When you’re a student, it’s important to have goals for your classes, your program, and (dauntingly) your life. But it’s even more critical to set the right kind of goals, so you know when you’ve actually attained them. This is where “SMART” goals come in.
“SMART” is an acronym for the five essential elements of a clear goal you can define for yourself. Let’s explore the components of SMART goals and some examples of SMART goals you can set for yourself today.
What is a “SMART” goal?
Start at the beginning with what you hope to achieve. Giving yourself a goal to “be better” or something equally vague won’t cut it – you need to have a specific destination in mind if you ever hope to know when you’ve gotten there.
Good example: To focus on my core program courses and get a B or better in each one so I can boost my GPA.
Bad example: To be a better student.
A measurable goal lets you track your progress over time instead of simply hoping for the best. If you don’t put a hard number to your goal, it can be easy to tell yourself that you’ve “made it” without putting in the work it really takes to achieve it.
Good example: To run 100 miles by the end of the year.
Bad example: To become a runner this year.
As you set goals for yourself, make sure they are not too far out of your reach. This is a delicate balancing act: your goals should stretch your abilities and make you feel the effort you’re putting into them, but they shouldn’t be so outlandish that there’s no chance of seeing them come true.
Good example: To attend at least two professional development seminars each quarter based on my availability and schedule.
Bad example: To start and complete a bachelor’s degree in twelve months.
This element of goal-setting focuses on making sure that each individual goal will help your overall plans. Having your goals pull you in too many different directions may mean that you won’t develop forward momentum toward your larger work or life goals. It’s also important to be realistic; dreaming big is one thing, but it can sometimes be taken too far.
Good example: To earn an industry certification as a database administrator, so I can become a better candidate for the Database Manager position next year.
Bad example: To become a concert pianist and marathon runner who is also the Google CEO.
The final piece of a SMART goal lets you effectively track your progress rather than just hoping you arrive with no clear indicators. Give yourself a set timeframe – this can always be changed as your goals evolve, but deadlines are an important motivator.
Good example: To read three books every month for a year.
Bad example: To read every book on my shelf.
Examples of SMART Goals for Students
#1 Example: Getting Accepted to a Certain College
I want to be accepted to a college in Missouri, so I will study the requirements and apply to five colleges this month with the hope of being accepted for the spring term.
S: This is a very specific goal: getting into college, and specifically one in Missouri.
M: Five colleges are a clear number to work toward.
A: Researching and applying to five colleges is not too much at all.
R: This goal could be increased to a greater number of applications, but five colleges give you a realistic shot.
T: Five applications in one month, with a focus on a specific starting term, is a trackable goal.
#2 Example: Getting Organized
I will become more organized in turning in my assignments on time by purchasing a new planner and setting aside one hour each week to mark down all my upcoming due dates for the week.
S: The main goal is to turn in assignments on time.
M: There are clear steps, and one hour per week is a clear time commitment.
A: One hour is a reasonable amount of time, and a simple planner is easy to purchase and use.
R: The steps taken will serve the overall goal.
T: This goal provides the opportunity for a weekly check-in.
#3 Example: Being On-Time to Class
I will be better about showing up to my morning classes on time by leaving the house 20 minutes earlier in the morning.
S: The specific goal is getting to class on time.
M: The start time for each class is easy to track, and leaving the house 20 minutes ahead of time is also measurable.
A: Twenty minutes is a reasonable amount of time to add to a morning commute.
R: The action step of leaving early should lead directly to showing up on time.
T: You can check yourself each day whether or not you left on time.
#4 Example: Having a Healthy Diet
I will improve my diet by limiting myself to one soda per day, eating only three desserts per week, and cutting snacks after 8:00 pm.
S: Improving your diet could be vague, but the steps make it specific.
M: Each step is a clearly measurable action.
A: This is not an impossible diet because each change is doable for a normal person.
R: Making healthier choices should lead to a healthier diet.
T: You can perform daily and weekly checks on your action items.
#5 Example: Getting in Shape
I want to become more physically fit so I can participate in a triathlon, so I will join a gym and do three workouts per week, increasing to four per week after three months.
S: Improvements to physical fitness are made for the purpose of completing a triathlon.
M: The number of workouts per week, as well as the increase, can be easily tracked.
A: While the regimen is fairly strict, it is reasonably doable with the right schedule.
R: Joining a gym will certainly aid physical fitness.
T: This goal provides weekly checks on the number of workouts, and a timeframe for increasing the intensity.
#6 Example: Sleeping Better
I will improve my sleeping habits by turning off the TV at 9:00 pm, shutting off all lights, going to bed by 10:30 pm every night, and also setting a morning alarm for 7:00 am in the morning.
S: Improving sleep habits is a great goal, and this plan has specific ways to do that.
M: There are specific times marked for each step.
A: Each action step is something a normal person can do.
R: These steps follow general and scientific advice for improving sleep.
T: There are clearly trackable benchmarks each night.
#7 Example: Getting Good Grades
I want to get an A in English. To do this, I will review all assignment guidelines before turning in each paper, and will go to the writing center at least once every two weeks to get feedback on my writing style.
S: The goal is to get an A in English – very specific.
M: The biweekly check-ins are measurable, and the overall course grade can be tracked over time as well.
A: Most people can earn an A in any course with the right dedication.
R: Reviewing guidelines before each assignment is a realistic process to adopt.
T: Tracking progress throughout the semester is an important element of reaching this goal.
#8 Example: Doing Pleasure Reading
I want to read more outside the classroom. I will read at least two books, or a total of 500 pages, each month. I will also set aside 30 minutes a day for at least four days a week to do this.
S: The specific goal is to read more outside the classroom with the criteria that follow.
M: The time spent reading, as well as the amount to be read, are clear and measurable.
A: Two books a month is not outside the realm of possibility, even for a novice reader.
R: The time spent reading is also conducive to reaching the goal without being too restrictive.
T: There will be a clear benchmark each month that can be tracked.
#9 Example: Achieving a Fitness Milestone
I want to reach the Gold level in my running club this year, which is 1000 miles run in a 12-month timespan. To do this, I’ll run thirty minutes a day for at least three days a week, and record my total distance run on my runners’ app.
S: The student is already part of the running club, and has the Gold level goal already in sight.
M: The benchmark of 1000 total miles over a 12-month period is a clear, measurable goal to shoot for.
A: For someone who is already a runner at some level, three days a week is definitely doable.
R: Increased time running will lead directly to reaching this goal.
T: The running app is an easy way to track progress.
#10 Example: Visiting all 50 US States
I hope to visit all 50 states by the time I’m 40. I’m 20 now and have already visited 10, so I will map out a plan to visit two new states a year for the next twenty years.
S: Visiting all 50 states is a specific goal.
M: The end goal (by age 40) is clear, and two states a year is also measurable.
A: While this is a long-term goal, it’s not outlandish for someone who clearly plans to travel a lot.
R: Two states a year is also a realistic goal that could even be exceeded with proper planning.
T: Two states a year is also an easy benchmark to track.
#11 Example: Graduating On Time
I had to take a semester off due to an extended illness, which made me miss four courses and put me off the pace to graduate in four years. I will take one extra course each semester over the next two years to put myself back on track.
S: The reasoning behind the delay in program progress is clear, as is the solution.
M: Adding one class each semester is easy to track.
A: Adding one class per semester is not impossible.
R: This goal directly serves the purpose of graduating on time.
T: An audit for degree completion is something every student has access to.
#12 Example: Having a Neat Apartment
I want to keep my apartment neater, so I will set aside 10 minutes each day to clean commonly-used surfaces, plus one hour each week to clean the bathrooms and kitchen more thoroughly.
S: Maintaining a neater living space is subjective, but a clear goal nonetheless.
M: The amount of dirt removed may not be measurable, but the time spent cleaning is (and the results should speak for themselves).
A: This is a relatively minimal time commitment.
R: The extra time spent cleaning should serve the overall goal.
T: There are numerous ways to track the time spent, plus seeing the progress itself.
#13 Example: Getting a Mentor
I want to secure a professional mentor to aid my job search after graduation. I will join my school’s mentorship program and meet with my mentor once a week to help guide me in my job hunt.
S: The goal is securing a specific resource (a mentor) with a clear purpose (aiding in a job search).
M: A weekly check-in can easily be tracked.
A: A weekly check-in is also a good commitment of time.
R: The time spent should realistically help with a job search.
T: Not missing a weekly check-in is an easy way to track progress.
#14 Example: Understanding My Chosen Job Field
I want to gain a better understanding of the field I’ll enter after I earn my degree, so I will contact four companies during my senior year to secure a job shadowing experience.
S: Gaining a better understanding of your chosen job field is subjective, but still specific.
M: The total number of desired job shadowing experiences is a clearly measurable goal.
A: Four interviews over a year’s time is attainable.
R: This is a realistic goal, which is also relevant to learning more about the field.
T: Counting down each interview experience is an easy way to track progress.
#15 Example: Preparing for a Speech
I’ve been asked to speak about multicultural experiences for World Appreciation Day at our Multicultural Center in six weeks. To learn more about other cultures, I will contact six of their peer advisors and schedule one interview a week with them to learn about their experiences.
S: The learning is specific to a speaking engagement.
M: The goal of six peer advisors can easily be tracked.
A: One interview per week is not too big a commitment.
R: Interviewing peer advisors from multiple nationalities would certainly give the right background information.
T: The goal of six peer advisors with a specified deadline can easily be tracked.
#16 Example: Losing Weight
I want to lose 10 pounds in order to fit into my bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding in two months. I will follow the Atkins diet and go on a run three times a week until then, and track my weight loss on a fitness app.
S: The amount of weight to lose, and the reason for pursuing the goal, are clear.
M: The specified amount of weight to lose can be definitively measured.
A: The diet plan and running regimen are not too difficult to do.
R: These chosen steps, plus the use of the fitness app, will realistically serve the goal.
T: The specified amount of weight to lose and the deadline can both be easily tracked.
#17 Example: Becoming Active in Professional Industry
I want to become more active in my industry and secure a job once I graduate, so I will join the student chapter of my local professional association and attend three networking sessions a month.
S: Industry activity is somewhat subjective, but securing a job after graduation is a clear goal.
M: The number of sessions to attend each month can easily be measured over time.
A: Three sessions per month is doable for someone committed to a high level of involvement.
R: Joining a professional association is a relevant way to gain experience and connections.
T: The end goal of a post-graduation job is trackable, as is the number of sessions per month.
#18 Example: Paying Down Car Debt
I want to start saving $200 a month to pay down my car more quickly, so I will use a budgeting app to set a weekly and monthly budget and use it to track my purchases over time.
S: The reason behind the goal is clear, and the amount of money to raise each month is also highly specific.
M: The budgeting app is a great tool to measure progress.
A: Two hundred dollars per month is easily achievable.
R: Tracking and setting aside money is a great way to accomplish this goal.
T: The budgeting app can easily track progress over the weekly and monthly check-ins.
#19 Example: Learning a Foreign Language
I was accepted to an international program in Spain, which will begin in four months. I need to learn Spanish, so I’ve purchased a home study program that I’ll spend 20 minutes a day on to complete, and I will also work with a private tutor for a one-hour session each week.
S: Learning Spanish is a specific goal, as is the deadline.
M: The amount of time spent in independent study and with a tutor can easily be measured.
A: Twenty minutes a day, plus one tutoring session per week, is doable.
R: The goal of learning a language is relevant to the purpose of joining an international program.
T: Daily lesson time through the home study program is easily trackable.
#20 Example: De-stressing and Increasing Gratitude
I want to ease the amount of stress in my life and become a more positive person. My goal is to spend ten minutes meditating each morning before I start my day, and to write four thank-you notes to those that make a positive impact on me each week.
S: Becoming more positive and less stressed is subjective, but still specific.
M: Ten minutes a day and four notes a week are easily measurable.
A: The time and effort are not too much for an average person.
R: These affirming actions will help with reducing stress and increasing positivity.
T: The daily meditation time can be tracked, as well as the total number of notes sent each week.
#21 Example: Adding Academic Credentials
I’m becoming a junior next year, and I want to pick up an additional major in Religious Studies. It’s 12 credit hours, so I’ll work with my advisor to pick one class per semester that meets the requirements so I can complete the minor by the time I graduate.
S: Picking up an additional minor is a clear goal.
M: The number of credit hours can easily be tracked.
A: One additional course per semester is not outside the realm of possibility.
R: Working with an advisor makes this goal more realistic as it adds planning and feedback.
T: The regular advisor check-ins will keep track of progress toward this goal.
#22 Example: Running a Marathon
I want to run a marathon in eight weeks, so I will follow an online running program with three of my friends, which involves a morning run five days a week.
S: The goal is to run a marathon.
M: There are clear action steps and a plan for the type and number of runs.
A: Running with friends can help with dedication, and committing to this goal is doable.
R: Working up to a marathon in eight weeks’ time is not unreasonable.
T: The deadline is eight weeks.
#23 Example: Writing a Book
I want to write a mystery novel. I’ve read that a good novel is at least 50,000 words, so I’d like to write 1,000 words per week to have it finished in one year.
S: Writing a novel is a clear goal.
M: Writing a specified number of words per week is an easy milestone to shoot for.
A: Breaking the writing into smaller chunks makes it easier to complete.
R: A writer could complete 1000 words per week fairly easily.
T: Benchmarking and an overall goal to shoot for making this a trackable goal as well.
#24 Example: Earning Money for a Trip
I will earn $3000 this semester for my summer trip by picking up four extra shifts every month.
S: The goal is to raise money for a summer trip.
M: The financial goal of $3000 is clear.
A: Four shifts a month averages to one a week, which is not unreasonable.
R: The extra money from the extra shifts should add up to the $3000 goal.
T: You can check weekly or monthly on how many shifts you picked up, plus the financial earnings.
#25 Example: Learning an Instrument
I will set aside one hour of time three days a week to learn how to play the guitar. I’ll follow my favorite guitar instructor’s YouTube channel who provides a beginner’s class I can follow, and I’ll also practice a song I’d like to play for the school talent show being held in three months’ time.
S: This goal focuses on one skill: learning to play guitar.
M: It also specifies the amount of time spent each day, and each week, in order to reach this goal (one hour a day, three days a week).
A: This goal is not outrageous, and the student has easy access to YouTube for their lessons.
R: It also focuses on learning a single song instead of mastering the skill.
T: The deadline of three months is clear and easy to track.
By following the SMART approach to goal-setting, you will have a much better chance of doing the things you set out to do. Just make sure that you’re setting clearly defined goals with easy measurements and ways to track your progress, and you’ll feel more fulfilled and accomplished in your personal and professional life!
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