Of all the components of college success, the most essential is having a purpose. You may be very clear on why you are in college and what you hope to achieve, or you may still be trying to figure that out. Wherever you are, the road to achieving your purpose requires that you set goals along the way.

For most students, a central component of purpose is being successful. So what does success mean to you? Is success about money, friendship, or power? Is it about achieving excellence in college, employment, or life in general? For most people, success is a combination of all of these factors and more. While luck or “who you know” may play a role, first and foremost, success will be the result of your planning, your decisions, and your hard work.

Consider Your Strengths

To achieve your purpose and become successful, where do you begin? First, you need to think carefully about your strengths. Everyone is good at doing something, and your strengths, whatever they are, can help you choose the path that is right for you. Your strengths might be in these areas:

All of these characteristics and many others are strengths that you can apply to your college experience. You should also use your strengths for excelling in college while you work on the areas you need to improve. For instance, if you have good interpersonal skills but need to improve your organizational skills, make friends with students who have excellent organizational skills and ask them to help you improve yours.

Get Started with Goals

It is important to establish goalspersonal and career goals for today, this week, this month, this term, this year, and beyond. Students who prefer to go with the flow and let life happen to them are more likely to waste their time and less likely to achieve success in college or in a career. They are more likely to get distracted and not stay focused. So instead of simply reacting to what college and life present to you, think about how you can take more control over the decisions and choices you make now, literally every day, to achieve your goals. While it is easy to make general plans, you need to determine which short-term steps are necessary if those plans are to become a reality. A short-term goal might be to read 20 pages from your history text twice a week to prepare for an exam that will cover the first hundred pages of the book. An intermediate-term goal might be to begin predicting which elective college courses you could choose that would help you attain your career goals. A long-term goal would be to make a decision about a degree program and to make plans for what are you going to do with your degree after you graduate.

Follow the SMART Goal-Setting Guidelines


You’ll read about academic planning in the next section of this chapter, which will help you map out how to turn your goals into your reality. But first, here are guidelines that break down the aspects of goal setting so that you are smart about how you approach it. In fact, these are the SMART goal-setting guidelinesto set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART):

  1. Be specific about what you want to achieve, why, and when.

  2. State your goal in measurable terms. That means how many steps you should take to obtain your goal and how you know when each step is complete.

  3. Be sure that the goal is attainable. If you don’t have the necessary skills, strengths, and resources to achieve your goal, change it. Be sure you really want to reach the goal. Don’t set out to work toward something only because you want to please others. Plan your steps carefully and within a reasonable timeframe.

  4. Know how the goal is relevant to your life and why the goal matters. Make sure your goal helps your larger plan and gives you a sense of moving forward.

  5. Consider whether the goal is achievable within the timeframe you desire and what difficulties you might have. Plan for ways you might deal with problems. Decide which goal comes next and how you will begin. Create steps and a time line for reaching your next goal.

For instance, let’s assume that after you graduate you might want to get a good job or advance in the job you currently have. This goal isn’t very specific, however, nor does it state a particular time period. A much more specific goal would be to decide which program of study you want to complete to prepare you for the job or position you are interested in obtaining after you graduate. What are some short-term goals that would help you reach this goal? Once you choose your program of study, the next goal might be to look through the course catalog to identify the courses that you need to take to complete the program to prepare for the career of your choice or for advancement. An even more specific goal would be to prepare your academic plan and identify which courses you should take each term. You might discover that the job(s) that interest you most will require a four-year degree. If so, one long-term goal would be to prepare for transfer. You can see an academic adviser who can help you create a program plan, specifying which courses you need to take and in what order. Remember that dreaming up long-term goals is the easy part. To reach your goals, you need to be specific and systematic about the steps you will take; understanding the fundamentals of academic planning by working with an academic adviser will help you plan these steps. Use Figure 1.2 to set SMART goals for this term. Think through this exercise and then return to it so that you can apply what you learn in the section on academic planning.


Figure 1.2: FIGURE 1.2 > Practice Setting SMART Goals
What are your goals for this term? Using the SMART goal-setting guide, try to set one goal in each of the four areas listed: academic, career, personal, and financial. Follow the goal through time, from immediate to long-term. An example is provided for you.