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Mentoring for Gifted Middle and High Schoolers

Gifted Education and Support

Have you ever considered a mentorship for your profoundly gifted middle or high school student? It’s during this period that many students begin to out-pace available resources in their classrooms, desire more independence, and become more mature. Mentorships are one way to help these students find their footing during this transitional period in their educational and personal development.

How can a mentor help my gifted student?

Mentors can be a great resource to help guide students into the next level of their interests and also provide support in other key areas for gifted adolescents. Here are several ways a mentor might help a gifted child:

  • Provide breadth and depth to the student’s area of interest. Mentors can introduce students to advanced topics as well as broaden the connections between one field and another.
  • Provide academic or professional career guidance. Mentors can illuminate the path from being a passionate student to a professional by providing insight into the key milestones they’ll need to hit to achieve their dream.
  • Provide a network. Sometimes, the old saying is true about how it is not always what you know, but who you know. Mentors can provide introductions to key players that may turn into volunteer or job opportunities down the road.
  • Provide support. Imposture syndrome and other sources of discouragement are hard to overcome alone, but a mentor may be able to share what helped them get through those very same obstacles and offer encouragement.
  • Provide understanding. If your mentor is also a gifted individual, chances are they remember what it is like being the youngest in class or juggling dual enrollment. Mentors may be able to relate to unique experiences of gifted students.

Of course, there are things a mentor can’t do. Especially for younger students, there are healthy boundaries to have on both sides while working with a mentor. A mentor is voluntarily taking time out of their life to guide a mentee in a particular field, skill, or goal. However, they can’t guarantee success or a job at the end of the process. A mentorship is a long-term professional relationship, with an emphasis on professional. Meetings with mentors should be goal-oriented and not stray too far into personal topics. Parents can help by providing supervision when needed for in-person meetings or reviewing correspondences to make sure the mentor’s time is being respected and that the child is getting the professional know-how that was initially agreed upon.

What is the difference between a tutor and a mentor?

Sometimes, the words tutor and mentor are used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. As gifted students begin outpacing their educational instruction, many gifted families say they want a mentor to help meet their student’s educational needs. However, providing individualized instruction on an advanced topic falls more under the umbrella of what a tutor can provide. On the other hand, mentorships are often focused on professional interests outside of any specific curriculum. Mentorships are often driven more by the student as they pursue a particular project or academic question that can’t be obtained in a regular classroom setting.

How do I find a mentor for my gifted child?

Mentors can come in many forms. A professional, professor, teacher, or university student might be able to offer a mentorship in a variety of ways. For example, they can work with the student on an original research question or project, they may provide guided readings, share volunteer or research opportunities, or merely help answer questions that gifted students have about their interests. For gifted middle school students, even an older high school student can provide insights on how they achieved their goals and what next steps might be helpful to take. While this article describes pathways to science research for students, it may also help students interested in other fields think through where they would be most likely to encounter a potential mentor.

Gifted students should know that mentorships are most successful when the student is driven, committed, and takes initiative. To begin finding a mentor, a student might make a list of any local university departments, organizations, or professional job sites that may provide insight into their chosen course of study. From there, the student might reach out directly via email or call to inquire if there is anyone available to answer a few of their questions. Better yet if there is a family friend or known adult that can help the student make introductions to the appropriate individuals. The student should be able to communicate what area they would like to explore, the questions they are hoping to answer, why they sought out that individual specifically, and their experiences thus far with the subject.

Don’t be afraid to send follow-up emails if you haven’t heard back, and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time. A lot of it is timing and luck, but you’ll never know what might be possible if you never try!

See the following articles for more insight and advice on finding a mentor for your gifted child:


Miriam Mercef

Mentors can be a valuable tool in developing healthy relationships among the gifted and the introverted gifted population.

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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