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Mentoring. Advising: The Same? Or Different?

Today’s post is about mentorship and advising. And what, if anything, is the difference between them. If you  know me well, I don't need to tell you, but for those who do not, I am the academic mentor to the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. I love my role with this Division Three team. Beyond attending home games to cheer on the team (and tweeting like a nut during away games that I watch on livestream), my role includes meeting with students for a variety of reasons, all academic in nature. In some cases, I help students who are in academic difficulty. We talk about study skills and what is troubling them in certain classes. I offer them suggestions on how to approach professors for help, which they are often very nervous to do.

I have also found that many of them are bewildered by the financial systems and offices at our college, and so I often find myself navigating those offices to find out basic information for them, and find out to whom I should send them for answers if I don’t know them myself. I often advocate for them on issues that seem unfair, as I did when we found out that there was a policy at the college to put a “hold” on making them unable to register for classes because of overdue bills. When I found out the amount of stress and anxiety this was causing students who were already struggling academically, I requested that this be a discussion topic at a faculty meeting and the policy was changed for the next academic semester.

I thought today about my role as the mentor to the team and how I advise students. As an academic advisor, I often help students figure out courses of study. We sometimes also talk about career choices, though there is often not a lot of time for that, and students are not often not sure about what they want to do, anyway, and so we end up talking about courses for the future, as well.

So, what is the difference between mentoring and advising? (and then there is even "cognitive coaching" see this piece by José Antontio Bowen, but that's for another day).

Because I sense that there is a difference.

When I think about the students I have advised and mentored, in general I would say that that I know more about those who I am mentoring. I share more about myself, and my own struggles, compared to those who are my academic advisees. That is not to say I do not have strong relationships with my advisees. I do.

But the nature of the relationship is different. My football team players confide in me about things that they might not want their academic advisors to know about. They don’t want the professors who are teaching them (who are also often their advisors) to know how they struggle, or why they do. They feel that their difficulties could be perceived by their academic advisors, or professors, as a sign that they do not really belong in college. Thus, they are reluctant to talk to their advisors for fear that their predicament will reinforce the incorrect perceptions that they should not be in college anyway.

From my perspective, as a mentor, I am more like a coach who finds ways to support a player to do his or her job better. But my field is academic. But I still feel like what I do as a mentor is different than what I do as an advisor.

What do you think? And students I would LOVE to hear from you! What do you think of mentor versus the advisor? Is it the same thing, or are there differences? Does it matter to you what they are called?

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2 thoughts on “Mentoring. Advising: The Same? Or Different?

  1. Breon

    I feel like mentors and advisors can be interchangeable at times due to how one holds up their relationship with whomever that person is. My first college professor and I had a great relationship and we talked about everything, more like the relationship you have with your players. I do feel like a mentor is more personal though. Like someone who helps you work towards your goal, keep you on track or just some foot steps you can follow for your own future. While your advisor is just trying to get you through school for the most part. Yes they have to understand you personally also but it's more about you and who you are academically.

    1. Gretchen McKay

      I'm really curious about the mentorship versus academic advising relationship. Next week I will be at a meeting for four days where we will talk about advising and making it a priority at McDaniel. But what I think we need for that project is more akin to mentoring - helping students make a plan for their future. I am also creating an online course for faculty about advising in this way - more mentoring and I think being specific about what each does is important or we get confused. I do think my mentoring of "my" players (love that you say they are "your players") is different from my advising. Very much so. I love the mentoring much more than the advising. I like getting to know each of you - it's more engaging. Any other thoughts and would love to hear them!


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