Finding an effective mentor while in college to help you pave the path forward in your career can be a key ingredient in your success. Professionally and academically, it can be the difference between meeting expectations and exceeding them. But for online students, it's often a question of how to find a mentor given the distance between you, your classmates, and your teachers. Yet just because you're not attending a class in person doesn't mean that you don't have ample opportunities to find the guidance you seek.
How to Find a Mentor as an Online Student
It's true that finding the right person from whom you can seek advice, insights and inspiration can be difficult as an online student, given that you don't have the ability to stay after class or mingle on campus to interact with students and teachers face to face. Fortunately, you DO have options for how to find a mentor, starting with these ideas:
- Ask your teachers. First and foremost, you should take advantage of the resources you have. Even as an online student, you your professors can be a great resource, either in being effective mentors themselves or helping you connect with colleagues or others in their field who can fulfill that role.
- Seek an internship: Securing an internship is a fantastic way to get some career experience and meet people who are working in your desired field.
- Reach out and network. Email your classmates, professors, and others you meet while working toward your degree. That's not the only way to reach out to prospective mentors, though — be willing to make a phone call or even do something as simple as connect with people on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is also a potential avenue for discovering alumni events for your school, where you can meet people who have been in your position. You likely also can connect with alumni through your school. Taking the initiative is an important part of establishing relationships that can help you learn more about your field.
- Join professional organizations. Getting involved with professional organizations in your field can help you meet people who are experienced and connected. Additionally, the organizational structure can be beneficial in helping you find opportunities, and your membership may help you stand out.
What to Expect From a Mentor
While a mentor can be an invaluable resource as a student and as you begin and progress through your career, it's important to understand the boundaries of the relationship after you've successfully figured out how to find a mentor. Bear in mind that they have obligations and that you will have to work around their schedule to meet up or get advice. Establish how you will communicate with your mentor and how often, and confirm that you can reach out if you have questions.
Be prepared to help your mentor, too — after all, some of the most productive professional relationships are those where both parties can help each other. Even if you can't help your mentor with their job, you may be able to help them in other ways, such as providing feedback on an idea or connecting them with one of your own contacts. Regardless, it's important to give back and show your appreciation when you can.
Most importantly, keep your expectations in check. Just because someone takes you under their wing doesn't mean that a job or an internship will be offered to you. Even so, professional guidance can be a big part of establishing yourself in your field.
Learn more about how to get ahead: Read our Career Development blog.