To many people, “mentorship” sounds like an old-fashioned idea. In the past, it was common to talk about one’s teacher or coach being a mentor – a source of wisdom and guidance. Mentorship was part of a world where people valued loyalty and human relationships. In today’s highly changeable world, mentorship is harder to get. A lot of people have no idea how to find a mentor, let alone what a mentor even does. But for those students who are fortunate enough to have one, the difference should not be underestimated. Mentors are especially valuable for students who have ambitions of going to boarding school.
Boarding school is completely different from “school” as most students understand it. This is difficult to appreciate unless one has actual experience with boarding schools, but everything in boarding school from the academic rigor to the social dynamics to the emphasis on non-academic skills will come as a surprise to the unprepared. Ideally, a boarding school applicant will spend several years getting ready for such a new environment, yet most people only become aware of the challenges when they are writing their application essays, which is far too late. On the other hand, those who find a mentor well in advance can put themselves at a distinct advantage.
There is perhaps a simple reason why mentorship is such an effective preparation for boarding school, and it is because boarding school education seeks precisely to imitate mentorship. So it makes perfect sense to prepare for boarding school by getting immersed in (and enjoying the benefits of) the same teaching method. As explained here, mentorship offers things that traditional schooling cannot.
The first thing to appreciate is that the academic difficulty of a top boarding school is far beyond the pale of anything that most students have seen in Hong Kong. There is more science, more math, more literature, history, and foreign language material than any school here will cover. So if a student goes to boarding school but sticks to an old way of doing things, the result will be a disaster. But a good mentor can help a student to study ahead so that the transition into boarding school will be less stressful. A good mentor should introduce new areas of interest while encouraging deeper understanding of existing knowledge. The scope of this undertaking is difficult to grasp without a competent guide.
Another important challenge for students heading to boarding school is to adapt to new methods of learning. For example, given the increased workload in boarding school, efficiency becomes a most indispensable skill. A good mentor can help students to master efficiency by reinforcing healthy studying methods, pointing out what works or does not work for each individual. In the process, students learn how to use knowledge more expansively; they come to grasp fundamental principles that apply across disciplines to make the same studying pay off for multiple subjects.
Every student approaches boarding school from a different starting point and at a different pace, so individualized attention is crucial. With mentorship, one can get individualized attention with a high level of expertise for a relatively long time period. When it finally comes time to apply to boarding school, exceptional preparation begets exceptional results. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you can plan ahead with a mentor, and you also will be one of the prepared.
Patrick is a graduate of Phillips Academy (Andover), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, and University College London (UCL). He has helped many students apply to top-level boarding schools and universities in the United States.
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