4 Tips for Setting Academic Goals Without Creating Stress

Consciously or not, we all set goals—maybe to be more punctual, to get up early and exercise, to increase our income, or if you’re a student, to score higher on the next essay or math test you hand in. Most of the time, goal-setting reflects a desire for self-improvement or better results. We dream of something we want, and our mind starts thinking about ways to get there. This mindset will likely carry on throughout life and may be acutely present for students thinking about getting into the college or university program of their choice.

Proper goal-setting should lead to motivation—not stress. Here are some tips to help students set (and reach) those important academic goals in high school and beyond.

Identify What Matters to You

The act of setting a goal is beneficial, so let’s start there. Positive Psychology has noted the link between goal-setting and successful prioritization, better decision making and healthy self image. Goal setting can also facilitate effective visualization and help separate reality from wishful thinking. It’s often a great source of clarification and can help develop responsibility. If you’re a student, these are excellent skills to carry through your life and career.

Goals are personal, and yours don’t need to look exactly like anyone else’s. More so, they should reflect what you want out of life. If your friends are all trying out for the soccer team but you’re more interested in getting a spot on the school yearbook committee, follow your interests. The same theory applies to academic pursuits, college or university applications, career goals and more. Getting advice from teachers, trusted friends or a parent is often helpful, but the idea is to build the life you want; not the life someone else tells you to build.

Set Realistic Goals—And Have A Plan

If you’re getting a C- in chemistry, it may not be realistic to set your sights on an A next term. However, it’s totally realistic that with hard work and dedication, you could raise your mark to a solid B. That’s not to say that getting an A is impossible—it’s just not where your goal setting needs to begin. Setting your aim too high can lead to disappointment whereas measured planning can create a sense of accomplishment and leave room for continued growth.

Address your goals step by step, keep them attainable (and scalable) and have a plan to reach the finish line. This may mean having a study schedule, getting a tutor, joining a study group or engaging in other support channels and academic strategies. It could also mean joining extracurricular clubs or volunteering in a role that will help you learn and grow. Having a written plan to refer to is often helpful. Or, create a more visual depiction of your goals if that’s more your style.

You may want to consider looking into the SMART goal setting method, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In short, this involves outlining the details of your goal as well as how and when you should be able to realistically achieve it. This approach works well for students as well as professionals in the workforce, so it’s an excellent method to master. Here’s a great outline of this strategy.

Develop Systems for Accountability

Some individuals are intrinsically organized, motivated and able to stay on task while others need a bit of external support. If you’re the latter, there’s no shame—you just need to figure out a strategy that takes this into consideration. Goals can be extra hard to reach if there’s no one to hold you accountable, so consider creating a buddy system with a friend or simply speaking about your goals with trusted friends and family members. Once you’ve said them out loud or discussed them with someone in your life, they’re harder to stray from—particularly if you involve people who will check in and inquire about your progress. Start by mapping out your specific goals and plan to reach them, then develop an accountability strategy that will work for you.

Celebrate Milestones

Hitting your final goal is worth celebrating, but so are the smaller milestones along the way. If you finished the first draft of a major paper, pat yourself on the back! It’s ok to take a break (time permitting) or reward yourself with a fun night out with friends. Balance is critical to well-being at every age and working toward your goals shouldn’t negatively impact your quality of life. Have fun, celebrate the small wins along with the big wins, allow yourself to take pride in what you've accomplished, and keep pushing toward that final goal. It may have taken some time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end.

By Staples Canada

January 11, 2022