When I made a strategic decision to attend graduate school in 2008–I was writing for a nationally ranked newspaper at the time–colleagues and friends advised me to forgo a postgrad education and focus on continually growing my portfolio and getting promoted from within the company. But my goal then centered on creating a style publication.
I’ve always recognized school as an investment, not merely for the educational aspect, but for the networking opportunities as well. I understood the benefits of learning every aspect of fashion, from product design and merchandising to marketing, and sought a school that offered a Masters in Fashion Journalism, with a faculty roster that read like a “Who’s Who” in the industry.
At the time, there were two schools that had what I was seeking in a fashion journalism masters program–Central Saint Martins in London and Academy of Art University (AAU) in San Francisco. I chose the latter and selecting AAU afforded me the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the most respected professionals in the industry, who were still actively working in their field of expertise.
While attending AAU, I soon found an unofficial mentor in Simon Ungless, the Director of the Fashion Program. He hailed from London, graduated from Central Saint Martins, and once partnered with iconic designer Alexander McQueen, on his eponymous fashion line. Although I never took a course with Ungless, it was his professional guidance that steered me while in the program. In one instance, while preparing my graduate thesis, I had settled on producing a print magazine. He reminded me of my goal for an online publication, and encouraged me to incorporate the style blog I was writing at the time, into my thesis.
On another occasion, as I was nearing completion of the masters program and enrolling in my final courses, he advised me once again. In my haste to finish the program, I selected classes that for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t challenge me, but were rather fillers that would lighten my load as I focused on completing my thesis. Ungless recognized my motives in selecting these classes, and with a raised brow behind tinted aviators that were his signature, he questioned the lack of diversity in my course load. He suggested that I challenge myself with classes that removed me from my comfort zone and complemented what I had already learned in the program and experienced previously in the professional world. In that moment, I was motivated to aggressively push onward and upward–he even assisted me with gaining a coveted one-on-one mentorship from a San Francisco-based digital marketing entrepreneur, who worked with major publishers. With this guidance, I was able to build a well-rounded portfolio that includes multimedia publishing, brand development, creative directing, graphic design, and script writing.
What I’ve learned through the process–and hope to share with others–is that having a mentor is beneficial to anyone regardless, of where they are on their career path, from prospective college student and recent graduate, to seasoned executive. Since graduating in 2011, I’ve continually been open to receiving wisdom from mentors at various stages. For those seeking a mentor, here are a few professionals that can potentially be a great asset to your career.
College Professor – Instructors can be a valuable tool throughout college, and after you graduate as well. They not only guide you in the program, but also in your career and could possibly assist in gaining employment upon graduation.
Internship Supervisor – Partaking in an internship is often required as part of a degree program. It’s also a great resource for identifying a future mentor. You may not get to choose your supervisor, but how you choose the knowledge that they can provide, is all up to you. If you choose the right opportunity and seek out the professionals who are interested in your growth, the guidance you receive can be significant in your future endeavors.
Admission Counselor – Hiring a professional to help you get into the college of your dreams can be instrumental in for a prospective student. There are pros and cons for taking this approach though, including weighing the benefits of what they can offer your, versus how much they cost. Read “College Admission Counselors: Weighing the Cost” to learn if this is a good option for you.
Industry Professional – If you are sure of the career path you would like to take, reaching out to a local professional or entrepreneur can help you gain access to an industry that is otherwise difficult to enter. They can give advice on ‘breaking in’ and possibly help land your first job.