4.4 Be SMART with Goal Setting

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
– Pablo Picasso

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the benefits and rewards of setting goals.
  • Identify short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.
  • Apply the SMART goal model to your goals.
  • Brainstorm long-term, mid-term and short-term goals to create a Personal Action

Setting Goals

A goal is a result we intend to reach mostly through our own actions. Things we do may move us closer to or farther away from that result. Studying moves you closer to success in a difficult course, while avoiding to study closer to a final examination may completely prevent reaching that goal. That’s fairly obvious in an extreme case, yet a lot of college students don’t always reach their academic and career goals. One way to prevent  this is to think about all your goals and priorities and to learn ways to manage your time, your studies, and your social life to best reach your goals. Also, consider whether your goals support your core values. You are more likely to achieve a goal that is aligned directly with your values.

It all begins with setting goals and thinking about values and priorities! It is important to reflect on your time management skills, check your motivation and attitude as you set these goals and work towards accomplishing them.

Benefits of Goal Setting

Setting goals can turn your dreams into reality. You may have a dream to one day graduate from college, buy a new car, own your own home, travel abroad, etc. Goal setting allows you to create a plan to focus on your goal, rather than dreaming about the future. It also reduces anxiety and worry. As you think about your own goals, think about more than just being a student. You’re also a person with your own core values, individual needs and desires, hopes and dreams, plans and schemes. Your long-term goals likely include graduation and a career but may also involve social relationships with others, a romantic relationship, family, hobbies or other activities, where and how you live, and so on. While you are a student you may not be actively pursuing all your goals with the same fervor, but they remain goals and are still important in your life. Think about what goals you would like to achieve academically, vocationally (career), financially, personally, physically, and spiritually.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2PP3p4_4R8


Types of Goals

There are different types of goals, based on time and topic.

Long-term goals may begin with graduating college and everything you want to happen thereafter. Often your long-term goals graduating from College)  guide your mid-term goals (transferring to a University), and your short-term goals (getting an A on your upcoming exam) become steps for reaching those larger goals. Thinking about your goals in this way helps you realize how even the little things you do every day can keep you moving toward your most important long-term goals. Common long-term goals include things like earning your degree, owning a home, getting a job in your career area, buying a new car, etc.

Mid-term goals involve plans for this school year or your time here at college or goals you want to achieve within the next six months to two years. Mid-term goals are often stepping stones to your long-term goals, but they can also be independent goals. For example, you may have a goal of transferring to University, which is a midterm goal that brings you closer to your long-term goal of getting your Bachelor’s degree. Or, you may have a goal to pay off your credit card debt within the next 12 months or to save for a car that you plan to buy next near.  When making mid-term goals related to your long-term goals, make a list of accomplishments that will lead you to your final goal.

Short-term goals focus on today and the next few days and perhaps weeks. Short-term goals expect accomplishment in a short period of time, such as trying to get a bill paid in the next few days or getting an A on your upcoming exam. The definition of a short-term goal need not relate to any specific length of time. In other words, one may achieve (or fail to achieve) a short-term goal in a day, week, month, year, etc. The time-frame for a short-term goal relates to its context in the overall time line that it is being applied to. For instance, one could measure a short-term goal for a month-long project in days; whereas one might measure a short-term goal for someone’s lifetime in months or in years. Often, people define short-term goals in relation to their mid-term of long-term goals.

Although you will make goals in different areas of life and at different times in your life.  At this point in your life, academic goals and career goals may take precedent.

Academic – You clearly already have an academic goal and are actively working on pursuing it. Academic goals may include things like a target GPA, completing your Associate’s Degree, or transferring to a University. It may also include short-term goals like completing your homework before the weekend.

Career – At this point, your career goals are closely linked to your academic goals, such as getting a certificate or diploma  in your chosen career field. You may also have careers goals of gaining experience in your field through internships and work experience.


Turn your dreams into reality by following the SMART goal setting process.  It gives structure and organization to the goal setting process by establishing defined actions, milestones, objectives and deadlines. Creating SMART goals helps with motivation and focus and keeps you moving forward. Every goal can be made into a SMART goal!

When writing your goals, follow these SMART guidelines. You should literally write them down, because the act of finding the best words to describe your goals helps you think more clearly about them.

  • Goals should be SPECIFIC.
    • What exactly do you want to achieve? Avoid vague terms like “good,” and “more.” The more specific you are, the most likely you are to succeed.
    • A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.
    • To set a specific goal, answer the six “W” questions:
      • Who: Who is involved?
      • What: What do I want to accomplish?
      • Where: Identify a location.
      • When: Establish a time frame.
      • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.
      • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

“I will get a B grade in my Communications class this semester so that I can transfer that credit to my upcoming Diploma program”

  • Goals should be MEASURABLE.  
    • Break your goal down into measurable elements so you have concrete evidence of your progress.
    • Using numbers, quantities or time is a good way to ensure measurability.
    • When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience success!
    • To determine if your goal is measurable, ask…
      • How much?
      • How many?
      • How often?
      • How will I know when it is accomplished?

“I will study 12 hours per week, 3 hours per day for four days a week.”

  • Goals should be ATTAINABLE.  
    • A goal should be something to strive and reach for but something that is achievable and attainable. For example, completing an Associate’s Degree in one year may not be attainable while working full time with a family.
    • Ask yourself if you have the time, money, resources and talent to make it happen
    • Weigh the effort, time and other costs your goal will take against the benefits and other priorities you have in life.
    • You can attain most any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps.

“I will complete  8 hours /week of COMM classes this semester while working part-time.”

  • Goals should be REALISTIC. 
    • Your goal should be realistic and relevant. Ask yourself if your goal and timeline is realistic for your life, why is the goal important to you, and what is the objective behind your goal? What makes the goal worthwhile to YOU?
    • Be sure the goal is relevant to you.
      • Why is this goal important to you? (Make sure your goal aligns with your values.)
      • What are the benefits and rewards of accomplishing this goal?
      • Why will you be able to stay committed in the long-run?
      • Is it something that will still be important to you a month or year from now?

“I will enroll into a Community Service Diploma of choice this Fall  to pursue my interests and values in helping others in the community.”

  • Goals should be TIMEABLE.
    • Your goal should have a clear deadline. This will help you stay accountable and motivated.
    • Keep the timeline realistic but also a little challenging to create a sense of accountability and avoid procrastination.
    • With no deadline, there’s no sense of urgency, which leads to procrastination.
      • “Someday,” “soon,” and “eventually” are not deadlines.
      • Be specific with each deadline for each step along the way.

“I will complete the draft of my research assignment one-week before the deadline.”

You can watch this supplemental video on SMART goals if you wish to explore the idea further.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-SvuFIQjK8


Putting Your Goals Into Action

Be certain you want to reach the goal. We are willing to work hard and sacrifice to reach goals we really care about, one’s that support our core values. But, we’re likely to give up when we encounter obstacles if we don’t feel strongly about a goal. If you’re doing something only because your parents or someone else wants you to, then it’s not your own personal goal—and you may have some more thinking to do about your life.

  • Writing down your goals helps you to organize your thoughts and be clear with your goals, ensuring you meet the SMART goal criteria.
  • When you write your goals, state them positively, stating what you will do rather than what you won’t do.
  • After you have written down your goal, post it in a visible place to remind you every day of what it is you are working toward.
  • When you see your goal, ask yourself, “Did my choices today help move more toward my goal? Are my actions supporting my goals?”
  • Being reminded of your goal can help you stay motivated and focused.
  • Share your goal with people you know will be encouraging and cheer you on as you work toward your goal.

Activity – Creating SMART Goals


  • Identify and prioritize short-term academic goals
  • Make a specific SMART plan for achieving a short-term goal.


  • Write your short term goals.
  • Phrase the goals as positive statements.
  • Pick one short-term goal that can be accomplished in the next one to two weeks.
  •  Once you have selected the goal you will work on, use the following worksheet to create your Personal Action Plan.

SMART Goal Action Plan

My SPECIFIC goal is:


I will MEASURE it by:


It is ATTAINABLE because:


It is REALISTIC AND RELEVANT to me because:


My TIMELINE for completion is:


Potential obstacles I anticipate are:


I will overcome these obstacles by:


I will share my goal with the following people for support, encouragement, and accountability:


After my goal is complete, I will reward myself with (be sure it is proportionate to the goal):


This goal supports my core values in the following ways:


Key Takeaways

  • Goal setting is a process with many rewards and benefits that allows you to get what you want from life.
  • There are short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. They are often stepping stones to meet bigger goals.
  • You will create goals in several areas of your life including academic, career, financial and personal.
  • The SMART goal setting model is a very effective system for identifying and creating goals.
  • A Personal Action Plan can help you define your goals using the SMART goal model.

Attributions and References

This chapter contains adaptations from

Stewart, I., & Maisonville, A. (2019). A Guide for Successful Students. St. Clair College.
Book URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/
Section URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/chapter/chapter-1/
License: CC BY NC SA: Attribution

Syrett, H., et al. Learning Framework: Strategies for College Success. Provided by: Austin Community College.
Book URL: https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/8434
Section URL: https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/lesson/25860/overview?section=3
License: CC BY-NC-SA-4.0 Attribution


College Success. Authored by: Lumen. Retrieved from: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/personal-identity/. LicenseCC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

SMART_Criteria. Authored by: Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria. LicenseCC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

SMART Goal. Authored by: DecisionSkills. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-SvuFIQjK8. LicenseOtherLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License


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Fundamentals for Success in College Copyright © 2022 by Priti Parikh, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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