Begin With The End in Mind: Goal Setting for College Students

Goal setting is a fundamental skill for success in higher education. It is the way that students achieve academic excellence, land great jobs, make time to mentor others and pursue hobbies and passions. Building a habit of setting and achieving goals helps students navigate the challenges of college life and build a fulfilling future. 

Goals are the written evidence of direction, focus, and motivation, which results in students prioritizing their time, resources, and efforts. Having a goal they feel strongly about helps them overcome obstacles, learn from failures, and celebrate achievements. Goal setting in higher education also cultivates other valuable skills, including self-awareness, self-discipline, and resilience, which are essential for personal and professional growth beyond college. 

Students who develop and pursue SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals are more likely to excel academically and succeed in their careers. Goal setting has always been part of education, but the challenge is encouraging more students to adopt the habits that will help them continually achieve short and long-term goals.

The Habit of Personal Vision

Habit 2 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® is “Begin With the End in Mind” because it takes a conscious effort to visualize your goals, both large and small. We must teach students to visualize and imagine who they want to be — both personally and professionally.

One way to visualize our end goals is to develop a personal mission statement that outlines who we are and what we want to do. For students in higher education, this is an opportunity to recognize not just their targeted career, but their interests and passions, what they value in their work, and the qualities they want to cultivate as a person and a professional.    

Take Action with SMART Goals 

The SMART acronym has become synonymous with goal setting, and it’s especially helpful for students who may be new to making and managing their own goals:

S - Specific: Is the goal clear? 
M - Measurable: Can you easily measure your progress?
A - Achievable: Is the goal realistic and attainable?
R - Relevant: Does your goal align with your values, interests, and long-term aspirations? 
T - Time-bound: When do you want to reach your goal?

As a starting point, some SMART goals that students might consider include:

  • Achieving a specific grade
  • Dedicating a certain amount of study time at a planned time each day
  • Meeting with instructors a minimum of once per term to build relationships and ask questions
  • Stretching themselves with a more challenging course that aligns with one of their long-term goals
  • Getting involved in specific campus activities
  • Taking advantage of campus resources like a career center

Most of these are smaller goals that will help drive students toward academic success, graduation, and a strong career.

Why Goal Setting for College Students Must Include Risks

Setting a goal is itself a risky choice. It opens the door to stress, failure, and disappointment. Part of setting goals is also recognizing the potential obstacles that would prevent success and developing strategies for dealing with those roadblocks.

Having a strong sense of “why” for each goal is vital for students to be resilient through challenges. Often, students know what they should be doing but struggle to stick to their plans and maintain their priorities. Developing a habit of taking action can help students to meet their smaller SMART goals like study time and meeting with professors. We should be teaching students to block this valuable time far in advance, then hold on tight to that schedule they set.

Perhaps the most important thing students can do is share their goals with others. Accountability can be found in family members, friends, professors, and counselors…preferably in all those places! When we encourage students to set and share their goals, we teach them the value of building habits and a support system that will help them achieve their goals, not prevent them from reaching success.   

FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses facilitate the personal and professional advancement of future leaders by offering a rich library of verifiable certificate programs. LeaderU Knowledge Certificates are industry-recognized as helping develop the career skills of today’s students and tomorrow’s employees. To learn more about the value-add of offering industry-recognized certificate courses to your curriculum, take a tour of FranklinCovey LeaderU. 

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