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The most rewarding relationship during college is with your mentor

Mentors make college more rewarding. Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Friends are forever, but the most rewarding relationships we have during our college years are with faculty and staff who act as mentors, a new poll has found.

Graduates who had seven to 10 significant relationships like these were found to be three times as likely to describe their college experience as “very rewarding” than those with no such relationships, according to the Elon University Poll and the Center for Engaged Learning. Peer relationships were found to produce similar effects.

It’s the first year of college that exerts the biggest influence. Close to two-thirds met their most influential mentors during their first year of college.

Quality matters more than quantity, too. Even one or two relationships with staff members or faculty was enough to make nearly half (46 percent) report college as “very rewarding”. Less than half (22 percent) of those without such relationships reported such experience.

Faculty or staff who mattered were deemed to have “made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person and encouraged them to pursue their dreams,” as described by the authors in The Conversation.

More than 4,000 US college graduates with bachelor’s degrees, representing a nationally representative sample, took part in the poll.

Beyond these poll findings, we see the effects of fruitful mentor-mentee relationships formed in colleges in success stories like Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg. One of the most powerful women in business today, Sandberg describes her former college professor Larry Summers at Harvard as her first and “most important” mentor in various interviews. Summers, who later became US Treasury Secretary, is credited for launching Sandberg’s career.

Sandberg said in an HBR interview that being mentored by Summers “helped tremendously. I’ve had a lot of mentors over the course of my career, Larry being one of the absolutely most important. And certainly the first.” She said she could not have gotten her opportunities at the World Bank and Treasury Department without him.

Sandberg’s story and the Elon poll findings add to the vast amount of research evidence that proves how valuable mentorship can be. In addition to improving students’ academic performance, mentors also contribute to a reduction in depressive symptoms and absenteeism as well as improve students’ communication with their parents.

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