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Peer Mentoring in HE

A very low to low cost intervention, with limited evidence, which suggests it may have a positive impact.

Support provided by another student which is designed to assist mentees to make a successful transition to higher education, integrate into the student population and help enrich their higher education experience. This is done by addressing mentees’ questions and concerns about different aspects of student life from a student’s perspective and signposting to student support services

Mentors typically provide support on a one-to-one basis but sometimes work with small groups of mentees.

Mentors are sometimes ‘matched’ to mentees based on a range of shared characteristics which can include:

  • Degree subject
  • Background (e.g. socio-economic, ethnicity, gender, family experience of HE)
  • Previous school


University of St Andrew’s: Admissions widening access mentoring scheme

The University of St Andrew offers a range of peer support to current undergraduates and postgraduates, including departmental buddy and mentoring schemes. The largest of the institutional programmes is targeted at students from widening participation backgrounds, including those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, carers, care-experienced students, mature students and those living in rural areas, which is designed to aid WP students to make the transition to University, integrate into the wider student population and successfully complete their studies.

During St Andrew’s contextual admissions process, applicants who have participated in widening access activities across Scotland, including all Scottish Funding Council (SFC)-funded programmes, First Chances and The Sutton Trust, are flagged and subsequently invited to take part in the admissions widening access mentoring scheme. Those that wish to take part are matched with a student mentor who shares one or more characteristics with the applicant, such as subject of study, previous school, or previous involvement in a project or activity. Those who take part in the programme attend a welcome event where they meet their mentor face-to-face. Mentors then support their mentees throughout their transition to the University, providing a friendly point of contact and answering basic questions about all aspects of student life, including accommodation, module choices and clubs and societies. Support from the mentor continues for as long as the mentees need it, which typically ranges from one or two weeks to one semester, although some remain in contact for the entire first year. Mentees keep in contact with their mentor via email and social media platforms such as Facebook.

Approximately 55 students are supported each year at a total cost of £400 for associated direct costs plus approximately three days of staff time to support delivery. Many mentees report feeling more positive about coming to St Andrews after participating in the mentoring scheme and most agree that mentors provide useful and valuable guidance.

Find out more about peer support at St Andrews here:

For further information on contextual admissions at St Andrews see: 

For information about First Chances see:

For more information about The Sutton Trust see:


Target Audiences

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

  • First year undergraduates
  • Students identified as underperforming
  • Students with little or no experience of higher education (e.g. first in family to attend)
  • Students at risk of dropping out of higher education


  • Improved progression to year two of study
  • Improved retention and completion rates
  • Improved attainment while in higher education

How effective is it?

Most of the evidence reviewed suggests the intervention has a positive impact on outcomes, although some studies suggest no impact.

The sole level 3 study found no impact on retention, but a positive impact on attainment for those who met their peer mentor frequently (one a month or more). Other evidence suggests that peer mentoring is effective for ensuring students develop a sense of belonging to a university, allaying fears students might have about attending higher education, and ensuring students are supported emotionally as well as academically. These factors are likely to affect student retention. There is also evidence that mentors help to improve mentee’s skills and confidence.


What are the costs?

No information is provided on the cost of this intervention in the studies reviewed. However, information contained in the studies suggest that this is a very low to low cost intervention as many student mentors are volunteers. This may mean a significant investment of volunteer time.

How good is the current evidence?

The strength of evidence on the impact of this intervention is limited.

Thirteen individual studies were reviewed, with five at level 2 and one at level 3. No systematic or meta-reviews of the evidence on the impact of peer mentoring.

How relevant is the evidence?

Most of the evidence comes from the United States; the sole level 3 study was conducted in Canada.

There is some evidence from the UK, with one study from Scotland and one involving two UK universities (it is not clear whether either are located in Scotland).

Although there some similarities between the American and Scottish systems in terms of the large volume of students that study higher education in colleges, there are key differences in the way that higher education is funded. As a student’s ability to meet the cost of higher education is likely to impact on a student’s propensity to remain in HE, this key difference effects the transferability and applicability of the findings to a Scottish context.

Things to consider

There is some evidence (including from the level 3 study) that those who meet with their mentor more frequently are more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction with peer mentoring and have higher attainment. This does not appear to be due to higher levels of motivation among those who participated more frequently. One of the studies examined the dosage effect on retention and found that while peer mentoring appears to have a positive effect on retention, there is no evidence that more interactions between a mentor and a mentee further improved retention.

The level 3 study concluded that peer mentoring worked particularly well for students with high anxiety.

Many of the mentoring programmes reviewed here are focused on whole year groups (typically first year undergraduates) and not specific target groups (e.g. those who are the target of fair access activities).

A number of the mentoring programmes are integrated with other interventions, including financial aid. What is not clear from the evidence is the relative impact of the interventions and how they interact in order to improve retention, progression and/or attainment.

Further Research Recommended

Level 3 evaluation to understand the impact of mentoring on student retention and attainment.

Research to understand the relative impact of mentoring and other interventions when mentoring is embedded as part of a wider programme of support.

Research to understand the impact of mentoring on different sub-groups.

Research to establish whether there is a correlation between the number of interactions between a mentor and mentee and retention. If there is no correlation, it will be important to understand which aspects of the mentoring process are most effective and are most likely to result in improved retention.

Further Information

For a level 3 study of peer mentoring see Rodger and Tremblay’s (2003) The effects of a peer mentoring program on academic success among first year university students.

For an overview of how peer mentoring schemes have been implemented in several UK universities, see this report published by Aston University.


Level 3

Rodger, S. and Tremblay, P. F. (2003). ‘The effects of a peer mentoring program on academic success among first year university students’. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education Vol. 33(3), pp. 1–18.

Level 2

Collings, R., Swanson, V. and Watkins, R. (2014). ‘The impact of peer mentoring on levels of student wellbeing, integration and retention: a controlled comparative evaluation of residential students in UK higher education’. Higher Education Vol. 68(6), pp. 927-942

Fox, A. M. and Stevenson, L. (2006). ‘Exploring the effectiveness of peer mentoring in higher education’. Accounting Education: An International Journal Vol. 15(2), pp. 189–202.

Hu, S. and Ma, Y. (2010). ‘Mentoring and student persistence in college: A study of the Washington State Achievers Program’. Innovative Higher Education Vol. 35(5), pp.329-341.

Pagan, R. and Edwards-Wilson, R. (2003). ‘A mentoring program for remedial students’. Journal of College Student Retention Vol. 4(3), pp. 207–226.

Yomtov, D., Plunkett, S.W., Efrat, R. and Marin, A.G. (2017). ‘Can peer mentors improve first-year experiences of university students?’ Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice Vol. 19(1), pp. 25-44.

Level 1

Bunting, B., Dye, B., Pinnegar, S., and Robinson, K. (2012). ‘Understanding the dynamics of peer mentor learning: A narrative study’. Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition Vol. 24(1), pp. 61–78.

Chahal, D. (2015) ‘The student rover mentor program: inclusion, satisfaction and perceived impact’. Journal of Academic Language & Learning Vol. 9(2) pp A46 – A61

Grant-Vallone, E.J. and Ensher, E.A. (2000). ‘Effects of peer mentoring on types of mentor support, program satisfaction and graduate student stress: A dyadic perspective’. Journal of College and Student Development Vol. 41 (6), pp. 637 – 642

Hall, R., & Jaugietis, Z. (2011). ‘Developing peer mentoring through evaluation’. Innovative Higher Education Vol. 36(1), pp. 41–52.

Smith, J. L. (2017). ‘Innovating for student success: the University Leadership Network (ULN) and Tiered Undergraduate Peer Mentor Model’. Metropolitan Universities Vol.28 (3), p.80-101

Tout, D., Pancini, G. and McCormack, R. (2014). ‘Using mobile peer mentors for student engagement: Student Rovers in the Learning Commons’. Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 33(3), pp.595–609.

Ward, E. G., Thomas, E. E. and Disch, W. B. (2014). ‘Mentor service themes emergent in a holistic, undergraduate peer-mentoring experience’. Journal of College Student Development Vol.55 (6), pp.563-579