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Mentoring (Access)

A moderate to very high cost intervention, with moderate evidence, which suggests it has a positive impact.

Support provided by a more experienced person that is designed to raise pupils’ aspirations and develop their confidence and motivation to progress to higher education. This may be delivered online or in person, individually or in small groups but should be sustained rather than a one-off. Mentors may be a current student or recent graduate (peer mentors), university staff or other adult volunteers.

Mentors may answer questions about higher education, provide support with study and learning skills, offer encouragement and motivation as well as acting as a role model and sharing their own experiences of higher education.


Transitions mentoring programme – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS)

Transitions is a widening participation initiative for Scottish residents living at postcodes that are identified as being within the top 20% on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) list. It aims to provide pre-entry funded training for those wishing to study the performing or production arts, to prepare students for degree-level training at conservatoire or university level through developing a wide range of personal and professional skills. Transitions seeks to help people from key Scottish postcodes who would like to study dance, drama, music, production or filmmaking and offers mentoring and funded training, and is financially supported by the Scottish Funding Council.

Mentoring has been a key component of the Transitions programme since its inception in 2013. Transitions students have a minimum of two one-hour mentoring sessions per year with a staff member from outside their discipline. These sessions focus on developing practical and interpersonal skills and reflect on their studies as well as discussing and answering questions about life outside of RCS as a young artist. In addition to staff mentoring, students also take part in a series of ‘PLP’ (personal learning planning) sessions. PLP tutors are staff members from the same discipline, and help to set clear short and long-term learning goals with the aim of working towards degree-level entry at RCS. In their year of application, Transitions students also have sessions with a current RCOS student who came through the Transitions programme and can share their experiences of the application process. All mentors are trained and follow a coaching goals orientated process.

A number of developments were made to the Transitions mentoring programme in 2018-19. Provision was altered for students attending college at HNC level and above, with group mentoring sessions held at the beginning of each term, to fit better with their college timetables. Additional 1:1 mentoring is offered where requested. Two successful mentoring schemes for certain Transition students were also piloted – group and individual mentoring was offered to Pre-Juniors Transitions students (aged 7-11) and specific mentoring focused on the audition and interview process for those students at application stage. The latter utilised undergraduate student mentors which provided bi-directional benefits to those involved.

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Target Audiences

Evaluation evidence has tested the effectiveness of the intervention on the following target audiences:

–  Low income students and students from low socio-economic groups

– Groups under-represented in higher education

– Students with experience of care

– Under-performing pupils.


– Increase in aspirations to apply to higher education

– Increase in applications to and enrolment in higher education

– Increase in applications and enrolment to more selective institutions

What are the costs?

Only two studies reviewed provide information on the cost of the mentoring programme. In both these cases the cost per pupil per year is very high (equivalent of more than £1,000). However, both these programmes incorporated additional activities such as residential activities and financial incentives. Descriptions of interventions in other studies suggest that mentoring can be delivered for a much lower cost.

How relevant is the evidence?

Most of the evidence reviewed comes from the USA or Canada. Three of the studies reviewed were from the UK, including one at level 3. None were from Scotland.

The authors of some of the studies highlight the limited transferability of findings due to the specific contexts in which interventions were tested. For example, one of the US-based interventions was tested with students living close to Ivy League colleges; the authors acknowledge the outcomes may have been different for students living further afield.

Things to consider

In most of the studies reviewed, mentoring was provided by a young person in higher education or a recent graduate. There is some evidence to suggest that mentoring works through peers assisting mentees to begin to see themselves as potential students of higher education. However, the evidence reviewed is unclear about the extent to which it is important for mentors to share characteristics and experiences with those they mentor. One study concludes that there is no evidence that same-gender interactions are important for mentoring to be effective.

Some of the mentoring programmes are integrated with other interventions. What is not clear from the evidence is the relative impact of the interventions and how they interact in order to improve progression to higher education. For example, a small-scale randomised trial in the USA targeted mentoring at young people in foster care. Mentoring was provided by young people with shared experiences of care or mental health challenges. This intervention included a four-day summer residential as well as individual peer counselling and group mentoring. The programme achieved twice the level of post-secondary participation at follow-up compared to the control group, as well as significant effects on preparation, hope, self-determination and mental health empowerment.

A level 3 UK study suggests that simpler, lighter-touch interventions may also be effective. A short inspirational talk from current students resulted in increases in self-reported likelihood of attending higher education. This was a relatively small pilot, limited to self-reported aspirations rather than realised action and there is no indication of how sustainable the increase in aspiration is.

Some studies identify good practice drawn from learning from delivering mentoring programmes. This includes:

·         Identify mentee needs and develop mentoring tailored to these. Agree clear aims with mentees and then offer targeted support to achieve them

·         Provide initial and ongoing training for mentors, including developing active listening skills

·         Mentors and mentees need to commit to meeting regularly to help develop a trusting relationship

·         Schools also need to show their commitment to mentoring by supporting mentor / mentee meetings.

See also Toolkit entries on peer mentoring and staff mentoring provided to students whilst in higher education.

Further Research Recommended

More level 3 evaluation studies, particularly in the UK and Scottish context that isolate the specific impact of mentoring and investigate the effects of dosage and intervention design.

Further Information

See Sanders et. al (2013) Inspiration – A pilot study of mentoring in schools for a UK-based example of a quick and simple experimental design to test the impact of student talks.

A review of the role of mentoring in college access and success (USA context) by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (2011) has some useful practice guidance.


Level 3 

Avery, C. (2010). The effects of college counseling on high-achieving, low-income students (No. w16359). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Carrell, S.E. and Sacerdote, B. (2013). Late interventions matter too: The case of college coaching New Hampshire (No. w19031). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Geenen, S. Powers, L.E. Phillips, L.A. Nelson, M. McKenna, J. Winges-Yanez, N. Blanchette, L. Croskey, A. Dalton, L.D. Salazar, A. and Swank, P.  (2015). ‘Better Futures: A randomized field test of a model for supporting young people in foster care with mental health challenges to participate in higher education’. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 42(2) pp.150-171.

Oreopoulos, P. Brown, R.S. and Lavecchia, A.M. (2017). ‘Pathways to education: An integrated approach to helping at-risk high school students’. Journal of Political Economy, 125(4) pp.947-984.

Sanders, M. Kristal, A. Sabri, F. and Tupper, A. (2013). Aspiration & Inspiration: A pilot study of mentoring in schools. Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

Level 2

Curtis, D.D. Drummond, A. Halsey, J. and Lawson, M.J. (2012). Peer-mentoring of students in rural and low-socioeconomic status schools: Increasing aspirations for higher education. Adelaide, Australia: National Centre for Vocational Education Research Ltd.

James, A.I. (2014). ‘Cross-age mentoring to support A-Level pupils’ transition into higher education and undergraduate students’ employability’. Psychology Teaching Review, 20(2) pp.79-94.

Level 1 

Bergerson, A.A. and Petersen, K.K. (2009). ‘CARES: Mentoring through university outreach’. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 13(1) pp.45-66.

Chiappinelli, K.B. Moss, B.L. Lenz, D.S. Tonge, N.A. Joyce, A. Holt, G.E. Holt, L.E. and Woolsey, T.A. (2016). ‘Evaluation to improve a high school summer science outreach program’. Journal of microbiology & biology education, 17(2) p.225.

Harwood, V. O’Shea, S. Clapham, K.F. Wright, J. Kervin, L. Humphry, N. McMahon, S. Hogan, M. and Bodkin-Andrews, G. (2013). Evaluation of the AIME outreach program Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia.

Roberts, A. and Weston, K. (2011). Making a difference through mentoring: An evaluation of the impact of mentoring practices undertaken through the Aimhigher programme in Hertfordshire schools. University of Hertfordshire, School of Education.

Tierney, W.G. and Garcia, L. D. (2014). Getting In: Increasing access to college via mentoring- findings from 10 years of a high Sshool mentoring program. Pullias Center for Higher Education, University of Southern California.