Knowing what you want to achieve from your academic studies and where you want to go is an important element of further education. The process of goal setting for students will allow them to identify these important objectives. As you establish what your goals are, you can begin taking the necessary steps to achieving them.

When you set your educational goals you will know what you need to concentrate on to achieve your objectives. It will help you identify areas that you may need to improve and focus on that will further enable you to achieve what you want.

Establishing clearly defined goals is a fundamental part of success for a student. Being able to see your accomplishments throughout your educational experience can be both a rewarding and motivational process. It will certainly help you improve your academic performance and increase your self-confidence.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

Why is it important to set Educational Goals?

For some goal setting is an easy task. Something they have always done throughout their life. From small goals, such as getting a chapter read this week, to bigger goals such as getting an A in math class. Some people are just goal oriented and as a result, they can quite easily make decisions that lead them to achieve their goals

For others goal setting may not have even crossed their mind. These individuals have a tendency to just accept life as it comes and go with the flow. While this may offer a more relaxed approached to life, it can often lead you down a path you may later regret or end up somewhere you aren’t particularly happy with.

Often times it is easy to get lost in life and end up somewhere without even realising it. This can happen as we go through pre-college education because it is something you have to go through in your earlier years so it becomes something you just do.

When it comes to further education you have decided to take this leap and pursue an area that you want to. This maybe because you have identified an interest or passion in the field you intend to study or perhaps you have established that this degree or course will provide you with good career opportunities. Whatever the reason you choose your particular course of further education, you have set yourself either your first major goal or another goal.

That is to complete your chosen study course.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

Setting Educational Goals and Committing

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a goal is the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result. Deciding to pursue a college course or some form of further education means you have set yourself the goal of completing that education program. Whether or not you achieve that desired result will ultimately depend on the actions you take. These actions will either move you closer towards achieving your aims or further away.

Deciding to go to class each day and sticking to your study schedule will certainly help you move closer to achieving your goal of completing the course. However, deciding to go out the night before your exam and drinking too much causing you to sleep through your exam, will move you in the opposite direction to achieving your objectives and in some cases may even prevent you from completing your course.

Goal setting is not always an easy task, especially for those who may not be goal orientated. Simply setting goals is not enough. Deciding your goals is just the first step. Committing to that goal is the important part and is often where the major difficulty lies.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

How to Make Sure You Stick To Your Goals

In addition to setting goals, many of us have more than one goal. Not only that but throughout our life our goals will change. But right now your goal is to complete your chosen course of study. You may also have other goals for now too. In this situation it is a good idea to prioritise these goals in order of importance to you as this will help build your commitment and avoid goals conflicting with each other.

Prioritising your goals will help you identify which goals you want to achieve the most. You can then decide how best to manage your time between your studies and other goals you may have so that you are moving in the right direction to achieve your aims. Your other goals may be to maintain a good social life and make new friends or partake in new hobbies etc.

For example, your goal may be to complete your college program while making the college basketball team. Whereas another student’s goal may be to complete their college program and aim to get the best grades they could possibly get while doing the course.

For the latter student, they may choose to spend more time studying to put them in the best position possible to obtain the results that they need to achieve their goal. While the first student will split their time studying and attending basketball practice so that they can make the team.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

How Can Students Address Conflicting Goals?

Consider these four students:

  • “To help his widowed mother, Juan went to work full time after high school but now, a few years later, he’s dissatisfied with the kinds of jobs he has been able to get and has begun taking computer programming courses in the evening. He’s often tired after work, however, and his mother would like him to spend more time at home. Sometimes he cuts class to stay home and spend time with her.”
  • “In her senior year of college, Becky has just been elected president of her sorority and is excited about planning a major community service project. She knows she should be spending more time on her senior thesis, but she feels her community project may gain her contacts that can help her find a better job after graduation. Besides, the sorority project is a lot more fun, and she’s enjoying the esteem of her position. Even if she doesn’t do well on her thesis, she’s sure she’ll pass.”
  • “After an easy time in high school, James is surprised his college classes are so hard. He’s got enough time to study for his first-year courses, but he also has a lot of friends and fun things to do. Sometimes he’s surprised to look up from his computer to see it’s midnight already, and he hasn’t started reading that chapter yet. Where does the time go? When he’s stressed, however, he can’t study well, so he tells himself he’ll get up early and read the chapter before class, and then he turns back to his computer to see who’s online.”
  • “Sachito was successful in cutting back her hours at work to give her more time for her engineering classes, but it’s difficult for her to get much studying done at home. Her husband has been wonderful about taking care of their young daughter, but he can’t do everything, and lately he’s been hinting more about asking her sister to babysit so that the two of them can go out in the evening the way they used to. Lately, when she’s had to study on a weekend, he leaves with his friends, and Sachito ends up spending the day with her daughter—and not getting much studying done.”

What do these very different students have in common?

Each has goals that conflict in one or more ways. Each needs to develop strategies to meet their other goals without threatening their academic success. And all of them have time management issues to work through three because they feel they don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do and one because even though he has enough time, he needs to learn how to manage it more effectively. For all four of them, motivation and attitude will be important as they develop strategies to achieve their goals.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

So, How Do You Set Your Educational Goals?

When setting your educational goals it’s important not to just focus on setting your current goals as a student. It is just as important to consider the big picture and what it is that you want out of life. While pursuing your education and finishing your college course is an important goal, especially right now, you must also consider all your other desires, hopes and dreams.

Goals can be split into short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Right now your long-term goals are likely to be finishing your college course and pursuing a career. Your long-term goals may also involve a romantic relationship, family, travel, hobbies etc. While you may not be pursuing these goals with the same intensity as you are with your educational goals, they still remain your goals and are very much important in your life.

Your goals:

  • Short-term goals focus on today and the next few days and perhaps weeks.
  • Mid Term goals involve plans for this school year and the time you plan to remain in college.
  • Long-term goals may begin with graduating college and everything you want to happen thereafter.

It is possible for your long term goals to guide both your mid-term and short-term goals. For example, if your long-term goal is to be a doctor then this will guide your mid-term goal of getting the right education that will enable you to pursue a career in that area. It will also guide your short-term goal because you will want to do well on your exams.

As you can now see setting educational goals and other life goals plays a very important role in your success. By establishing your goals you will be able to identify the necessary steps you need to take to get there and perhaps more importantly, just have fundamental these steps, even the little things that you do every day can help you move in the right direction and achieve what it is that you want.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

Guidelines for Setting Educational Goals

Goals should be realistic and have a time frame

While it is certainly good to dream and challenge yourself, your goals should be realistic and attainable. It is important to base your goals around your personal strengths and abilities, write these goals down. This will make them more meaningful to you.

Setting realistic goals means establishing your goals so that you can easily see them and whether or not they have been achieved. It is a good idea to identify a time frame for achieving certain goals, in this way you can clearly see whether or not you are moving in the right direction. If you’re realistic and specific in your goals, you should also be able to project a time frame for reaching the goal.

Setting a goal of being able to run a marathon within a month is not realistic for someone at a beginner level of fitness. Instead, the goal should encompass a training plan that will be carried out over the period of 6 months for example.

Goals should be specific and positive

When you’re setting your goals it is important that you make them specific rather than being too general. Rather than writing your goal as “ I will become the fastest 100-metre sprinter in the world”; instead maybe write, “I will win an athlete scholarship, maintain high grades and commit to training and increasing my speed over time.”

Expressing your goals positively can have a great effect on your mindset and productivity. For example, instead of saying “I’m not going to eat as much junk food” has much more negative connotations than saying “I’m going to start eating healthily.”

Goals should have a deadline

If you set goals without a deadline there is a risk that you may never start pursuing that goal. When you establish objectives that have to be achieved by a certain date then you have that boost and motivation to get started with achieving that goal.

Goals should be measurable

By making your goals measurable in some way can greatly benefit you and help keep you focused along the way. It is also a good idea to set small and achievable immediate goals.

Sometimes this can be difficult, but if you can find some way of measuring your goals it means that you will be able to track your progress along the way and make any necessary alterations that may help or keep you moving forward towards your objective.

By tracking your progress you will be able to see what goals you may not be reaching. It is essential to look at the reasons why you have not hit your goals and consider what needs to be done to attain the desired result. By doing so you will be able to adjust your goal or take an alternative route that can help you achieve it.

A Guide to Successful Goal Setting For Students

Use the SMART criteria when setting goals:


Identify a specific outcome or accomplishment.


Identify how you will measure your progress. This can be done by setting milestones or breaking your larger goal into smaller steps.


Your goal has to be achievable. Make sure you are honest and check that your object can be achieved.


Is the goal relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish?

Time Based

Goals need to have time frames in order to keep us focused. Set realistic deadlines and try to stick to them as closely as possible.

Establish why you want to achieve your goal

When you set your goals it’s important to identify why you set that particular goal and why it is important to you. When you establish the desired outcome that you want to achieve, it is important that you really want to reach the goal.

This will help keep you motivated during any difficult times that may arise. You will always encounter obstacles along the way, we all do, but clearly knowing why you want to achieve this particular goal will mean that it is less likely that you will give up.

If you’re doing something only because your parents or someone else wants you to, then it’s not your own personal goal. Working towards your own goal is much easier than working to one that was given to you by someone else. People are always more motivated to work towards goals that they really care about.

If you decide to complete a French language course because you really want to move to France, then you are less likely to give up when you meet obstacles.

Reward yourself

Your reward might be your goal itself, but by rewarding the smaller accomplishments you make on the road to achieving the bigger goal, you’ll stay much more motivated. For example, if your goals was to lose 10 pounds, you might treat yourself to a pamper session every time you lose 2 pounds. You might also set a bigger reward when achieving your goal by going out and buying a new wardrobe.

Goal setting for students should be prioritised

When you have set your goals you should set priorities. When you have several goals, this is important as it will help avoid that overwhelming feeling. It will also help you focus on the most important objectives that you want to achieve.

By prioritising your goals it will help you identify what is most important to you. You can rank your list of goals in order of importance to you by putting 1 beside your most important, 2 beside your second most important goals and finally 3 beside the goals that may be less important to you.

Prioritising your goals only truly works within a specific period of time. What is most important to you during this period of time. For example, during your college course studying you may rank study at 1 but once your course is finished you may decide to rank something you had at number 2 more important.

When you manage your time well, you don’t have to ignore some goals completely in order to meet other goals. In other words, you don’t have to give up your life when you register for college—but you may need to work on managing your life more effectively.


Saylor Academy

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