1 in 3 young people will grow up without a mentor. The fact seems trivial, unimportant. Many of us grew up without one. We were left to our own devices to make life-altering decisions, such as what classes should we take, what colleges should we go to or what friends should we choose. However, at the heart of this large gap is a massive group of students without someone to help guide them through their academic career and social lives. Without a mentor—an experienced and trusted advisor—students miss out on the opportunity to improve themselves, their academic career and the trajectory of their lives.
“The Effects of Developmental Mentoring on Connectedness and Academic Achievement,” states, “Many youth are becoming more isolated from the larger community of consistent and supportive relationships that are so pivotal to social and emotional development.” The changes within our socio-cultural world have diminished students’ ability to make real-life connections with influential adults in their lives. Karcher et. al aptly notes that crucial guidance roles have been relegated to “already overburdened schools” and underfunded community resources, especially in low-income communities. With national average guidance counselor-to-student ratio of 482-to-1 and a growing student population—Fall 2019 saw the highest public school enrollment in history— it’s no wonder the student-mentor rate is so low. However despite all of this, “there is a growing need to provide youth with more meaningful relationships.” Students need guidance, outside of parental roles, to help them make good, prosocial decisions for their future.
Mentorship provides students with the tools to build a successful, informed future for themselves. According to a study performed by Tierney and Branch, students with mentors report better school attendance and feeling more competent in the work they do. However, the impact goes beyond feeling. According to “Mentoring: An Investment in Fostering Academic Achievement,” mentored students are 52% more likely to stay in school and complete homework assignments. A study performed by Thompson & Kelly-Vance titled, “The Impact of Mentoring on Academic Achievement of At-Risk Youth” found that the students with mentors performed better on reading and math assessments than their non-mentored counterparts despite their mentorship containing no specific emphasis on academic improvement. Perhaps mentorship allows students to be seen and heard, giving them a sense of agency. Perhaps the newfound agency pushes them to strive for better grades in school. While it is impossible to know exactly what pushes students academically, something about mentorship works and the numbers prove it.
Benefits of Mentorship Outside of Academics
Beyond academics, mentored individuals are 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions (according to Mentor). “How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence” performed a meta-analysis across 73 different studies and found that mentoring can not only improve academic results but also assist in the development of mentees’ social, emotional, and behavioral well-being. “Mentoring: An Investment in Fostering Academic Achievement” cites a study that found that the impact of mentorship can also positively impact the student’s relationship with teachers and peers as well. “The Mentoring Effect,” says that mentored students have higher self-esteem and self-confidence. Mentored students say their mentors hold them accountable and provide consistent help. Mentoring that focuses on emotional support alone produces astounding results for mentees. From simple conversations, these students feel confident enough to make positive life changes.
Mentorship should not cease in high school, however. “The Role of Mentoring in College Access and Success” cites many examples of the benefits of mentorship in college as well. For example,
“Undergraduates who receive out-of-class mentoring from faculty demonstrated increased academic achievement, while mentored first-year students are significantly more likely to return to college for a second year.” Another study cited proved that both undergraduate and graduate students stated that mentorship helped them develop professional skills necessary outside the classroom. What’s more, mentors often connect their students with their own professional network and provide realistic insights about their mentees’ career fields that a textbook cannot. Even Harvard recognizes the importance and benefit of a mentor.
Mentoring can also be equally as effective in areas where students are, in some form, a minority. For example, Dennehy and Dasgupta conducted an experiment where they provided female engineering majors with a female engineering mentor. They specifically wanted to focus on women in STEM as they recognize that those women would be in the minority in their classes. At the end of their experiment, they found that women with a mentor were more likely to persevere and feel high levels of self-efficacy as opposed to both non-mentored women and men. The mentored women had greater rates of retention because their mentors created a space where they felt included and connected to the engineering community.
The proven impact of mentorship makes the 1 in 3 young people statistic even more upsetting. Particularly low-income and at-risk students stand a chance to improve themselves and their lives. 16 million young people at this moment do not have access to a person who can help them feel heard, confident, and capable. Let’s strive for better, for ourselves and our communities as we continue to advocate for mentorships programs or, maybe, become mentors ourselves!