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Imagine, you’re sitting in an undergraduate class and your professor starts returning graded papers. You anxiously turn to the final page to see how you did. Under a paragraph of comments you see a grade that disappoints you; “Ugh!”

Now, let’s go back in time to when you were working on the paper. Your parents offered to read your work, but you declined. Your friend said they would give you feedback on your introduction, but you said no thanks. Your professor offered to read a first draft, but you didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Maybe you thought to yourself, “I don’t need help, I’ll figure it out on my own.”

While teaching many undergraduate students, I saw the double-edged sword of students trying to figure things out on their own. On the one hand, this mentality is seen to be respectable, a sign of independence and perseverance. On the other hand, it is a mentality that can prevent students from taking advantage of opportunities to advance their skills and, most importantly, their grades.

The difference between help and mentorship

As an undergraduate, you’ll have a lot to figure out. The academic expectations you’ll face will be vastly different than high school. What you need to know is that seeking mentorship and the appropriate guidance to get a better grasp of your professors’ expectations is not a sign of weakness or ineptitude, it’s in your best interest.

If you’re seeking to improve your academic skills, you need to get beyond the idea that asking for feedback or guidance is somehow a sign of incompetence; it’s not. Asking for help in a remedial sense is completely different than seeking guidance in a constructive way. Finding the proper mentorship means that you’re interested in getting better, refining your skills, and understanding the methods that will make you successful in your current and future work—it does not mean that you are unable to meet university expectations.  Seeking help after you’ve recognized a problem is a reactive measure. This is very different than getting informed guidance in a proactive fashion.

Guidance and mentorship illuminates the path in front of you

Wouldn’t it be great to understand the exact expectations of your professor before you hand in your work?

Don’t let the pride of thinking you must figure everything out on your own prevent you from learning valuable lessons before you’re graded. Seek out feedback from resources that are readily available to you. Office hours, your university’s writing centre, or even people within your personal network can offer you constructive commentary to get you going in the right direction.

When someone who actually knows how to do well in university provides you with guidance that can help you advance your skills, it’s similar to someone providing you with a GPS system for a long road trip to somewhere you have never been. The GPS knows the road ahead and it knows how to guide you in a way that avoids dangerous shortcuts or long and redundant detours. Essentially, it empowers you to successfully get to your end goal in an informed way. This is similar to what mentorship can do for you.

Who should you seek guidance from?

After giving the same advice to many students, some have returned to tell me that the person they sought out for guidance was not very helpful. Unfortunately, this happens frequently. However, this shouldn’t deter you. If a professor, teaching assistant, or another mentor views helping you as a burden on their time, then find someone else who actually wants to help.

Also, exercise care in who you choose to ask about your work and your future. Just because someone has some experience with university or in the professional field you want to enter, it does not make them an expert. Be diligent and ask questions to ensure that the person from who you are seeking mentorship possesses the values and experience that you wish to learn from.

Finally …

Remember that the mindset of “I’ll do it on my own” can be both positive and negative. While it’s great for a student to be driven by a desire to independently find methods to success, there is a point where not seeking guidance is a hindrance to progress. From my experience, the best students are thirsty to learn from the experience of others. If you’d like to learn about how BridgesEDU can provide you with the proper mentorship for success in university, please feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you.