What is impactful mentoring? Widening access for higher education

Two The Access Project students on a trip to Oxford University

At The Access Project, we pride ourselves on delivering impactful, individualised mentoring, working in partnership with schools to deliver a programme that builds students’ university readiness. With 15 years of experience, we believe strongly in the power of expert mentoring to change young peoples’ lives for the better. 

In this new blog series, we’re exploring the impact of our mentoring programme. Over the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at our work with young people, what impact we can see from our programmes, and hear directly from our students about their experience of The Access Project. 

What is effective mentoring?

Mentoring can be an impactful, effective and inspiring intervention to improve the lives of young people from under-resourced backgrounds, helping them to achieve their ambitions and improve social, emotional and economic outcomes. Charities and universities across the country have seen the impact of mentoring across a diversity of programmes (TASO 2023).

Mentoring for widening access to higher education can also introduce young people to new personal and professional networks to improve their knowledge, skills and grow their social and cultural capital (Robinson and Salvestrini 2020). This type of intervention is crucial for students from under-resourced backgrounds who often miss out on attending the most prestigious higher education institutions and therefore do not benefit from the social mobility that can result (Sutton Trust 2021).

Research shows that mentoring is most effective when mentors and mentees build a trusting relationship through open communication. When mentees open up about their concerns, mentors can tackle challenges and tailor their mentoring to the individual. Additionally, mentoring programmes have a greater impact when mentors are well-trained, supported and follow a structured programme with a specific focus. Through training and support, expert mentors demonstrate confidence and can provide excellent information, advice and guidance, boosting mentee trust in the process and creating a positive feedback loop.

Mentoring programmes are sometimes challenging to evaluate, particularly when they are accompanied by other interventions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring. However, evidence suggests that expert mentoring can help clear the road ahead and brighten the future for aspirational and ambitious young people.

Mentoring at The Access Project

In our next blog post, we will be discussing how we approach mentoring at The Access Project, drawing on 15 years of experience in helping young people to access selective universities and make their dreams a reality.

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TASO. 2023a. Evaluating multi-intervention outreach and mentoring programmes. TASO. 

Robinson, D. & Salvestrini, V. (2020). The impact of interventions for widening access to education. A review of the evidence. Education Policy Institute for the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO). 

Sutton Trust. 2021. Universities and Social Mobility: Summary Report. Sutton Trust.