It’s never too early to start setting goals. Whether you’re a parent with elementary-school-aged children, a high school junior, attending college or earning a postgraduate degree, you can set goals that will help you succeed in your studies.
Why Should Students Set Goals?
In a poll run by TheHopeLine.com, most students said that they wanted to avoid slacking off during the next school year. One way to prevent procrastination and get your work done on time is to set goals.
But goal setting isn’t just for academic work. It can help students with their personal lives too.
No matter how old you are, you should be setting goals in various categories. These include:
- Health and wellness
To visualize the importance of setting goals, Overcoming Obstacles recommends doing the following activity with students:
- Separate students into three or four groups.
- Ask each group to make a different noise, such as clapping, whistling or stomping their feet.
- Set a timer, and ask students to start making the noise. Stop them after 30 seconds.
- Ask if you accomplished anything during the activity. Students may say something like, “We accomplished making a lot of noise” or “we got into a rhythm.”
- Ask if the students achieved their goal. You might have a discussion at this point that no goal was set for the activity. Everyone put in some effort, but it’s tough to define what they accomplished.
How could you adjust this activity to make it more goal oriented? You could:
- Attempt to make noises that sound like a thunderstorm.
- Ask students to make noises as quietly as possible.
- Ask students to make noises as loudly as possible.
Then, ask students if they met their goal. Now, you can explain why it helps to set goals in the first place. They direct students’ focus and give them a standard by which they can measure their success.
What Can Students Do to Set Themselves Up for Success?
It’s hard for students under the age of 18 to envision their future. Elementary students may have a hard time imagining life next week. Middle school students might only be able to think as far as the end of the school year.
Although much of the goal-setting advice out there recommends that you start with a big vision and work backward, that might not be the best tactic for students.
Young people can do some activities to help them discover their values, though. When they familiarize themselves with what they want in life, they can better structure their targets as they learn more about goal setting.
Here are some pre-goal-setting activities that students can use to understand their priorities:
- Reflect on their strengths and weaknesses – Students can ask themselves what qualities they appreciate most about themselves and what qualities they would like to improve. They might also ask themselves what they’re good at and what they find difficult.
- Look at others – Ask students to list the 10 most important people in their lives. Then, ask them what they admire in those individuals.
- Values – What values are most important to you? Use the answers from the previous two activities to help you decide. For example, if you love your friends because they are supportive and honest, then being helpful and trustworthy may be two of your top values.
- Superpowers – if you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? What would your vulnerability be?
- Picture the Future – Imagine that it’s five years from now, and you’re telling the story of what you’ve accomplished in the past few years. What would you like to say?
Asking themselves these questions can help students identify their goals. Here are some ways that you can transform the answers into goals:
- If you are proud of your creativity, set a goal to draw, paint, write or make music for 30 minutes a day.
- If you feel like you could be more organized, make it a goal to maintain your planner.
- If kindness is important to you, write in a gratitude journal every day.
- If your superpower would be to make everyone happy, give one person a compliment every day.
- If you would like to be working at a law firm in five years, enroll in a class in your political science department.
Example Goals for All Students
Regardless of your educational stage, you can benefit from adopting the general goals below. They can help you become more organized and structure your days around planning and completing goals.
1. Create a Routine
Developing a routine can help students stay consistent with their work. Take time to look at your week.
Do you have certain activities on specific days? Write them in a planner so that you can see the pattern.
Then, ask yourself how much time you need for the following tasks:
- Doing homework
- Cleaning your room
- Reviewing previous work
- Preparing for the next day
- Making your lunch
- Hanging out with friends
Accommodate these tasks in your planner. You probably need to schedule daily pockets of time for doing homework and making your lunch. But you might only clean your room or hang out with friends once a week.
After you have created your plan, see if it works for you. Refer to your planner throughout the week. Make adjustments as necessary.
Your routine will become more automated as you practice it. Knowing what’s coming up and how much time you need to accomplish all of your tasks can take the pressure off of your obligations.
2. Keep Your Backpack Organized
If you’re shoving papers, assignments and your lunch into your backpack, you might have a hard time finding what you need when you get home. An easy way to get more organized is to set a goal to put everything in the right place.
This starts with your school bag. Begin by emptying it out completely. Wash it if necessary.
Make sure all of the items that came out of it have a place. If you notice that you come home with a lot of loose papers, consider purchasing folders or binders to keep them together. If miscellaneous items or school supplies get out of hand, put a pencil box or smaller bag inside your backpack to corral them.
3. Give Yourself Rules
Set some rules for yourself to stay on track with your responsibilities. Your guidelines may include:
- Finish assignments two days before they’re due.
- Begin studying for exams at least one week ahead of time.
- Spend 30 minutes a day working on a writing assignment.
- Create a deadline that’s a day or two ahead of the actual deadline.
These rules can get worked into your daily and weekly goals.
4. Make a Note of Your Resources
It’s difficult to accomplish all of your goals by yourself. You will likely need assistance from other people or resources.
Maybe you need to learn more about a particular topic. For example, you want to work in fashion design when you graduate from college. You might need to learn more about:
- Colleges that cater to this industry.
- The best cities for fashion designers.
- Trade shows or events that you can attend to network with others.
- Software that you might need to use.
If you think that you’ll need support from other people, line up a list of those who can help you right now. Maybe a friend’s parent works in the fashion industry and you could pick their brain. Perhaps you’ll need your parents to help you with finances as you get on your feet. You might need to apply for grants, scholarship or financial aid to reach your goals.
Considering the help that you might need ahead of time makes it more readily available when you’re ready to reach out for it.
5. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when you need it. You can get into the habit of using your planner or a specific spot in your notebook to jot down questions as you’re going over academic material.
Perhaps you don’t understand something in your reading. You can make a note of your question so that you can ask your teacher the next time you’re in class.
Curiosity is a key to success, and it’s never too early to instill a sense of inquisitiveness in a student. In fact, the joy of discovery and motivation to explore the unknown are two characteristics that can make a young person a better learner.
If you’re a parent, you can encourage curiosity in your kids by taking them to new places, helping them find stimulating activities, letting them take the lead and engaging in imaginative play. Teachers and caregivers can also nurture curiosity by:
- Rewarding it
- Teaching children to ask good questions
- Encouraging students to reach out when they feel confused
- Fostering exploration
- Pairing students with different levels of curiosity
- Teach students to question the status quo
Example Goals for Elementary School Students
In elementary school, children don’t just pick up a wealth of information about the subjects that they’re studying. They also learn how to set up habits that will help them succeed in the world.
At an early age, children learn about manners, appropriate behavior, classroom expectations, organization and time management. Helping them set and accomplish goals at this stage in life can prepare them to continue the practice throughout their lifetimes.
A goals list for elementary school students might include:
- Take out and put away materials quickly.
- Keep your feet on the floor.
- Keep your eyes on the teacher when he is talking.
- Don’t speak when your teacher is talking.
- Finish your work before you play with your friends.
- Use kind words.
- Raise your hand before speaking.
- Sit up in your seat.
- Follow directions the first time they’re given.
Example Goals for High School Students
By the time they’re in high school, students should be more familiar with setting goals. Plus, the pressure to go to college typically builds throughout high school. By junior and senior year, many students have multiple deadlines for standardized testing and college applications.
Helping them set goals before the pressure increases may help them cope with their obligations as they near graduation.
A goals list for high school students might include:
- Do 20 hours of community service this semester.
- Find a volunteer position that I’m passionate about.
- Get a part-time job.
- Spend 30 minutes every Saturday learning vocabulary words for the SAT.
- Join a club that I’m excited about.
- Look at my planner every Sunday to make sure that I’m prepared for the week.
- Do my homework before I talk to my friends in the afternoons.
Example Goals for University Students
College challenges students in new ways. Young people are more independent than ever before. They don’t always have parents or teachers looking after them to make sure that they accomplish all of their tasks. Getting organized is crucial at this stage in life.
Goal setting during the college years will help students build solid study skills and manage their time in ways that set them up for success after they graduate and enter the workforce.
Some ideas for goals that college students can set include:
- Planning regular study times for every course.
- Make sure that you enter all deadlines in your planner.
- Meet with each professor at least once during the semester.
- Join an extracurricular organization.
- Visit your career services department.
- Find a tutor to help you with a subject that you’re having trouble with.
- Explore intramural sports on campus.
- Go to the rec center or ride your bike to school five days a week.
- Learn the public transportation routes that apply to your schedule.
- Go to class every day; don’t skip classes.
Tips for Student Goal Setting
Now that we’ve given you some background about goal setting for students, here are some specific tips.
Use a Planner
Students who use planners typically get high marks in school. They don’t miss deadlines, they’re well prepared for exams and they can predict what’s coming up instead of being surprised by a looming project.
Some people are resistant to using planners. They may think that they’re too laid back to be bound by the constraints of a planner.
However, most people would probably say that they don’t want to lose track of things. However adept your memory is, you could benefit from writing down deadlines and keeping track of them outside of your mind.
A planner that’s convenient enough to use should:
- Be thin and not bulky
- Have spiral-bound pages that are easy to flip open
- Have a bookmark or clip to help you find the right page
- Have a spot for a pen
- Be kept in an accessible place
Students should be using their planners to record daily tasks and assignments during school. They should be able to pull out the planner easily when the teacher delegates homework so that they don’t have to worry about remembering the task.
On their own time, however, students can take their planning to the next level. At the beginning of every week, they can review the projects that are due by Friday. They can create weekly goals to hold themselves accountable.
Every evening, they should also check their planners. Doing this allows them to set goals for the next day.
Share Your Goals
If you’re a parent or caregiver, you may have a student that always wants to know what you’re up to. Have you ever fielded questions from your child about your schedule, only to brush them off by saying, “Don’t worry about it. You’re not involved.”
When kids ask about your routines, consider giving them the information that they’re asking for. They’re learning how people organize their lives, and you serve as the model.
You might think about holding a family meeting once a week to go over your goals for that time period. Parents can tell their kids if they have appointments or carpool plans. Kids can remind parents of extracurricular activities or class projects that are due this week.
This practice helps parents teach kids how to think ahead. It also gets everyone on the same page to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Use an App
Apps can help students set goals. Habitica is designed for younger students but can help older ones too. This app turns habit building into a game.
You can choose to set goals in multiple categories. Then, you break them down into the following:
- Habits – Regular tasks that you want to get comfortable with
- Dailies – Activities that happen on a particular day or every day; you can set a start date or due date or have it repeat.
- To-dos – Tasks that you do rarely or once go here; you can add deadlines and checklists.
You can set up rewards that you earn in the app or real life to celebrate your wins. As you check off the tasks in Habitica, you earn points, which help you earn rewards.
If you pick up bad habits or neglect your goals, your “health” in the game will suffer. As you advance in your life, you also move forward in the game.
MyStudyLife is an electronic planner. If a paper agenda doesn’t work for you, you might find this app helpful. It’s designed specifically for students and can help you arrange your classes, internship, job and exams.
It syncs across platforms so that you can access it from your computer or phone. It also features reminders that let you know when an important deadline is coming up.
Learn to Break Down Large Tasks
Getting lots of assignments at school can be overwhelming. But you can handle large tasks by breaking them down.
Let’s say that you have to write a history paper. Thinking about writing 3,000 words on the subject can be daunting. Instead of holding the finished assignment in your mind, divide it into smaller pieces.
This might look like:
- Find 10 resources for research.
- Read those resources and take notes.
- Write an outline.
- Write a draft of the introduction.
- Write the main points from the outline.
- Write the conclusion.
- Proofread the paper.
- Print it out.
When each task can be accomplished in 30 minutes or less, you’re more likely to take it on instead of procrastinating. Every time you have an assignment, ask yourself how you can make it easier by breaking it down.
Don’t Worry About Impressing Others
As you’re growing up, you’re shaped by your family, peers and environment. Although much of that influence is positive, it can sway you in directions that aren’t ideal for you.
Make sure that the goals that you set are based on your values and strengths. For example, your sibling may have joined Model United Nations in high school because she wants to be a political science major in college.
In ninth grade, you follow in her footsteps. However, you have an engineering mind and love math and numbers. You struggle to understand your responsibilities in the club, and you don’t get much out of it.
Perhaps your time would have been better spent following your own goals instead of trying to do what you thought your parents expected of you. We’re not saying that you should ignore your parents’ advice.
However, you do need to be honest with yourself and others about your passions. You’ll find it much harder to set goals that someone else sets for you than to accomplish those that you value.
According to the 2017 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, only about half of the students at four-year colleges are satisfied with their experience. Many feel as though they’re not experiencing intellectual growth and the content of the courses within their majors is not valuable.
It’s hard to know exactly why some college students are dissatisfied. Perhaps the reason is that they’re following somebody else’s goals and expectations instead of their own.
The same survey referenced above indicated that non-traditional learners, such as those attending night classes while working full time or taking online courses, are more satisfied with their education. Could that be because they are adult learners who chose to follow this path? Perhaps their education is more aligned with their goals than a younger student’s.
To be successful, you have to find your own path. Don’t let others pressure you into being someone you’re not. When you’re passionate about your goals, you’re much more likely to stick with them.
Know Why You’re Setting Goals
In the noise-making activity that we described above, students don’t know why they’re making strange sounds during the first round. Therefore, they’re left feeling as though they didn’t really accomplish anything.
Even if you have a list of to-dos outlined in your planner, you may not feel fulfilled if you don’t know why they’re important to you.
Identifying the personal value of every goal can be daunting for a student. Much of your time is spent adhering to someone else’s expectations or deadlines. That’s why it’s even more important to decide why your goals are important to you.
Here are some examples for you to consider:
- Why do you want to finish your assignments two days before they’re due? – You hate the stress of rushing to complete assignments at the last minute; you end up missing out on fun times with friends when you’re working around the clock the day before a project is due; you hate it when your parents hound you about completing your homework.
- Why do you want to do community service? – You want to have a robust college application; you feel good when you’re helping others; you want to work at a non-profit someday.
- Why do you want to exercise regularly? – You like feeling energetic while you’re sitting at your desk; your mind feels clearer, and you’re able to raise your hand more often, which makes you feel proud of yourself; you like playing games outdoors with your friends.
- Why do you want to clean your backpack out every week? – You hate finding old lunches at the bottom of your bag; you don’t want to miss out on a field trip because you forgot to give the permission slip to your parents; your teacher makes you rewrite your homework if it comes in wrinkled or torn.
- Why do you want to be quiet when the teacher is talking? – If you miss out on some information, you have to sit inside to learn it at recess; you don’t get points on your reward chart when you’re talking in class; you don’t get to sit with your friends when you’re not being a good listener.
- Why should you keep your feet on the floor while you’re sitting at your desk? – You don’t want to fall and hurt yourself.
- Why do you want to go to class every day? – You don’t want to feel rushed catching up on information that you missed; you don’t want to fail a test because you didn’t learn a particular piece of information; you don’t want to have to borrow someone else’s notes.
Setting goals allows students to take an active role in their learning. If they are in charge of their education, students may be more curious, dedicated and passionate about it. Goal setting is a skill that you can practice. When honed, it’s one of the keys to success in all areas of life.