Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 1100–1112 | Cite as

Appraisal Support from Natural Mentors, Self-worth, and Psychological Distress: Examining the Experiences of Underrepresented Students Transitioning Through College

  • Noelle M. Hurd
  • Jamie Albright
  • Audrey Wittrup
  • Andrea Negrete
  • Janelle Billingsley
Empirical Research


The current study explored whether cumulative appraisal support from as many as five natural mentors (i.e., nonparental adults from youth’s pre-existing social networks who serve a mentoring role in youth’s lives) led to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety via improved global self-worth among underrepresented college students. Participants in the current study included 340 college students (69% female) attending a 4-year, predominantly White institution of higher education. Participants were first-generation college students, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and/or students from underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups. Participants completed surveys during the Fall and Spring of their first year of college and in the Spring of their second and third years of college. Results of the structural equation model (including gender, race/ethnicity, and extraversion as covariates) indicated that greater total appraisal support from natural mentoring relationships predicted decreases in students’ psychological distress via increases in self-worth (indirect effects assessed via boot-strapped confidence intervals; 95% CI). The strength of association between appraisal support and self-worth was not moderated by the proportion of academic natural mentors. Findings from the current study extend previous research by measuring multiple natural mentoring relationships and pinpointing supportive exchanges that may be of particular consequence for the promotion of healthy youth development. Institutional efforts to reinforce pre-existing natural mentoring relationships and encourage the onset of new natural mentoring relationships may serve to bolster the well-being and success of underrepresented students attending predominantly White universities.


Underrepresented college students Natural mentoring Appraisal support Self-worth Psychological distress 



We thank the students for participating in this study and the research assistants who assisted with data collection. We also thank the four anonymous reviewers and the journal editor for their helpful comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

Authors’ Contributions

NH conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; JA participated in the design and interpretation of the data and also assisted with drafting the manuscript; AW participated in the analyses of study data; AN participated in the analyses of study data; JB participated in the analyses of study data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was funded through start-up funds awarded to the first author from the University of Virginia. The writing of this article was supported in part by a post-doctoral fellowship through the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation as well as a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award to the first author. The writing of this article also was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to the second author, an Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Fellowship to the third author, and a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship to the fourth author.

Data Sharing Declaration

The dat asets generated and analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were approved by the authors’ Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

All participants provided informed consent prior to participation in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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