For College Students

Goal Setting For College Students

Learn how to set smart and reachable goals for your college experience, and wherever life takes you!

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The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” –Bill Copeland.

Goal. To be a four-letter word, it sure does hold a multitude of weight in one’s life. 

We often see a goal as something so big that it’s hardly ever achieved. But don’t let it scare you. Setting a goal is the easy part, and it pays heftily to see it all the way through.

As a student in college, there are unique motivators that coax you into setting a goal for yourself: academia, finance, self-development, and health are a few of them. Allowing these factors to motivate you beyond any modest fear of that formidable four-letter word helps draw a clearer, less rocky path to achieving them.

If your plan is to rebound your grades, improve your financial stability, swap out the ramen noodle diet, and meditate more frequently and effectively, this article will turn those goals into reality. Here’s what we’ll cover to help get you there:

  • Why goals and goal setting are important 
  • How to set good goals
  • Example goals for college students
  • How goals and money are connected
  • How your family and friends can help you set and track your goals
  • What to do if you fail to hit your goals
  • Activities and apps to help you set and track your goals

Forget what the underachievers say. Being a goal-getter is the way to live your best life!

Why Goals and Goal Setting is Important

Where would you be without a goal, a dream, or even an aspiration?

Chances are, probably not in college. Goals are big and small; some are for the greater good, while others are for selfless dog lovers. 

Whatever rhyme or reason for your own, having a goal shows ambition, and ambition is what helps you reach it.

Here’s why goal setting is important:

  • Beats Procrastination – Ever put off studying for an end-of-term exam and realized the only result was a flunking grade? Procrastinating either results in just getting by or not getting by at all. When you choose to ditch your dilly-dallying on an academic project, you’ll find that you’ve spent more time researching, collaborating, and sharing ideas with team members, constructing the project with ease, and being the biggest brain behind it all.
  • Helps Form New Habits/Behaviors – There are at least 99 things we’d all like to change about ourselves. If we are left to trade our old ways for a more refined version that gains more valuable relationships with friends and mentors, makes big impacts in the lives of others, or even transforms empathy and compassion into a daily mantra, why wouldn’t we? The goal is not to please everyone, but to be pleasing enough to yourself that it reflects in everything that you do.
  • Guides Focus and Momentum – These days, we all generally struggle with focus, and who else but technology is to blame. Johann Hari, author of “Stolen Focus,” attributes the lack of focus to a combination of sleep, stress, and artificial life. But there are ways to combat the lack of concentration and increase one’s attention span by sleeping more, reducing stress through diet (avoiding high-fat, high-sugar foods), and limiting screen time. 
  • Increases Productivity – There’s a misconception about how best to be productive. Increasing productivity doesn’t mean multitasking out of control and upscaling the number of tasks per day, but instead, ensuring that a handful of tasks you set out to complete have been checked off.
  • Believing in Yourself/Self-Efficacy – Although it isn’t a natural-born quality, it isn’t hard to obtain. Having confidence allows you to believe in yourself and your abilities, which gives you the self-efficacy to achieve goals. It’s just that simple. Nobody is born with confidence, but we all have what it takes to possess it! Being equipped with self-assurance and efficacy can help you reach your goals, no matter how big or small.

How to Set Good Goals

A S.M.A.R.T. rule of thumb to follow in having the most efficient strategy for setting goals is to remember this acronym, which stands for:

Specific – Keep your goals clear and crisp for easier planning.

Measurable – When goals are easier to track, they allow you to see your progress.

Actionable – When your goals are actionable, it ensures the steps taken to get there are within your control.

Realistic – Avoid feelings of stress and overwhelm by making the goal realistic.

Time-Bound – Having a time frame in mind helps you stay focused and gives you something to look forward to.

The S.M.A.R.T. framework can help you along your goal-getting journey.

Here’s how to focus on setting good goals:

Avoid bad or lofty ones – When your goals seem too far out of reach, they are more difficult to get to. Break them up into smaller, more practical ones that will help you to get a hold of them sooner.

Visualize/conceptualize – When we picture our future selves doing what we wish our present selves were doing, we instantly feel motivated to get there faster. Motivation is the driving force of execution.

Think and do – It’s one thing to conjure up a master goal plan in your mind or on paper, but it’s another thing to put it into play by executing the plan you’ve crafted.

Keep them at reach/stay practical – As we’ve established, staying realistic about setting goals helps you achieve them more easily. Start small, and work your way up to bigger and bolder goals, like climbing Mt. Everest or traveling the world in 90 days. The world is your oyster, after all!

Keeping in mind these S.M.A.R.T. objectives mentioned above will help you set the best goals for yourself today to thank your future self tomorrow. 

Example Goals for College Students

Let’s recap: If a goal isn’t made S.M.A.R.T., then it must be dumb. Fair enough to say, don’t you agree?

Below are SMART goal examples for students to piggyback off of before setting their own goals up for success.

Weak goal: I want to land my dream internship.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal:

  • Specific: While in college, I will build a professional network to help me land my dream internship.
  • Measurable: I will track my progress by the number of connections I make week by week after creating a business profile on LinkedIn and reaching out to professionals or college students of the same career interest.
  • Actionable: I will make time to create a resume, attend job fairs, build up my profile, and research employers who are offering jobs in my career field.
  • Realistic: I am a social butterfly with a competitive grade point average; I have relevant courses for the internship I am looking to apply for as well as an impressive volunteer background.
  • Time-bound: I will apply for one internship per week for a total of six months.

Here are some other potential ideas to make S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • Limiting screen time by making the conscious decision to eliminate its presence whenever necessary (while walking, while in class or in social settings, and before sleeping at night).
  • Plan ahead for next semester’s courses by seeking out guidance from advisors and by checking the course schedule in advance prior to registering.
  • Dedicating more time to my studies by establishing homework/study times for my courses.
  • I will practice self-care daily by dedicating more time to a routine that focuses on meditation, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits.
  • I will maintain my grades/GPA by being consistent with working and studying hard.
  • Complete academic certifications online that pertain to your field of study or career path.
  • Read books that are not related to school by joining a book club that covers your favorite types of books.

How Goals and Money are Connected

We all have plans for our money. Some plans consist of budgeting, investing, saving, and spending. These financial goals are important for financial control, stability, and liberty. With these goals, you can dictate how, when, and where your money is spent. You can set yourself up with a safety net protecting you from unexpected events and financial emergencies. You also can provide financial coverage for your adult self and future family without any worry. 

Any goal that makes you better, in any way, shape, or form, is a goal worth setting. If you want to learn more about how to save, budget, or invest as a college student, you can do that right here on KidsMoney.org!

How Your Family and Friends Can Help You Set and Track Goals

Don’t set goals alone. Include family members in friends closest to you who can help you set and track your goals appropriately. Ask them to do routine goal check-ins with you. This can be fun with a friend interested in setting goals similar to yours. It’s another way to get motivated and inspire one another.

Parents can chip in resources, providing you with goal tracking templates or advice on the best practices for achieving your goals. 

What to Do If You Fail to Hit Your Goals

Any goal you strive for is a goal worth fighting for. If you happen to run into a dead-end while pursuing your goal, reflect, reset, and try again!

No one ever said achieving goals would be easy or attainable at any given time. Even after setting it for the umpteenth time, the drive, grit, and perseverance needed to achieve a goal do not mean you won’t ever win the victory. 

First, take a moment to reflect on why you didn’t hit your goal. 

Was it time-sensitive? 

Did you have a clear, mental focus to take on the goal, to begin with? 

Could you use more support from family or friends next time around?

Secondly, accept that you failed. Come to terms with the fact that the outcome of trying to achieve the goal didn’t go as planned. This will help you to move past it and to start self-soothing. The process of self-soothing consists of you telling yourself that just because you failed doesn’t make you a failure. Don’t be afraid to say that out loud. Failing does not dictate who you are.

The last step would be to leave the failure behind you.

Once you’ve done this, you should be ready to take off with a renewed focus and determination to get that goal rolling again!

Activities and Apps to Help You Set and Track Goals

Here is a list of awesome activities and apps to use to help whip yourself into shape that will have you checking off your goal list left and right:

  1. Strides App – Best for tracking anything you want, when you want! This app helps you track goals and habits that you want to work on to build the perfect routine.
  2. Setting SMART+R Goals – A PDF worksheet for students to use in evaluating the goals that they want to set for themselves. It implements the SMART framework as a more user-friendly way to track milestones, tools used for progress, and performance metrics.
  3. Way of Life App – this awesome app monitors your every move, but in a good way. Habits, good and bad, are tracked and help you to realize which ones to keep, and which to discard. Once you rid yourself of the toxic habits, you can focus more on capitalizing on the good ones. You’re instantly motivated to build a better you, which is a goal without you knowing it.
  4. ATracker Time App – This time-conscious app helps you to see how precious time is, and how to utilize your time wisely, so that your goals are brought to the forefront of your priorities. 
  5. Procrastination Solutions for College Success – This Step-by-step guided workbook is for anyone who delays until they just can’t delay anymore. Overcoming procrastination is what this book teaches college students how to do in order to achieve peak performance in their studies, work, and personal life, and to know that they are not alone on this path to achieving their wildest goals!

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About the Author

Christina Ezeagwuna

Christina is a professional writer with 7+ years in entrepreneurship, opening a rental baby furniture business in 2016 that she still runs today. Christina is a mom of three budding, financially savvy kids and works as a content manager for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement.

Last updated on: June 8, 2022