S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting

The world we live in today is very goal oriented.  Goals are often a measurement we use to determine success.  While goals can be great, as they can give us focus on tasks that need to be completed, they can also be detrimental if not done appropriately.  So, with that in mind, I’d like to delve into how to set appropriate and healthy goals so you can be a successful student.  There is an acronym that is often used for setting goals: S.M.A.R.T.

Specific – Make sure you set a goal that is clear and specific in what is to be accomplished.  Setting a goal such as “I am going to be a better writer,” is not specific.  If you never know that you accomplished the goal, you could be left feeling empty.  Give yourself a very specific target to hit so you know what needs to be done and you know when you’ve reached your goal. A better way to phrase this could be, “I am going to improve my academic writing skills.”

Measurable – You need to have a way to know if you accomplished your goal.  With the example above, “I am going to be a better writer,” you would have no way of knowing that it was accomplished, again leaving you with a feeling of sadness, and maybe a need to eat an entire pizza.  A better way to phrase this could be, “I will proofread each assignment twice before I submit it for grading.”

Achievable – Setting a goal that no one on Earth could accomplish only sets you up to fail.  Having delusions of grandeur is great if you are a fantasy writer, but as a student, this is not a healthy place to be.  Don’t set a goal that is meant to make you fail by making it so great that you will never reach the finish line.  For example, if the only running you do is to the refrigerator, you will not complete a marathon tomorrow.  An example that would apply to your studies would be “I am going to get a perfect score on every assignment.”  This is not something that anyone can actually achieve.  A better way to state this is, “I will maintain an average of 85% in my courses.”

Realistic – When you set a goal, give yourself enough time to complete the steps.  You cannot walk into the gym and lose 10 pounds that same day.  Similarly, you cannot write a final assignment in a single day. While you may be able to do it over a few weeks, it is not realistic for it to happen overnight.  One way that you can make sure that your goal is realistic is to start at the end and work backward to see if there is enough time to get it done.  An example of doing this would be to look at the rubric for your final assignment in a course to break down the individual elements of that assignment.  You can then make a plan for how you could get each of these elements done during each week of the course. 

Timed – Have a date to hold yourself accountable.  If there is not a due date, you are less likely to get it done. We all have done the frantic writing at the last minute because a due date is looming.  Also, setting due dates for milestones will help to keep you on track for accomplishing your goals.

We often set goals for ourselves to help us feel accomplished.  When we do a good job of setting goals, we can accomplish some amazing things, such as graduating from a doctoral program.  Healthy goal setting can set you up for productivity and feelings of accomplishment.  So, don’t forget to be S.M.A.R.T.!  (see what I did there!)


Below are two templates to get you started developing your own SMART Goals. In the Criteria document, you will find example goal language and definitions for SMART Goals. The Template is an opportunity for you to create your own SMART goals.


Mitch Luker is currently a student in the PhD in Nursing Education program and a Doctoral Peer Mentor with the Academic Skills Center. Mitch’s research interests are student success and decreasing student attrition.

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