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Academic Goals: How To Stay Motivated To Achieve Success

Academic goals: Girl using a table inside an office

The ability to set goals in high school can help you make important decisions regarding your future, and it can ensure you stay on track toward higher education plans.

Still, setting goals can feel overwhelming — especially if you don't know where to start. Here's how to create a straightforward formula for setting short and long-term goals that can guide you toward academic success.

Why Academic Goals Matter

Your academic goals are important because they serve as a guide for the choices you make now and in the future. In other words, they're the roadmap that you can follow as you make choices about current classes, educational interests, and eventually, college.

For example, you might decide that you want to get a B+ or above in every science class you take because you're interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree in a science-related field. This can help keep you motivated to study for your science exams now, even when they get difficult, since you know it leads toward a long-term academic goal that serves your long-term interests.

When high school students set personal goals regarding education, it also helps develop important skill sets that improve their chances of success in college. Specifically, educational goals can teach you time management skills as you take short, delivered actions within a certain time frame.

This is valuable as a college student, where you'll need to juggle a heavy course load across multiple classes. Setting goals also develops a strong work ethic and fosters self-motivation.

Students who can stay motivated to achieve high grades throughout a four-year degree demonstrate a sense of perseverance and dedication (even through hard work) that can help them stand out in the job market.

What Makes Your Academic Goals Effective?

Academic goals: Group of graduates celebrating and wearing togas

To be effective, academic goals must also be realistic. If you aim too high, you can overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations — which can lead to a sense of discouragement and disappointment. In contrast, setting goals that are too low can limit what you can achieve and make it more challenging to reach your full potential.

One of the best strategies for setting ambitious, yet realistic goals is to use the SMART method. This approach uses five categories to determine an achievable goal:

Specific: The best goals are specific. Be as detailed as possible about what you want to achieve, as this helps you stay motivated around what it looks like and why you want it.

Measurable: A measurable goal is one you can track with small milestones. Think about which baby steps you'll take to achieve your goal and how you'll know when each short-term goal has been achieved.

Achievable: To decide if your goal strikes a balance between being challenging, yet attainable, ask yourself: How will I accomplish this goal? If you can see a clear path toward your goal, it's likely achievable.

Relevant: Relevancy is essential for academic goals because it ensures that this effort is aligned with your future career goals. Consider how your life might change if you achieve this goal, and what it will mean for you both now and in the future.

Time-bound: Lastly, your goal should have a set deadline. When do you want to achieve this goal? When you have a deadline, it'll help shape each specific goal along the way, so your actions are targeted and deliberate.

In addition to helping boost motivation, SMART goals help you establish clarity around what you want to achieve and why. SMART goals also make it easy to see the long-term plan around why this goal matters and when you can expect to have it finished.

Examples of Academic Goals

Academic goals: Woman with eyeglasses working and using a laptop

Now that you understand how to set a realistic goal, it's important to understand what effective academic goals look like.

Short-Term Goals

High school students should set short-term goals regarding the areas they want to improve and the areas they want to excel (and potentially pursue in the future).

For example, you might set a goal of achieving an A in a class you currently have a B in. To achieve the goal of improving your grade, you might decide on the following steps:

  • Increase study time for the class by seeking out a tutor to help you on the weekends
  • Start or join a peer discussion and study group that meets each week
  • Ask for after-school help from your teacher once a week

Each of these goals can help you achieve the short-term goal of achieving a higher grade in the class, and each step is specific and achievable.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals are just as important as short-term goals. One example of a long-term goal is that you want to achieve a certain grade on the SAT (a good SAT score goal will depend on your strengths and abilities). If you set this goal during your freshman year, you can prepare for the test over a few years.

To achieve this goal, you might outline these steps:

  • Find an SAT Tutor who can help improve your study skills.
  • Create a study schedule so you can work toward the test in small increments.
  • Invest time in taking practice tests, so you can familiarize yourself with the exam format.

Additionally, you might decide to set a long-term goal for each school year. These goals can be part of your long-term goals, but help you see the goals for each year individually. Creating these goals now can help you create the life you want in years to come.

Leadership and Character Goals

Group of happy students studying in the library

Additionally, you might also consider long-term goals that can improve your soft skills, like character and leadership. Extracurricular activities provide an excellent opportunity to create community and develop different skill sets.

For example, you might decide you want to hold a leadership position in the business club. Or, you might set your sights on managing the accounting on the club ski team. Whatever it is, think about something that interests you both personally and academically.

While these types of goals aren't specific to grades, they're still an important part of academic success because they help ensure that you have a well-rounded education across all areas of your life.

Academic Goals for College Students

College students in a degree program may have goals similar to high school students, such as achieving a high grade, excelling in specific areas of coursework, and improving academic performance overall. Yet a college student's goals are likely to be more focused on career pursuits.

For example, a first-year college student may set a long-term goal to complete an internship by the time they graduate. Or, they might decide that they want to evaluate their interest in two different career paths by taking two different introductory courses in their first semester.

Set and Achieve Important Goals for Your Future

It's challenging to set goals, especially when they involve your future. Plus, it's hard to decide how to set a goal when you're not sure what you want for your long-term future. Fortunately, a SMART goal strategy can guide you toward success.

As long as a goal feels specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, you'll be set up to excel. For more information on how to set powerful academic goals and get help from an experienced tutor, see TutorMe.

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