May 13, 2022  |  Purdue Global

Goal setting is an important aspect of preparing to be successful, both academically and professionally. College students may use goals to help keep themselves on track and meet deadlines. In the workplace, you will often be asked to set formal goals as part of your performance review.

Why is setting goals so important? A study from the Dominican University of California showed that writing down your goals can make you more likely to achieve them:

  • 76% of participants who were asked to write down their goals and share weekly progress with friends ended up achieving their goals over a 4-week period.
  • Only 43% of participants who did not write down their goals ended up achieving them.

The SMART acronym is a commonly used guideline for goal setting. In this guide, we’ll explain what SMART goals are, and provide tips and examples for college students looking to develop their own SMART goals.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These criteria can be used to guide your goal setting.

  • Specific: Adding specificity to your goal makes it easier to achieve. Detail what you want to accomplish, when you would like to accomplish it, and what actions you will need to take to meet the goal.
  • Measurable: Your goal should be something that is able to be tracked. If your goal is too vague, it can be difficult to assess how close you are to achieving it.
  • Attainable: College students have a lot on their plate. Make sure your goal is something you can realistically accomplish within the given time frame.
  • Relevant: SMART goals for students should relate back to academic or professional growth. When creating a new goal, ask yourself how this accomplishment could benefit your academic performance or set you up for success in your desired career.
  • Time-bound: It’s easier to stick with a goal when it has a specific deadline associated with it. Determine when you would like to meet your goal by, and consider setting target dates for each step involved in meeting the goal.

>> Read: 4 Goal Setting Strategies and Resources to Get You Motivated for the New Year

Examples of SMART Goals for College Students

Students can use SMART goals to keep themselves motivated while pursuing their degree. Goals may relate to specific coursework, career planning, or even health and wellness. Below are a few examples of SMART goals for college students. Each of them includes specific deadlines and actionable next steps.

Earn my degree by the end of the year by completing required courses over the summer and during the fall semester.

By the end of the month, create a list of at least five internship opportunities in my field, and meet with a career advisor to discuss next steps for applying to these internships.

Complete this semester with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

By the end of the month, join a student club or organization. After joining an organization, I will attend at least one meeting every month.

Improve my time management skills by dedicating one hour each weekday to uninterrupted studying. At the end of the month, I will reflect on my focus levels and adjust this study routine as needed.

For the duration of the semester, maintain an up-to-date digital planner that lists assignment due dates for each of my classes.

Meet with each of my professors at least once during the course of the semester.

Over the course of the next month, spend at least 1 hour each week reading a nonfiction book related to my major or catching up on industry news. Books that are assigned as part of a course will not count toward this goal.

By the end of the week, update my LinkedIn profile with completed coursework relevant to my desired career path.

>> Read: Time Management Tips for Busy College Students

How to Measure Your Progress Toward SMART Goals

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), monitoring your progress can increase your chances of meeting your goals. Here are some of our top tips for college students looking to track their SMART goals.

1. Share Your Goal With Others

Many people find that they are more motivated to achieve their goals when they have a support system in place. After setting your goal, find a trusted person who can hold you accountable. This might be a friend, family member, classmate, or coworker. In return for providing support, you can offer to help them track progress for any of their own goals.

2. Set Check-In Reminders

Frequently checking in with your progress ensures that your goal remains top of mind. Consider adding check-in reminders to your calendar for the duration of your goal, keeping in mind that the time frame of your goal will affect how often you want to check in. For example, progress on a semester-long goal may only need to be measured once a month, but if your goal is something you want to achieve more quickly, you may want to check in weekly or even multiple times per week.

3. Put It Into Writing

Monitoring your goal is particularly effective when you physically record your progress. Each time you check in with your goal, write down the progress you’ve made and outline the next steps you need to take. You can send these updates to a trusted friend or even share your progress on social media. Either way, putting your progress into writing can help make sure you follow through on your goal.

4. Adjust Deadlines as Needed

As you make progress toward your goal, you may find that you need more time than you originally thought. If the original date you set no longer seems achievable, don’t be afraid to adjust your goal as needed. You may also consider breaking up the goal into smaller, more manageable steps, each with their own deadline. Pushing your completion date out by a few weeks or months is better than getting overwhelmed and giving up on the goal altogether.

Achieve Your Goals With Purdue Global

Since SMART goals are so commonly used by employers, it’s a good idea for college students to become comfortable with setting and tracking these types of goals. Whether you’re looking to improve your grades or explore potential career paths, SMART goals can help you get there.

For help meeting your academic goals, be sure to take advantage of any support that may be offered by your school. For example, Purdue Global offers online Academic Success Centers focused on writing, math, technology, and more. In addition, our Center for Career Advancement can assist with creating measurable and attainable career goals. 

We offer more than 175 online programs for students looking to enter a new field or advance within their current career. Request more information today to learn more.

About the Author

Purdue Global

Purdue Global delivers a fully personalized, world-class education online that's tailored for adults. We offer 175 programs, including associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees as well as certificates, in areas such as business, IT, education, health sciences, nursing, criminal justice, and more.

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