Many Honors programs offer peer mentoring programs for entering freshmen (and sometimes for transfer students) to help them acclimate to the college’s academic and social life. Freshmen sometimes struggle through their first weeks or months at college as adjust to the very different academic and social world of college. Students can feel lost on campus, the diversity of student social life pulls them in many directions, faculty can seem intimidating, and course demands may feel overwhelming. Students often feel that no one-not their advisors, their faculty, or even their parents-can offer them insights into the current realities of college life as well as other students can. Peer mentors are trusted and effective because they have been there, done that.
Peer mentoring is a common activity in Honors programs because of the emphasis in Honors on personalized education and the high value placed on student contributions to the educational experience-in class and out. In fact, at a number of institutions, the peer mentoring programs and activities pioneered in Honors have been adopted by the college as a whole.
Honors peer mentoring programs typically address, formally or informally, aspects of the college experience that lie outside (but often overlap) those academic areas where college faculty are most knowledgeable. Peer mentors are experienced students selected for their ability to share basic college information and their personal experiences and insights about college life. For new students, mentors function as models of student success who are willing to share the pitfalls they have encountered in college and the strategies they have developed to overcome them. The mentors’ positive attitudes, their ground-level insights into college life, and their personal experiences effectively map paths to success through the college territory for their slightly younger freshmen.
Some peer mentoring programs are based on one-to-one contact between a mentor and the new student; others use a mentor or two for a small group of students; and a third model has a formal class as part of the first year experience, taught by the peer mentors under the supervision of Honors faculty. A wide variety of issues are covered in each of these models. For example, mentors usually cover time-management strategies; discuss the places, times, and strategies they have found best for studying; offer insights into the ins and outs of residence hall life; and give good advice about avoiding pitfalls in their academic and social lives by sharing the shocks and confusions of their own freshman year. Honors students eagerly volunteer to be peer mentors because they are convinced of the value of their program.