Supporting College Readiness Through Mentoring in New York City: iMentor

Daniel Voloch is managing director of program design at iMentor.

The mission of iMentor, founded in 1999, is to build mentoring relationships that empower students in low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions. Over the past fourteen years, iMentor has developed a new mentoring model that aims to make mentoring a more reliable and effective intervention in helping students create pathways to college completion. In the process, we learned how to engage thousands of adults as mentors; developed a whole-school model that matches every student in a school with a mentor; and ensured that mentors are effective at supporting specific student outcomes such as developing college knowledge and noncognitive skills. This year, iMentor is serving 3,400 mentor-mentee pairs in New York City and 2,000 more nationwide. Since 1999, 11,000 students have been paired with mentors.

Strong Mentor/Mentee Relationships to Support College Readiness

The heart of the iMentor program is the one-to-one mentoring relationships that develop over the length of three-year (eleventh grade through first year of college) or four-year (ninth through twelfth grade) matches. Throughout the match, students and their mentors engage with our research-based curriculum via weekly emails and monthly in-person meetings. This means that our mentors work with their mentees every week from high school through college, providing a level of individualized coaching that is rarely available through traditional student support models.* While our ultimate outcome is college completion, iMentor has four core outcomes that we work toward for all of our pairs:

  • Developing strong personal relationships. Ensuring our pairs develop strong, candid, trusting relationships is the foundation for everything we do. iMentor’s curriculum facilitates the development of these relationships by creating opportunities for mentors and mentees to share similarities and differences in their backgrounds, experiences, interests, and aspirations. Mentors and mentees also work together to establish expectations for their relationships and mentors help mentees set goals and create action plans to achieve those goals.
  • Growing and nurturing a college aspiration. Our mentees enter the program with a wide variety of college aspirations. Some want to go to college, whereas others are not sure what their college plans are. iMentor’s aim is to make college a tangible and attainable goal for all of our students. Mentors help mentees develop a college-going mindset and gain a realistic understanding of how attending and completing college may influence their future options. Since all of our mentors are college graduates, they share their attending and completing college experiences with mentees and provide first-hand perspectives of college life.
  • Developing noncognitive skills. In order for students to be prepared for college, it is critical to provide them with a curriculum and experiences that develop the noncognitive skills that research cites as predictive of college success. iMentor’s curriculum focuses on developing seven noncognitive skills: social capital skills, utilizing a growth mindset, perseverance, critical thinking, seeking help/self-advocacy, excitement/optimism about the future, and curiosity/love of learning. Each of these skills is introduced to students in the first year of their match and developed, reinforced, and assessed throughout each succeeding year of their relationship.
  • Providing individualized support in the college process. iMentor’s curriculum focuses on five college support areas: ensuring college knowledge, continuous and early assessment of college readiness, utilizing college tools and resources, project managing the college application process, and supporting the transition to college.

Evaluating the Program Model

Each year, iMentor conducts pre and post evaluations using research-validated scales that measure program impact, including noncognitive skill development. We have seen promising initial results, including:

  • 85 percent of mentees say that their mentor is someone they can trust
  • 86 percent of mentees report that their mentor has helped them feel they can do/say things to improve as a student or further their education
  • 78 percent of mentors helped their mentees prepare for the SATs, Regents exams, or other standardized tests
  • 78 percent of mentors report that they helped their mentee create a college plan and set goals to achieve it

In addition to annual program evaluations, in 2011, iMentor launched a six-year independent evaluation of its program model that is being conducted by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. The evaluation will enroll approximately 2,500 students from eight high schools in New York City beginning in the ninth grade. At each school, the treatment group cohort will be enrolled one year after the control group cohort. The Research Alliance will use a mixed-method longitudinal approach to provide a side-by-side comparison of students in the control group and students in the treatment group. Data for each group will be aggregated annually from ninth to twelfth grade to determine iMentor’s overall impact on student outcomes, including growth in key noncognitive skills. This evaluation will be one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever published on school-based mentoring.

Looking Ahead: A More Explicit Focus on Noncognitive Skills

Over the last fourteen years, iMentor has learned how to effectively leverage mentors in supporting first-generation college-bound students. In the last two years, iMentor launched a new curriculum and joined forces with the New York City Student Success Collaborative and other leading organizations to focus more explicitly on noncognitive skill development. 

One of the critical challenges we have faced in the area of noncognitive skill development has been a lack of interim measures. While we can capture growth via pre and post evaluations, it is critical from a program implementation standpoint that we know throughout the year whether our students understand and can apply these noncognitive skills. To that end, we are piloting a series of formative assessments that will provide our staff with these interim measures facilitating additional scaffolding or support when needed. 

We also plan to develop a scenario-based rubric that will allow our pairs to develop a richer understanding of what it means to demonstrate these noncognitive skills (e.g., having a growth mindset, being able to self-advocate, demonstrating resilience) so that they can subsequently identify which noncognitive skills they would like to focus on throughout their relationship. Ultimately, our program is rooted in the pair experience, and we want to be able to make noncognitive skill development as transparent as possible so that mentors and mentees have a common language and can intentionally discuss and practice these critical skills.

For more information on iMentor’s model or evaluation, please contact Daniel Voloch at