By Joey, IvyWise Tutor
Given how high stakes the race for admission to top schools feels nowadays, with a surfeit of qualified applicants often selected on the unique attributes they’ll bring to a university’s student body, high schoolers are always looking for ways that can help them stand out from the crowd. This is where independent projects come in! There has been an explosion of interest these past few years in pursuing a project of a student’s own accord outside of school, demonstrating both their passion for a topic and their commitment to advancing their own learning.
But most students have many interests—which ones are most worth pursuing via an extended project they could highlight in their college applications? How they can be sure to get the most out of the time and energy the project will take? And how can they get helpful feedback on work that might be beyond the expertise of their teachers or parents?
These questions are where project mentorship comes in.
What Is Project Mentorship?
Put simply, project mentorship is a source of guidance and accountability for students pursuing independent work. A great project mentor will have two main qualifications: a specialized skillset and an ability to work closely one on one with students. Both are crucial! An expert in a field who has no sense of how to communicate what they know or how to provide constructive feedback will leave a student floundering, while a well-meaning mentor who doesn’t understand the topic at hand will be unable to help a student realize their full potential.
A great project mentor, in contrast, will provide the structure needed to keep a student moving towards their goal while ensuring that the work at hand enriches their long-term educational attainment.
Why Is Project Mentorship Valuable?
An independent project is a chance for a student who is already proving the breadth of their knowledge (with stellar grades, AP exam scores, and so on) to demonstrate its depth as well. Accordingly, the list of possible projects is as long as students’ interests are varied! They could code a computer game, draft a sitcom pilot, model a financial market, or write a review of the scientific literature on malaria-prevention efforts with an eye toward bettering global health outcomes.
Although a student might reach out to a possible mentor with such an idea in mind already (amazing!), it’s often the case that they’re unsure where to begin when the world is their oyster. Project mentorship is incredibly valuable at this stage in the process, helping turn motivation to action and an abstract goal into a tangible timeline.
IvyWise tutors excel at project mentorship because we love bringing together our unique intellectual pursuits with our vast pedagogical know-how. Personally speaking, it’s not often I get to tutor a student in creative writing (the topic of my Master’s degree and a great love of mine) because it’s not often high school students pursue creative writing academically.
Mentoring a student’s independent creative writing project, meanwhile, is something I’ve found to be deeply enriching for both of us! Not only do they get to push themselves to think in ways beyond what traditional essays permit (which always in turn strengthens their essay-writing skills), but they also get the opportunity to earn awards and recognition that will show prospective colleges what they have achieved on their own for the love of it.
And that’s just one example! Project mentorship can help any student turn a nascent interest into a unique passion while crucially holding them accountable so that they are encouraged to bring their work to a completed state.
Do I Need a Mentor? Could You Just Look Over My Work?
As outlined above, the value of an independent project lies both in the high-quality end product and the learning that takes place along the way. Working with a mentor from the outset gets the most out of their expertise, as they draw on their unique knowledge and perspective to guide the student along the path to producing excellent work they’ll be proud of. The rapport built along the way between mentor and mentee will similarly enrich the learning process and help impart lasting skills the student can draw on for years to come.
This is in sharp contrast to proofreading finished writing, skimming completed code, or offering minor edits on already-realized research. By this point in the process, most opportunities for deeper learning have already passed, and the quality level of the work is by and large locked in. If there are significant issues with how the project was done, small changes won’t help much—and it can be devastating to see a student come to recognize that their hard work amounted to less than what would have otherwise been possible.
Additionally, it can simply be difficult for the individual looking over the work for the first time at that late point to know what kind of feedback the student would most benefit from hearing or how most effectively they can communicate it.
Lastly, with all the many responsibilities the average high school student is juggling these days, it can be difficult for them to even bring a project to the finish line on their own! In the admissions process, the worth of an abandoned idea is an ocean away from the value of a realized enterprise. Having a mentor around to assist you with achieving deadlines can make all the difference!
How Can I Get Started?
Whether you have a project in mind (or underway) already, or you aren’t even sure which areas of interest speak most to you, we’re here to help. IvyWise tutors have a wide array of specialties and are eager to help you craft the project that’s right for where you are and where you see yourself going.
And of course, our expert admissions counselors are here as well to maximize the impact the end result will have on your college application. It’s never too early to take control of your own learning!