Setting Goals in College

By Julia Califano · December 08, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Setting Goals in College

College is a transformative phase of life filled with opportunities, challenges, and self-discovery. But between classes, social activities, and newfound independence, college can also be an overwhelming experience. There are numerous opportunities to better yourself, but where do you start?

To get the most out of your time in school, it can be helpful to set and achieve some specific goals. These goals can serve as guideposts, providing direction, motivation, and a sense of purpose during your college years. And, your goals don’t have to be all centered around academics — they can encompass personal development, financial stability, and preparing for the professional world.

Read to learn about the importance of setting goals in college, types of goals to consider, and how to set yourself up for success with S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Good Goals to Complete in College

Setting goals in college can help you identify what you want to achieve academically, personally, and financially, providing a roadmap to follow. Whether you’re just starting school or have a few semesters under your belt, here are some goals you might consider.

Academic Goals to Achieve

Earning a good GPA: At the top of many students’ minds is getting top grades. There are plenty of positives to achieving a high GPA, including more potential for scholarships or landing on the dean’s list. It might be a great resume-builder, too. You could aim for a certain GPA, or work on improving your number from last semester.

Increasing professor facetime: Along with earning good grades, actually making an effort to get to know your professors could go a long way. Using your instructors’ office hours to clarify confusing topics might help you understand class concepts better. And who knows, their references might lead you to a really cool internship down the road.

Completing challenging courses: Rather than choosing the path of least resistance, you might aim to conquer challenging courses that align with your academic interests and career aspirations.

Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Studying in College

Financial Goals to Set in College

Paying for college: There are all kinds of ways to cover the cost of college, including scholarships, grants, work-study, federal student loans, and private student loans. You’ll want to find the best combination, plus look for ways to save money in college.

Setting up a budget: Establishing a budget might seem pointless when you have little money to work with, but learning how to set up and stick with a simple spending plan can serve you well during your lean college years — and beyond.

Finding an internship: A key objective in college is to get a degree so you can get a great job in your chosen field. One great way to set yourself up for a job that pays well after you graduate is to land an internship related to your major.

💡 Quick Tip: Some lenders help you pay down your student loans sooner with reward points you earn along the way.

Personal Goals to Set in College

Signing up for extracurricular activities: College can be a great time to discover new interests. Curious to learn Japanese? There might be a club for that. Want to blow off some steam on a basketball court? There could be an intramural team for that. You could check with your college’s campus life department to see what’s available.

Improving communication skills: Consider engaging in activities that help develop communication skills, such as public speaking or writing for publications. No matter what your major, these are skills that can take you far in your career and life.

Exploring a new country: Whether you choose to spend a semester in Rome or Rio de Janeiro, studying abroad in college can do more than give you a change of scenery. It can provide the opportunity to expand your cultural views and learn more about people across the world.

Should You Set More Than One Goal in College?

It’s not only okay, but recommended to set more than one goal in college. Pursuing diverse goals allows for a well-rounded college experience and personal development. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between ambition and feasibility. Setting too many goals simultaneously might become overwhelming and lead to decreased effectiveness in achieving any one of them.

The key to setting — and achieving — multiple goals in college is to:

•   Prioritize It’s important to identify the most crucial goals and allocate more time and resources to them.

•   Break goals into manageable tasks You’ll want to divide larger goals into smaller, actionable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

•   Manage your time Try to manage your time efficiently by creating schedules and allocating specific time blocks for each goal.

What Is a SMART Goal?

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that provides a framework for creating well-defined goals. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Here’s a breakdown of each component:

•   Specific Goals should be clear and precise, answering the questions of what, why, and how. Specific goals provide a clear focus, avoiding ambiguity.

•   Measurable Goals should have quantifiable criteria for tracking progress and determining when they’ve been achieved. This helps in monitoring advancement and staying motivated.

•   Achievable Goals should be realistic and attainable within your capabilities and resources. They should challenge you but remain within the realm of possibility.

•   Relevant Goals should align with your values, aspirations, and long-term objectives. Ensure that pursuing a goal contributes meaningfully to your overall vision.

•   Time-bound Goals should have a deadline or a timeframe for completion. Setting a timeframe creates urgency and helps in planning and prioritization.

SMART Goal Example for Students

If you really want to get down to business on your goals in college, you could use the S.M.A.R.T criteria to start building them out. For example, what if you’re a commuter student who wants to be more involved on campus? The goal of “being more involved” by itself would not fit the S.M.A.R.T. criteria—it’s too vague.

To be more specific, you could re-word your goal by stating, “I want to join two campus organizations this semester and be on the leadership team for one of them.” In this way, you have specifically called out your goal.

It’s also measurable because the goal requires joining two organizations and serving on the leadership team for one. The goal is attainable because you have access to campus organizations. And, it’s relevant to your college experience.

Then you could break down your S.M.A.R.T. goal into mini-milestones. Going along with this example, you might make a goal to check out the activities fair during school. You could also research campus organizations online and narrow your list down to the two you want to become involved with the most.

Another S.M.A.R.T. goal example for students could be paying for college. Breaking it down using the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, for example, could look something like this:

Specific: I need to come up with $10,000 for college tuition by next year.
Measurable: I can measure this by figuring out how much money I have and how much I need.
Attainable: I can achieve this because there are a variety of resources I can use to help me pay for college.
Relevant: The total amount needed is the same cost as one year of tuition at my school. This will help me continue going to school to get my degree.
Time-bound: This needs to be completed in 12 months so I can deliver the funds to the financial aid office.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

The Takeaway

Setting goals in college can be pivotal for personal, academic, and financial development and success. By adopting the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework, you can effectively plan and pursue objectives that lead to a fulfilling college experience and pave the way for a successful future beyond your college years.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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