Goal-setting can be critical to college success, whether you’re pursuing a degree in the classroom or online. But goals also need to have parameters to make them worth setting. SMART goals establish those parameters.
What are SMART goals?
- Specific – What do you want to accomplish? Think of them in terms of the five Ws: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
- Measurable – How will you know you’ve accomplished your goal?
- Attainable – Is your goal practical?
- Relevant – What need does your goal meet?
- Time-bound – A goal needs a deadline to be effective.
Setting goals can help you prepare for your future as you progress through a degree program. Some general goals every student should set include excelling academically, taking care of your health, and learning how to advocate for yourself.
You should also set financial goals as a student, such as avoiding debt and borrowing only what’s needed. Credit card offers and student loans may be plentiful and tempting, but remember that you will have to pay back what you borrow. Avoid impulse spending. Set goals to limit expenses and borrowing.
Goals related to work are also important. Working while you’re going to school can give you valuable experience, provide networking opportunities, and hold you accountable. College is also the time to begin researching careers and setting career goals.
- Where do you want to be your first year out of school?
- Where do you want to be five years out?
You can begin working toward those goals now by seeking out internships, using social media and networking events to connect with industry contacts, and establishing yourself as a dedicated upstart professional in your chosen field.
How to Make Your Goals SMART
Think about your current situation, and set goals from there. For example, if your grades are currently all Cs, don’t set a goal to score all A’s the next semester. Aim higher than a C, but don’t set yourself up to miss your goals by placing them too far out of reach. In the same vein, if you’re not a morning person, don’t set a goal to study at 5 a.m. daily. Consider your unique situation and personal strengths and build your goals around those.
Establish realistic timelines, and set goals for various time periods: next week, next month, next year. Deadlines are vital, otherwise you can put off reaching your goals indefinitely. Manage your time wisely, get organized, and always account for your strengths and weaknesses when setting goals.
Make a plan and set benchmarks to track your progress. And don’t forget to come up with ways to hold yourself accountable. A reward system is always good to include as well. Treat yourself when you hit milestones! It will likely help you stay motivated. So, what’s the difference between goals and SMART goals? Below are some examples:
Goal: Earn good grades.
SMART Goal: Study during the week between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. until the end of the first semester.
Goal: Get more organized.
SMART Goal: Begin each day this semester by writing a list of what I need to accomplish. Document each day’s class assignments in a designated notebook. Work through the assignments according to the due dates, always completing each at least one day ahead of schedule.
To achieve your goals, consider your strengths and weaknesses. Determine your best strategies for setting and obtaining your goals. For some, backwards planning, in which you identify the task’s end and work back to the beginning, may be an effective strategy. Find what works for you. And if you’ve started working toward a goal and find your strategy isn’t working, don’t hesitate to change it.