Student studying at desk

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.  —Yogi Berra, baseball player and coach

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how time management plays a factor in goal setting, leading to short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives
  • Identify overall academic goals
  • Identify and apply motivational strategies to support goal achievement
  • Explore the social aspects of achieving goals (networking, social media, etc.)
  • Brainstorm factors that might hinder goal achievement and possible ways to address these issues


Time Management and Goal Setting

There is no doubt that doing well in college is a sizable challenge, especially for first-year students, who run the greatest risk of dropping out. You are faced with new physical surroundings, new social environments, new daily tasks and responsibilities, and most likely new financial obligations. Overall, you are swamped with new challenges! Do you feel confident that you can attend to all of them in a balanced, committed way? What will be your secret of success?

Success Begins with Goals

Goals! A goal is a desired result that you envision and then plan and commit to achieve. Goals can relate to family, education, career, wellness, spirituality, and many other areas of your life. Generally, goals are associated with finite time expectations, even deadlines.

As a college student, many of your goals are defined for you. For example, you must take certain courses, you must comply with certain terms and schedules, and you must turn in assignments at specified times. These goals are mostly set for you by someone else.

But there are plenty of goals for you to define yourself. For example, you decide what you’d like to major in. You decide how long you are going to be in college or what terms you want to enroll in. You largely plan how you’d like your studies to relate to employment and your career.

Goals can also be sidetracked. Consider the following scenario in which a student makes a discovery that challenges her to reexamine her goals, priorities, and timetables:

Janine had thought she would be an accountant, even though she knew little about what an accounting job might entail. Her math and organizational skills were strong, and she enjoyed taking economics courses and well as other courses in her accounting program. But when one of her courses required her to spend time in an accounting office working with taxes, she decided that accounting was not the right fit for her, due to the higher-stress environment and the late hours.

At first she was concerned that she invested time and money in a career path that did not match her disposition. She feared that changing her major would add to her graduation time. Nevertheless, she did decide to change her major and her career focus.

Janine is now a statistician with a regional healthcare system. She is very happy with her work. Changing her major from accounting to statistics was the right decision for her.

This scenario represents some of the many opportunities we have, on an ongoing basis, to assess our relationship to our goals, reevaluate priorities, and adjust. Opportunities exist every day—every moment, really!

Below is a set of questions we can ask ourselves at any turn to help focus on personal goals:

  1. What are my top-priority goals?
  2. Which of my skills and interests make my goals realistic for me?
  3. What makes my goals believable and possible?
  4. Are my goals measurable? How long will it take me to reach them? How will I know if I have achieved them?
  5. Are my goals flexible? What will I do if I experience a setback?
  6. Are my goal controllable? Can I achieve them on my own?
  7. Are my goals in sync with my values?

As you move through your college career, make a point to ask these questions regularly.



In order to achieve long-term goals (from college on), you’ll need to first achieve a series of shorter goals. Medium-term goals (this year and while in college) and short-term goals (today, this week, and this month) may take several days, weeks, months, or even a few years to complete, depending on your ultimate long-term goals. Identify what you will need to do in order to achieve your all goals. Gain a full view of your trajectory.


  • Identify and prioritize 3–5 long-term academic goals.
  • Identify three related medium-term and short-term academic goals.
  • Identify what you are doing toward achieving these identified goals (for example, how you are managing time).


  • Review the worksheet below, and fill in the blank sections to the best of your ability.


  • Phrase goals as positive statements: Affirm your excitement and enthusiasm about attaining a goal by using positive language and expectations.
  • Be exacting: Set a precise goal that includes dates, times, and amounts, so that you have a basis for measuring how closely you achieve your goals.
  • Prioritize: Select your top goals, and put them in order of importance. This helps you understand the degree to which you value each of them. It will also help you better manage related tasks and not feel overwhelmed.
  • Assume you are the captain of your ship: Identify goals that are linked to your own performance, not dependent on the actions of other people or situations beyond your control.
  • Be realistic but optimistic and ambitious: The goals you set should be achievable, but sometimes it pays to reach a little higher than what you may think is possible. Certainly don’t set your goals too low.
  • Be hopeful, excited, and committed: Your enthusiasm and perseverance can open many doors!

Examples of Long-Term Academic Goals

  • I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. My major will be Radio-Television-Film, and my minor will be Spanish.
  • I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree with a major in international history.
  • I plan to attain an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN).

Examples of Medium-Term or Short-Term Academic Goals:

  • I would like to study abroad in Spain before I graduate.
  • I want to get involved in a service-learning project in my community, as part of my preparation for eventual service work.
  • I plan to join the student government organization so that I can gain some experience at the community college where I take classes part-time.

Additional immediate goals might be applying for financial aid, getting a part-time job, taking a short leave of absence, speaking with a counselor, etc.

You may wish to use an academic planning worksheet to help you identify courses and terms. Here is a sample from the Penn State Eberly College of Science: Blank Academic Plan.

Example: Long-term goal #1 I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. My major will be Radio-Television-Film, and my minor will be Spanish I am attending the college of my choice and getting good grades in my major.
Example: Related medium-term goal I would like to study abroad in Spain before I graduate. I need to get busy with this!  I will inquire this week about what I need to do next.
Example: Related short-term goal I will need to get financial aid for at least a portion of my studies. I have filled out the forms for financial aid. Last week I applied for a part-time job.
Long-term goal #1
Related medium-term goal
Related short-term goal
Long-term goal #2
Related medium-term goal
Related short-term goal
Long-term goal #3
Related medium-term goal
Related short-term goal
Long-term goal #4
Related medium-term goal
Related short-term goal
Long-term goal #5
Related medium-term goal
Related short-term goal


Motivational Strategies to Support You

Every day we make choices. Some are as simple as what clothes we decide to wear, what we’ll eat for lunch, or how long to study for a test. But what about life-altering choices—the ones that leave us at a crossroads? How much thought do you give to taking Path A versus Path B? Do you like to plan and schedule your choices, by making a list of pros and cons, for instance? Or do you prefer to make decisions spontaneously and just play the cards that life deals you as they come?

The videos that follow are about choices for success. Watch them with a keen eye and ear. Take notes, too. You might pick up some some good ideas for strategies that can help you reach your goals.

Haroon F. Mirza is the director of business development at Intel Corp. Mirza talks about defining moments, how life is all about choices and how we can create defining moments that can change the trajectory of our lives:

a picture of a blank video screen
Video: The Power of a Moment


Dr. Nido R. Qubein is the president of High Point University. In this video he discusses his book Seven Choices for Success and Significance: How to Live Life from the Inside Out:

a picture of a blank video screen
Video: Dr. Nido R. Qubein


Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the role choice has in managing change and accomplishing what we want:

a picture of a blank video screen
Video: Stephen Covey


L’il Wayne is an American rapper from New Orleans, Louisiana. In this video he talks about his strategies for success:

a picture of a blank video screen
Video: Lil’ Wayne

Social Aspects of Achieving Your Goals

Setting goals can be a challenge, but working toward them, once you’ve set them, can be an even greater challenge—often because it implies that you will be making changes in your life. You might be creating new directions of thought or establishing new patterns of behavior, discarding old habits or starting new ones. Change will always be the lifeblood of achieving your goals.

You may find that as you navigate this path of change, one of your best resources is your social network. Your family, friends, roommates, coworkers, and others can help you maintain a steady focus on your goals. They can encourage and cheer you on, offer guidance when needed, share knowledge and wisdom they’ve gained, and possibly partner with you in working toward shared goals and ambitions. Your social network is a gold mine of support.

Here are some easy ways you can tap into goal-supporting “people power”:

  • Make new friends
  • Study with friends
  • Actively engage with the college community
  • Volunteer to help others
  • Join student organizations
  • Get an internship
  • Work for a company related to your curriculum
  • Stay connected via social media (but use it judiciously)*
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Congratulate yourself on all you’ve done to get where you are

*A note about social media: More than 98 percent of college-age students use social media, says Experian Simmons. Twenty-seven percent of those students spent more than six hours a week on social media (UCLA, 2014). The University of Missouri, though, indicates in a 2015 study that this level of use may be problematic. It can lead to symptoms of envy, anxiety, and depression. Still, disconnecting from social media may have a negative impact, too, and further affect a student’s anxiety level.

Is there a healthy balance? If you feel overly attached to social media, you may find immediate and tangible benefit in cutting back. By tapering your use, your can devote more time to achieving your goals. You can also gain a sense of freedom and more excitement about working toward your goals.

Dealing with Setbacks and Obstacles

At times, unexpected events and challenges can get in the way of best-laid plans. For example, you might get sick or injured or need to deal with a family issue or a financial crisis. Earlier in this section we considered a scenario in which a student realized she needed to change her major and her career plans. Such upsets, whether minor or major, may trigger a need to take some time off from school—perhaps a term or a year. Your priorities may shift. You may need to reevaluate goals.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Below is a simple list of four problem-solving strategies. They can be applied to any aspect of your life.

  1. What is the problem? Define it in detail. How is it affecting me and other people?
  2. How are other people dealing with this problem? Are they adjusting their time management skills? Can they still complete responsibilities, and on time?
  3. What is my range of possible solutions? Are solutions realistic? How might these solutions help me reach my goal/s?
  4. What do I need to do to implement solutions?

You may wish to also review the earlier set of questions about focusing with intention on goals.

Be confident that you can return to your intended path in time. Acknowledge the ways in which you need to regroup. Read inspiring words from people who have faced adversity and gained. Line up your resources, be resolved, and proceed with certainty toward your goals.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. –Henry David Thoreau, author


Success with goals (any goals—education, family, career, finances, etc.) is essentially a three-part process:

  1. Identify your long-term, medium-term and short-term goals.
  2. Set priorities to accomplish these goals.
  3. Manage your time according to the priorities you’ve set.

By following these three straightforward steps, you can more readily achieve goals because you clearly organize the process and follow through with commitment. Focus your sights on what you want to acquire, attain, or achieve. Prioritize the steps you need to take to get there. And organize your tasks into manageable chunks and blocks of time. These are the roadways to accomplishment and fulfillment.

In the following passage from Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, former political-science student Patricia Munsch—now a college counselor—reflects on how a structured, conscientious approach to decision-making and goal setting in college can lead to fulfillment and achievement.


There is a tremendous amount of stress placed on college students regarding their choice of major. Everyday, I meet with students regarding their concern about choosing right major; the path that will lead to a fantastic, high-paying position in a growth industry. There is a hope that one decision, your college major, will have a huge impact on the rest of your life.

Students shy away from subject areas they enjoy due to fear that such coursework will not lead to a job. I am disappointed in this approach. As a counselor I always ask—what do you enjoy studying? Based on this answer it is generally easy to choose a major or a family of majors. I recognize the incredible pressure to secure employment after graduation, but forcing yourself to choose a major that you may not have any actual interest in because a book or website mentioned the area of growth may not lead to the happiness you predict.

Working in a college setting I have the opportunity to work with students through all walks of life, and I do believe based on my experience, that choosing a major because it is listed as a growth area alone is not a good idea. Use your time in college to explore all areas of interest and utilize your campus resources to help you make connections between your joy in a subject matter and the potential career paths. Realize that for most people, in most careers, the undergraduate major does not lead to a linear career path.

As an undergraduate student I majored in Political Science, an area that I had an interest in, but I added minors in Sociology and Women’s Studies as my educational pursuits broadened. Today, as a counselor, I look back on my coursework with happy memories of exploring new ideas, critically analyzing my own assumptions, and developing an appreciation of social and behavioral sciences. So to impart my wisdom in regards to a student’s college major, I will always ask, what do you enjoy studying?

Once you have determined what you enjoy studying, the real work begins. Students need to seek out academic advisement. Academic advisement means many different things; it can include course selection, course completion for graduation, mapping coursework to graduation, developing opportunities within your major and mentorship.

As a student I utilized a faculty member in my department for semester course selection, and I also went to the department chairperson to organize two different internships to explore different career paths. In addition, I sought mentorship from club advisors as I questioned my career path and future goals. In my mind I had a team of people providing me support and guidance, and as a result I had a great college experience and an easy transition from school to work.

I recommend to all students that I meet with to create their own team. As a counselor I can certainly be a part of their team, but I should not be the only resource. Connect with faculty in your department or in your favorite subject. Seek out internships as you think about the transition from college to workplace. Find mentors through faculty, club advisors, or college staff. We all want to see you succeed and are happy to be a part of your journey.

As a counselor I am always shocked when students do not understand what courses they need to take, what grade point average they need to maintain, and what requirements they must fulfill in order to reach their goal—graduation! Understand that as a college student it is your responsibility to read your college catalog and meet all of the requirements for graduation from your college. I always suggest that students, starting in their first semester, outline or map out all of the courses they need to take in order to graduate. Of course you may change your mind along the way, but by setting out your plan to graduation you are forcing yourself to learn what is required of you.

I do this exercise in my classes and it is by far the most frustrating for students. They want to live in the now and they don’t want to worry about next semester or next year. However, for many students that I see, the consequence of this decision is a second semester senior year filled with courses that the student avoided during all the previous semesters. If you purposefully outline each semester and the coursework for each, you can balance your schedule, understand your curriculum and feel confident that you will reach your goal.

—Dr. Patricia Munsch, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom


CC licensed content, Modified from the original by TNCC SDV:
  • Defining Goals. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
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  • Five Rules of Goal Setting: How to set SMART, Motivating Personal Goals. Authored by: MindToolsVideos. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License
  • TEDxYouth@Toronto 2011 – Haroon Mirza – The Power of One Moment. Authored by: TEDxYouthToronto. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License
  • Seven Choices for Success and Significance. Authored by: High Point University. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License
  • Stephen Covey Video on Choosing Success. Authored by: Leadership Skills. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License
  • Lil Wayne I TRY NOT TO SLEEP. Authored by: mycomeup. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License


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