Goal Setting

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe goal setting and how it applies to your time in college

There is no doubt that doing well in college is a sizable challenge, especially for first-year students, who run the greatest risk of dropping out. You are faced with new physical surroundings, new social environments, new daily tasks and responsibilities, and most likely new financial obligations. Overall, you are swamped with new challenges! Do you feel confident that you can attend to all of them in a balanced, committed way? What will be your secret to success?

Success Begins with Goals

Goals! A goal is a desired result that you envision and then plan and commit to achieve. Goals can relate to family, education, career, wellness, spirituality, and many other areas of your life. Generally, goals are associated with finite time expectations, even deadlines.

Goals can be big or small. A goal can range from “I am going to write one extra page tonight” to “I am going to work to get an A in this course” all the way to “I am going to graduate in the top of my class so I can start my career with a really good position.” The great thing about goals is that they can include and influence a number of other things that all work toward a much bigger picture. For example, if your goal is to get an A in a certain course, all the reading, studying, and assignments you do for that course contribute to the larger goal. You have motivation to do each of those things and to do them well.

Goal setting is frequently talked about, but it is often treated as something abstract. Like time management, goal setting is best done with careful thought and planning.

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Setting Your Own Goals

As a college student, many of your goals are defined for you. For example, you must take certain courses, you must comply with certain terms and schedules, and you must turn in assignments at specified times. These goals are mostly set for you by someone else.

But there are plenty of goals for you to define yourself. For example, you decide what you’d like to major in. You decide how long you are going to be in college or what terms you want to enroll in. You largely plan how you’d like your studies to relate to employment and your career.

Setting your own goals requires you to introspect and understand what it is that you want to do during your time in college. Perhaps you already started school with a plan in mind. Or maybe you don’t know what you want to major in yet. From choosing your major to studying for your courses to participating in campus life, you are going to have to make choices about what’s important to you and what you are going to focus on and prioritize when it comes to your college career. Your life in school will likely comprise not only what is required of you (graduation requirements, course deadlines, work obligations, etc.), but what you want to do (joining a club, taking an elective course, spending time with your friends and family etc).

Below is a set of questions you can ask yourself to help you understand and solidify your personal goals:

  1. What are my top-priority goals?
  2. Which of my skills and interests make my goals realistic for me?
  3. What makes my goals believable and possible?
  4. Are my goals measurable?
  5. How long will it take me to reach my goals?
  6. How will I know if I have achieved my goals?
  7. Are my goals flexible?
  8. What will I do if I experience a setback?
  9. Are my goals controllable?
  10. Can I achieve my goals on my own?
  11. Are my goals in sync with my values?

As you move through your college career, make a point to ask these questions regularly.

Short-, Medium-, and Long-Term Goals

It can be helpful to divide your goals into three different time horizons.

  • Short-term goals are goals for today, this week, and this month.
  • Medium-term goals are goals for this year and while in college.
  • Long-term goals are goals from college on.

In order to achieve long-term goals (from college on), you’ll need to first achieve a series of shorter goals. Medium-term goals (this year and while in college) and short-term goals (today, this week, and this month) may take several days, weeks, months, or even a few years to complete, depending on your ultimate long-term goals. Identify what you will need to do in order to achieve your goals. Gain a full view of your trajectory.

Examples of Long-Term Academic Goals

  • I plan to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree. My major will be radio-television-film, and my minor will be Spanish.
  • I plan to graduate with a bachelor of science degree in foreign service with a minor in international history.
  • I plan to attain an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN).

Examples of Medium-Term or Short-Term Academic Goals

  • I would like to study abroad in Spain before I graduate.
  • I want to get involved in a service-learning project in my community, as part of my preparation for eventual service work.
  • I plan to join the student government organization so that I can gain some experience at the community college where I take classes part-time.

Additional immediate goals might be applying for financial aid, getting a part-time job, taking a short leave of absence, speaking with a counselor, and so forth.

Try It


goal: a desired result that you envision and then plan and commit to achieve, often in accordance with a particular timeline