How High School and College Students Can Set—and Achieve—Academic Goals

This post is part of a month-long series to help you start 2018 on the right foot. Throughout January, visit the Varsity Tutors blog for advice, tips, and tricks on how to reignite your passion for learning this winter. 

Once the new year begins, many students aspire to set significant academic goals. Many high school and college students start the year with good intentions, but they ultimately fall short of the academic goals they set out to accomplish. Often, this is not for lack of trying; some students simply set goals they are ill-equipped to achieve. If you have experienced this in the past, don’t let it stop you from setting goals in the present. There are many ways students can set and achieve their academic goals, such as setting realistic goals and making a plan for accomplishing each goal.

For high school and college students, setting and achieving academic goals can be challenging. However, with a little preparation, knowledge, and follow up, you’ll be able to achieve yours.

[RELATED: How Parents Can Help Students Set—and Achieve—Academic Goals]

Goal-setting tip #1: Choose realistic aims

Many students fail to achieve their goals because said goals are impossibly difficult or out of their control. It's always a good idea to spend some time thinking about the outcome you wish to see and how you plan to get there. For example, you may hope to set the test curve in your introductory chemistry class, but you can’t control how prepared other students are. Instead, set a measurable, achievable goal like dedicating one hour per day to mastering chemistry concepts.

Understand what it might take for you to achieve your goal and know what your current capabilities are. In other words, when you set your academic goals for this year, ensure they are realistic.

Goal-setting tip #2: Focus on diversity

At times, students fail to accomplish their goals because they all fall into the same category. It’s helpful if you spread your goals out across different disciplines. For example, your list might look something like this:

  •       Raise your grade in English literature
  •       Begin tutoring students in chemistry

These two goals are different, but they’ll help you achieve balance in your academic life while also working to improve your time in school on a broader level. Don’t narrow your focus so much that you quickly tire and abandon your goals—instead, seek variety.

Goal-setting tip #3: Use a multi-step process

Great goals are backed by plans that extend beyond achieving a certain outcome. Once you’ve thought about the outcome you want, think about what it might take to get there—then, write it down. If you hope to achieve an A in your English literature class, your plan might include:

  •       A general summary: keep up-to-date on assignments, do your reading on time, attend every class, etc.
  •       Specific, numerical goals: Earn at least a 90% on your first assignment, spend one hour per week with an English tutor, etc.

Each goal you set should have an accompanying plan that provides guidance on achieving your goal and a place to record outcomes for each step, such as actual grades received or hours spent doing homework.

Goal-setting tip #4: Identify your timeframe

Goals can be categorized and approached differently, depending on the timeframe you identify for yourself. Some goals will have built-in timelines—like a semester’s beginning and end. Others will be at your discretion. Either way, it is important to set a timeline, since it is easy to push off goals if you don’t have set deadlines.

You can divide your goals into short-, middle-, and long-term categories as you prepare your overall plan. It’s wise to have goals in each category, in order to maintain balance and increase your chances of success. Write your timeline out in both short and long form, so you can have something available for easy reference and something with more detail to consult when you need to remind yourself what you’re working toward.

Goal-setting tip #5: Hold yourself accountable

If you set yourself up for success, you’ll likely make progress on your goals. Check in on your timelines, evaluate your progress, and revise your plan as necessary. If it helps, you can reward yourself as you begin to achieve your goals, or bring a friend or parent into the process to help keep you on track. Stick with your plan, and you’ll likely achieve the goals you set for yourself.

[RELATED: 3 Methods for Setting Goals]


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