including teachers, relatives, family friends, local business leaders, coaches, and more. Seek people whose experiences and achievements align with your goals and aspirations. For example, if you're interested in a specific industry, a mentor with expertise in your chosen field can provide hands-on guidance. On the other hand, if you're looking to build a strong network, a mentor with many industry connections might be what you’re looking for.

Attend Networking Events

Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars to meet potential mentors in person. If your school is having a career day, use that as an opportunity to meet new people who have jobs you’re interested in. Take advantage of digital resources and platforms like LinkedIn which can help you discover mentors in your industry and connect virtually. Remember, expanding your network is more than collecting business cards; it's about forming meaningful connections. When seeking a mentor, consider programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which matches young people with mentors who share their passions. These programs offer a personalized that matches what you want to achieve.

Initiate the Conversation

Once you've identified potential mentors, reach out respectfully, expressing your interest in working with them, and how you feel they might assist with your goals and aspirations. When contacting a potential mentor, express your interest in their achievements and explain how their expertise aligns with your goals. Highlight the specific areas you hope to learn from them or the connections you believe their mentorship can help you establish. Being specific not only shows your genuine interest but also assures the mentor that your engagement will be meaningful and purposeful. Mentors often feel gratified when they see the chance to really help their mentee on their journey. Be open and curious! Approach mentorship with an open mind, embrace their insights, and learn from their experiences, while allowing them to learn from you.

Keeping in Touch with Your Mentor

As life evolves, so do relationships. After you've graduated, moved, or lost touch, staying connected with mentors is crucial. Regularly stay in touch, share how you're doing, and show your appreciation to keep the mentor-mentee relationship strong. Mentors often take pride in your accomplishments because it reflects the time and effort they've put into helping you grow.

Mentors can guide you in your path to success and empower you to reach your full potential! To learn more, check out our video series "The Way: Career Stories to Find Your Way" to hear personal journeys and explore career pathways.

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