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For many people, the New Year’s holiday is a time for pause and reflection. For college students that are enjoying a much-needed break from classes, this time of year offers the opportunity to think about and plan for the future. Students who didn’t perform as well as they had hoped during the fall semester can use this period to set goals and find ways to improve. Additionally, students approaching graduation can also begin to set employment and career objectives.

Most of us have made New Year’s resolutions to improve many areas of our lives in the coming year. Typical resolutions include losing weight, quitting smoking, going back to school, or changing careers. In reality, a New Year’s resolution is nothing more than a goal we hope to achieve. As with any goal, it takes proper goal-setting and execution to achieve the desired outcome.

Benefits of Setting Goals

So why is it important to set goals? A goal gives you a sense of purpose. A student without goals is kind of like a ship without a rudder — you’ll drift aimlessly and end up nowhere. Goals help you focus on what’s really important instead of wasting time on frivolous activities. Having a goal can also help you stay motivated during challenging times. You’ll also experience faster results. Engaging in one small activity toward reaching a goal each day can add up quickly.

Being S.M.A.R.T. About Setting Goals


Using the S.M.A.R.T. formula can simplify the goal-setting process and make it seem less daunting. Let’s take a closer look at each of the five S.M.A.R.T. elements:

  • Specific: The more specific your goal, the greater the likelihood that you’ll actually accomplish it.
  • Measurable: Use a quantifiable measuring process to gauge your progress along the way.
  • Attainable: Make your goal attainable by carefully planning the steps required to achieve it
  • Realistic: Be sure your goal can be accomplished and has enough meaning to make you willing and able to work to achieve it.
  • Timely: Create a manageable time frame for achieving your goal.

Applying S.M.A.R.T to Achieving College Goals

Now let’s explore one way the S.M.A.R.T. formula can be applied, using an example of a real-world situation that many college students experience: finishing a term paper on time.

If you have difficulty completing term papers or other large projects on time, it may be hindering your academic performance. Create a specific goal by stating that you will complete every term paper on time during the spring semester. When you receive a term paper assignment, choose a completion date — preferably a day or two before the actual due date to give yourself a bit of leeway.

Make your goal attainable by breaking it down into smaller components. For instance, if your target due date is in three weeks, complete a third of the project during each week. Use specific measurements to assess your progress. If your paper is 30 pages in length and your due date is February 28, have 10 pages finished on the 14th, 10 more on the 21st, and the final 10 on the 28th. Break it down even further by completing two pages per day, five days a week. If you fall behind, you’ll have two extra days to catch up.

A primary culprit that prevents many students from completing projects on time is procrastination. Applying S.M.A.R.T. to larger projects can help you avoid waiting to the last minute to get started. While completing a 30-page paper the night before it’s due is neither a realistic nor attainable goal, breaking it down into smaller components makes it much more manageable. Taking a few small steps each day also makes a project seem much less intimidating.

Other Areas Where Goal-Setting Can Be Helpful


Goal setting can help you in many areas throughout your college career. Goals can help you:

  • Raise your grade point average
  • Achieve a better balance between the academic and social aspects of college life
  • Meet more people and make connections with individuals who can help you start your career after graduation
  • Eat healthier and get enough exercise while at school
  • Leave your comfort zone and try new things
  • Get more involved in on-campus activities
  • Earn your degree ahead of schedule
  • Break bad habits that can have a negative impact on your academic performance

As you look forward to a new year, put goal-setting to good use as you make your resolutions. By doing so, you’ll be able to make the most of your college experience.

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