Academic Goals

Whether you’re a high schooler striving for acceptance into your dream college or a busy mom going back to school, it’s important for students to set academic goals for themselves.

Your academic achievements can lead to success in your career, fulfillment in yourself, and great exercise for your brain. Whatever your goals are, you shouldn’t aim to please anyone but yourself. Set your goals and work hard for them.

What Are You Working Towards?

Your academic goals should reflect the desires you have for your life. If you want to be a doctor, you must set your academic goals accordingly.

The best way to set your goals is first to determine where you want to end up. Start by asking yourself what your passions are in life, and what kind of academics would let you enjoy those passions. Different paths of life require various levels of education.

While the first thing that often comes to mind when you think academics is college, college may not lead you to where you want to be. For instance, if your passion is hair styling or cosmetology, you should set your academic sights on cosmetology school rather than a traditional college.

On the flip side, someone who wants to be a lawyer has to put a big focus on college as well as graduate programs. They may very likely also want to consider things like internships for additional experience.

As you can see, it’s vital that you have a clear endgame in order to set the best goals for yourself. Even if your goal is as simple as learning more about business, finance, or a certain topic, clarifying this within yourself will help you set, and keep your goal.

Setting Up for Success

Once you’ve decided what you are looking to get from your academic experience, there are a few things you should focus on before settings your goals. To set goals like an expert, focus on positivity, realism, and objectives.

Be Positive

There are many benefits to thinking positively. In fact, you can achieve things like an increased life span, lower depression risk, and even a better immune system all by practicing positive thinking. Those who think positively also see fewer stress impacts in their life along with better cardiovascular health.

So, what can a positive attitude do for your academic goals?

As a matter of fact, positive thinking can actually lead to better academic success. Studies show that your outlook on life matters just as much as your IQ and work ethic. A particular study on young children showed that kids excelled in the subjects they were good at. However, they were also good at the subjects that they enjoyed, thus associating a positive mentality towards academic achievement.

This kind of attitude and its impact, of course, follows us through our academic career, whether that entails a GED or a doctoral degree.

Although science and studies back this theory up, many people believed in a positive attitude long before there was any documented proof. Positive thoughts help keep you on the right track and keep negative feelings that may slow you down at bay.

A quick tip to staying positive through your academic goals is to keep them positive. For example:

  • Incorrect: I won’t be late for class anymore
  • Correct: I will make it on time for all my classes
  • Incorrect: I won’t fail my philosophy class
  • Correct: I will get an A in my philosophy class

It seems like such a small change, but the positive words replacing the negative words really make a huge impact on the way our minds take in our everyday tasks and academic goals.

Negative Thinking

According to experts, some clear signs of negative thinking can greatly impact not only your academic goals but your overall health and well-being. The four most common forms of negative self-talk include:

  • Filtering
  • Personalizing
  • Catastrophizing
  • Polarizing


Filtering happens when you look at a situation and magnify the bad rather than the good. A negative mindset has you filtering out all of the good aspects within a situation so that you can only see the negative. A good tactic to eliminating this issue is to put a great focus on the positives.

Look at a situation through a positive filter, focusing on the good things instead of the bad things. For example, your professor canceled class on the night of a big presentation you’ve been working hard on and were looking forward to getting over with.

The positives could be that you now have more time to practice and perfect. Even if you feel you’re prepared enough, take the extra time to catch up on other work or relax before the stressful presentation.


The act of immediately blaming yourself for everything bad that happens is referred to as personalizing. Someone with a negative mindset is likely to think that everything is their fault. You may have a big paper due, and the school’s library computer network crashes.

Obviously, this situation isn’t your fault, but a negative thinker would put the pressure on themselves. They should have started the paper earlier; they should have invested in their own laptop, etc.


Someone who practices catastrophizing thinks the absolute worst is bound to happen. Your alarm didn’t go off, and you arrived to class 5 minutes late, so you automatically think your professor hates you and is going to fail you.


When you polarize, it means that you can only view a situation as completely good or completely bad. With this type of negative mindset, there is no middle ground, no in-between. If something isn’t absolutely perfect, it’s considered a failure and therefore a completely negative situation.

Be Realistic

It’s important that the goals we set for ourselves academically are realistic. Setting unreachable goals is setting yourself up for failure, and nothing crushes us quite like failing to reach our goals.

But how can we make sure our goals both align with the outcome we want and maintain a realistic level of achievement? Experts recommend following Professor Robert S. Rubin of Saint Louis University’s SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let’s dive into each of these attributes that all of your realistic goals should fall under.


Broad-based goals don’t help anyone achieve much. Sure, you could make yourself a goal of getting up earlier, but what does that mean, exactly? The goal is so unspecific that you can bend and flex it to fit your needs, rather than using the goal to better yourself.

And so, if you typically get up at 9 am every morning and decide you want to get up earlier, you could technically justify to yourself that 8:45 am is earlier. However, if you set the specific goal of getting up at 7:30 am every morning, not only will you achieve greater discipline, but you’ll probably get a lot more done in your day.

When setting specific goals, remember to define the who, what, where, why, and how of the goal. These specifics will help you attain your goal with more efficiency. Take the waking up earlier example:

  • Incorrect: I want to wake up earlier.
  • Correct: I want to set the alarm to wake up at 7:30 am every morning, so I can get extra work done, freeing up more time for sleep and extracurricular activities as well as improving my grades.


If you wish to track your progress—and most people do—your goals should be measurable. Rather than throwing a blanket statement out there of wanting to raise your grades, you should set a measurable goal.

Ask yourself how much, how many, and how you’ll know when it’s accomplished. Otherwise, your goal is some outlandish dream floating around that doesn’t really have an endpoint. If you want to improve your grades, set a letter goal. Perhaps you’re currently at a C in a certain class, and you want to be at a B. That’s a measurable goal.


Part of being realistic is making sure it’s actually possible to achieve your goal. Before you set a goal for yourself, ask yourself two questions:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • What constraints would make this goal unachievable? (i.e., finances, time)

Perhaps you like to make weekly goals for your academics. You take a look at your workload for the week to find that you have several papers due and a few exams to study for by Friday. To say that you’ll finish it all by Monday night, thus freeing up your week, is probably not very achievable.

Instead, set realistic goals that let you achieve everything on time and with quality work. Make yourself a schedule, prioritizing in a way that lets you achieve your goals.


Your goals should matter to you and your life. Don’t set goals just for the sake of accomplishing something; do it for the betterment of your academic career. Ask yourself if the goal you’re thinking about is worthwhile. Is now the right time to do this? Will it benefit my loved ones and me? Is it going to hurt me more than help me?

Maybe you’re a full-time mom, but you really want to go back to school to get your master’s degree. Ask yourself if now is the right time. Can your family afford to miss you for several hours a week? Will it be a reasonable workload? Can your family take on the educational costs? Is your master’s important to you, or to someone pressuring you?

Time Bound

A timeline is what will help you actually achieve your goals. Goals without a deadline kind of just float there with no real beginning or end. Plan out a specific timeline for your goals, defining where you want to be at certain points.

Depending on your goals, you can lay out what you can get done today, what you want to have done in a few weeks, and where you want to be in a few months. You can also determine your end date. Time is especially important for short-term goals, like planning out your senior capstone presentation. You have a presentation date, so plan mini goals from now until that day.


It’s useful to note that some experts and authors have adopted the updated version of the SMART goal technique but adding on the “ER.” The “E” stands for evaluated, while the “R” stands for reviewed. Simply put, once you’ve nailed down your SMART goals, evaluate and review them to double-check that they’re realistic.

Set Objectives

Objective should be seen as steps and tools you can use and take to reach your goals. Setting objectives makes your overall goal seem less daunting and more achievable. Rather than focusing on the overall goal, you can set your sights on smaller, less intimidating feats.

For example, let’s say your ultimate goal is to lose 20 pounds. That in itself and alone can be a hefty task that seems miles away. However, setting objectives along the way will help you attain your goal. Try objectives like these:

  • Go to the gym three times per week
  • Cut sugar from my diet
  • Drink more water

Any of these things alone will not magically make you drop 20 pounds, but each of them achieved together gets your closer to your end goal.

The same goes for academics. It’s one thing to say that you want to get an A in a class—everyone wants to get A’s. Setting smaller objectives will help you get there. Take it one assignment at a time and set objectives for projects. It will be much easier to focus on getting A’s on your exams than on the whole semester, and every A assignment gets your closer to that final A.

Tips for Accomplishing Your Academic Goals

Once you have set up realistic and positive goals to attain in your academic career, you need to stick to them in order to actually accomplish them. Staying with your goals for the long haul can sometimes be a little difficult, especially when other easier situation come up. Use these tips to stay focused on the bigger picture.

Write Them Down

We’ve all heard that writing things down helps us remember them better. Writing is used all throughout academics—we take notes, we write things on notecards while we study, teachers write things on the board.

The key here is the emphasis on the word “write.” By write, we don’t mean type or take a picture of it. We’re talking good old fashion pen to paper kind of writing.

According to psychological studies, writing things down with pen and paper can help us remember things better. Various experiments showed that those who took notes longhand rather than on a laptop did better on exams and overall had a higher quality of learning.

Therefore, when setting goals, we follow the same logic. Writing down your goals locks it into place, making it more concrete and therefore of more importance in your mind. Picture yourself setting a goal in your mind without writing it anywhere. It becomes lofty, a mere possibility. When you write it down, it seems more real, something to attain rather than something to maybe consider doing someday.

So, whether you write it on a sticky note and keep it on your desk or detail it in a journal, you should write your goals down somewhere.

Get a Journal

Some people might refer to this as a dream journal or an aspiration diary; either way, keeping a more detailed record of your goals can help you stay on top of them.

When you use a journal for academic goals, it lets you not only write down your initial goal but keep track of smaller objectives and progress. If you’re really into writing, you can even keep a personal journal throughout your academic goals.

Write down how you’re doing, how you can improve, and how you’re feeling about your goals. Add details to the goals and pen why you want to achieve your academic pursuits.

Look at your goal journal like you would your academic assignments. When you read a book for a class, you take notes as you read it, so you remember key aspects and can keep track of where you are. Your goal journal should follow that same context.

Not only will you be able to track and look back at previous entries, but your journal will align with the methods you already use in your academics, fitting right into your routines.

Find Accountability

Many students find it helpful to have an accountability partner or system of some sort. It’s easier to do something when another person is pushing you to do so. Accountability partners keep you on track, checking in regularly to make sure you’re at the right stage in your goal process.

Often, accountability partners will have the same goals, but they don’t have to. While you’re trying to achieve your goal, your partner may be working on something totally different. However, you both remain accountable with and for each other.

This is a great way to ensure that you don’t fall off schedule, and it’s also a nice way to connect with a friend and increase levels of trust and responsibility.

If you have a hard time finding an accountability partner, there are other ways of staying accountable. For example, if you have an academic goal that requires you to do something every day, you can set an alarm or a reminder on your phone. When the alarm goes off, you do what you have to do.

You can also use a planner or a calendar to keep you accountable. At the beginning of every month, go through the days and write down what you need to do each day. Then, when you look at your planner each day, your objectives and goals are already written as a reminder.

Sticky notes are also great tools to use during stages of academic goal-setting. Place sticky note reminders in places you spend a lot of time, like on your refrigerator or on your desk. Use bright colors that will capture your attention. When you’ve completed the task, rip the note up and throw it out—you won’t believe how satisfying that feeling is!

Stay Flexible

As much as you want to achieve your academic goals, it’s important to note that we live in an ever-changing world with lots of surprises. Life is unpredictable, so it may be of great help to you if you have a flexible mindset.

Don’t be flexible in a way that allows you to be too lax with your goals, but remain open enough where you can adjust your goals if need be.

For example, if your goal was to get a 4.0 in a semester and you fail a pop quiz, it will no longer be possible to attain that 4.0. Don’t panic—just adjust. Just because you can’t attain your original goal doesn’t mean you should abolish it altogether. Re-evaluate your options and set a new goal. A 3.8 GPA is still impressive and completely doable.

Flexibility in your goals will also help you remain positive because it allows you to achieve success even if you don’t hit your initial goal. So, relax a little bit and remember that life is not perfect, and neither are you—and that’s okay!

Why Are Academic Goals Important?

At certain stages in our academic careers, we have all questioned the importance of what we’re doing, what we’re learning, and why everyone is so focused on what we’ll achieve. Many high schoolers in particular hit stages where they find it hard to believe that their grades now will determine their entire futures.

While it may be a bit of a stretch to claim that one F on a test will decide whether you’re a busboy for life or a successful businessman, it is still true that academic success is likely to lead to overall life and career success.

When students of any age set goals, they can achieve the following:

  • Improved academic performance
  • Increased motivation
  • Increased pride and satisfaction in performance
  • Improved self-confidence

The first of these is fairly typical: setting academic goals can help students improve their academic performance. However, the following three have further implications for the rest of your life.

Students who set goals are more motivated than those who don’t, which make sense. If you don’t have an endgame in mind, it seems like you’re working for nothing, and that doesn’t seem worthwhile at all. Setting goals are important, especially at a young age, so that students can achieve the motivation they need to go further in life.

At the same time, setting goals can have a big impact on self-confidence, pride, and satisfaction. When you set realistic goals and achieve them, you have a great sense of self-fulfillment and worth. You set your mind on something, and you did it. Having confidence in your abilities is such a strong feature to have. Setting academic goals can be a huge confidence builder.

Think about it: everyone starts their life off in academics. That’s where the first goals come into play. Young children have goals set by their parents, like when their child learns to read or count or spell. But eventually, there’s a transition where children start to set their own goals.

Practicing this habit sets us up for bigger goals—life-long and career goals. Academic goals are just the building blocks for every goal we’ll set for the rest of our lives, whether they be in education, family, or health.

Reward Yourself

You’ve done it: you have set your goals, you detailed your objectives, you tracked your progress, and you finally did it. You achieved your academic goals.

Whether this goal was short-term, like an A in a difficult honors class, or long-term, like walking across that graduation stage and moving that tassel, an achievement is an achievement. You put good, honest, hard work into your goals, and now it’s time to celebrate.

Don’t write off any academic goal as no big deal. No matter the size, your goals were always and should be important to you. It’s important to recognize hard work, so even if your goal was personal and unknown to others, you should reward yourself.

Just as a diploma often earns you a graduation party, achieving that A deserves a celebration. Do something for yourself: get a manicure, treat yourself to dessert at your favorite restaurant, or buy that video game you’ve been waiting for to avoid distraction.

By putting in the work and reaching that benchmark, you earned something nice. Treat yourself, and then set your next goal!

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