Setting and Achieving Goals in College

The importance of goal setting as a college student cannot be stressed enough. Not only will setting goals help you to succeed in your college career, but the same method can also be used to improve all other aspects of your life.

Before college, many of us relied heavily on others to help keep us on the right track. Our parents watched to make sure that our grades didn’t slip and our school would notify our parents if we skipped out on class. However, with college comes greater freedom, which has its benefits and drawbacks. Making your own decisions without anyone looking over your shoulder is empowering and helps us to grow into competent adults, but it also means that we need to learn to be self-motivated and take full responsibility for our decisions.

Our college professor isn’t going to give our parents a ring if we are absent from biology class three days in a row and while our parents may still be expecting good grades at the end of the semester, they aren’t there pestering us to do our homework every night or asking to see every test grade.

Without immediate consequences, it is sometimes easy to forget what the long-term consequences of our behaviors will be, such as a failing grade in a class. This is why understanding how to motivate yourself is one of the most important things that you can learn as a college student.

Making specific, measurable goals for yourself concerning your academic performance is one of the keys to a successful college career. The same is true for many other aspects of your life, such as managing your finances, developing healthy personal relationships, and staying fit and healthy.

There are two basic types of personal goals: short term and long term. A long-term goal might be to maintain a 3.0 grade point average or above spring semester. A short-term goal might be to ace an upcoming exam. In order to really reap the benefits of goal setting, your goals should be as specific as possible. Goals that are too broad, such as “getting good grades”, are not effective. You need to define exactly what the phrase “getting good grades” means to you and what sort of time frame you are dealing with. Your goals also need to be measurable. For example, having a goal of losing five pounds by Christmas is measurable and specific. You know how much you want to lose, when you want to lose it by and you can measure your success or failure using a scale.

Finally, your goals also need to be realistic. If you set goals that are unattainable, you will only become frustrated and be tempted to give up altogether. While setting reasonable, attainable goals will help you to build a strong sense of self-worth, setting goals that are out of your reach will only serve to damage your self-esteem.

Find a pen and paper and sit down and think for a while about what you would like to achieve. You can’t achieve success if you don’t first define what success means to you. Remember not to aim to high. One of the great things about goal setting is that as you achieve your goals, you can continue to build off of your previous success and achieve even higher goals. Make a list of 5 to 10 short-term and 5 to 10 long-term goals. It is up to you to designate a time frame, but your long-term goals might be for a particular semester, school year or even your entire college career, while your short-term goals should be less grandiose and deal with a much shorter period of time. Make sure that all of your goals are specific and easily definable and that you have a realistic means of measuring your achievements. Here we are specifically talking about your academic success, but the same process can be applied to any other area of your life where you would like to see some improvement.

Your goals should be specific to your own definition of success and how far away you perceive yourself to be from achieving that definition for yourself. Don’t just write down what you think others would want or expect you to write. These are your goals and yours alone. Remember that it is better to set your goals a bit lower than to set them too high.

For each short-term and long-term goal you should also make a list several steps that you plan to take in order to achieve your goal. Having a goal is great, but if you don’t have a plan for how you are going to achieve that goal, it doesn’t do you much good. Let’s say that one of your long-term goals is to get an A in a history class that you are enrolled in. Make a list of the things that will help you to achieve this specific goal. This list might include attending every class session (unless you have a valid excuse), completing all assignments, spending at least three hours per week on homework and studying for at least two hours for every major exam. These are just a few very obvious examples. Your list could be very different and should be specific to you and your learning style.

Keep your list of goals someplace where it will be safe so that you can refer back to it later. Having it in a place where you will see it often, such as near your desk, can be a helpful reminder to keep you on track. As you achieve your goals, check them off on the list and make new goals. Remember to reward yourself and celebrate when you have succeeded in achieving a goal. Allow yourself your favorite guilty-pleasure, buy yourself something special that you’ve been wanting or plan a night out with your friends. Remember however, that ideally your rewards would not be in direct conflict with any of your other goals. If you have a goal to ace every exam, don’t plan your celebratory night out the night before a big test. Likewise, if you have a goal to lose 5 pounds, rewarding yourself with your favorite junk food probably wouldn’t be in your best interest.

Finally, remember that setting and achieving goals might not come easy at first, but you will get better at it with time and experience. This is why it is so important to start forming goal setting habits in college, so that by the time you are out in the work world you will be able to motivate yourself and will know what it takes to build the life that you want to be living. Also remember to really think long and hard about what it is that YOU want to achieve. Don’t allow society to define what happiness and success means to you. After all, setting and achieving goals will not be beneficial if your goals don’t reflect what it is you really want to attain.