SMART Goals for Students That You Can Actually Achieve

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Creating goals helps set you up for future success, especially if you start setting professional and personal benchmarks for yourself at a young age. But the way you think about your goals can affect whether or not you actually achieve them.

As a student, you want to make goals that you can meet so that you will stay inspired to keep going. An achievable goal will help you avoid burning out and feeling deflated as a result. The easiest way to set yourself up for failure, whether you’re trying to make more money or lose weight, is to set goals you can’t actually meet. 

Luckily, there’s a trick to help you create goals you can stick to for the long term!

That’s where SMART goals come in. Using the SMART goal system, you’ll be able to create goals that truly work for where you’re at, providing yourself a specific, measurable and, most of all, achievable framework. 

Let’s get started. 

What is a SMART Goal?

SMART is an acronym that stands for: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant 
  • Time Bound

Instead of creating vague goals that you may or may not actually meet, come up with SMART goals to help you devise a solid framework around what you want to accomplish. 

The aim of SMART goals is to provide you with a concrete road map of where you want to go, with ways to mark your progress and keep you in check. (We’ll soon get into some SMART goals examples to show you how it all works.) 

When you want to set a relevant goal for yourself, a measurable goal, you should make sure it meets all of the SMART criteria. Double check that your goals check all the SMART boxes by asking yourself these questions: 

Is your goal specific?

There’s a big difference between setting a goal to get good grades and setting a goal to maintain a specific grade point average. “Getting good grades during the school year” isn’t specific or concrete, since each person’s definition of good grades is different. 

Saying that you want to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above, making a commitment to make the Dean’s list, or pushing yourself to get all A’s is more specific and concrete. 

Is your goal measurable?

Determine how you will measure your success. Saying you will save money is vague. Committing to saving 25 percent of your paycheck or $100 per month is measurable and solid. Having a specific, tangible goal makes it easier for you to track your progress and keep yourself accountable. 

Is your goal achievable? 

You’ve probably been taught to dream big. But you don’t want to set yourself up for failure and sap your self confidence by creating goals for yourself that you just won’t be able to achieve. Trying to get a bachelor’s degree in one year, for instance, is likely not feasible—for nearly everyone. 

Keep yourself in check by being honest about your time constraints, financial constraints, your abilities and your talents. 

Is your goal relevant?

Keep a healthy perspective about your goals. Setting SMART goals means understanding if a specific aim is actually worthwhile and if it’s the right time, right now, to try to achieve it. For instance, trying to train for a triathlon while starring in the school play are at odds with each other—there simply won’t be enough time (or energy) to really excel at both. 

Is your goal time-bound? 

Deadlines and time frames can be great motivators. Saying you’ll commit to 15 minutes of exercise each day is more meaningful than just saying that you’ll workout regularly. Setting a goal to get to sleep by midnight is more impactful than saying you want to get more shut eye each night. 

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While these time-based constraints can change over time with your needs, they work well for getting you started on your goals. If you end up needing extra time or less time, you can tweak things. (And if you’re not sure how much time certain tasks should take, you can just use your best judgement anc change course as needed.)

Goal setting: The importance for students to set SMART goals 

Goal setting (and execution) is a life skill that you’ll need to learn in order to be successful. Setting goals using the SMART acronym helps you develop autonomy and self motivation, allowing you to stand on your own and truly flourish in your own life. While college students aren’t yet completely in the so-called “real world” practicing how to set goals and benchmarks for yourself is an important skill to hone now. 

Using the SMART system when goal setting helps you accomplish so many things: If you want to be a better student, get good grades, find extracurriculars that truly enrich your college experience—you name it—SMART goals can give you the framework you need to make these things happen. It will take practice to reshape your thinking from vague to specific, fluid to measurable but taking the time to get goal setting right is a worthy endeavor. 

When you set effective goals, you set yourself up for success, allowing for continuous self improvement. Not to mention, you’ll feel an immense sense of pride every time you tackle a goal that you’ve set for yourself. 

SMART goals examples for students

As a student, you have many balls in play, so to speak, that make up your overall life. You have your classes—studying, tests, grades and so on. You have your social life and the new friends and experiences you’ll have, particularly if you’re college bound. You have your professional life, which is just starting to bloom, like when you start your first job search. 

The following SMART goals examples for students are broken down into categories so you can get a jump on creating your own goals in various areas of your life. Use these examples as inspiration to brainstorm what you personally want to shoot for. (Remember: You can use the SMART acronym for both short term and long term goals.)

Academic goals 

Example: Attending your professors’ office hours within the first month of classes


This goal is specific: You aren’t just saying that you’ll meet your professors and chat with them in a vague, open-ended way. You’re setting a specific goal to meet each one during their allotted office hours. 


This goal is measurable because you can check off which professors you’ve spoken with as you meet with them. 


This goal is achievable because you’re giving yourself a good amount of time to get it done.


This goal is relevant because meeting your teachers early on in the semester can help you establish a rapport with them. This can be important when you need extra help, are looking for a mentor, need a recommendation and so on.


This goal is time bound because you are setting a deadline for yourself of one month. 

Other examples of SMART goals in this category

  • Setting aside a certain amount of time each week for studying
  • Applying to a specific number of colleges or graduate school programs
  • Checking in with your academic advisor periodically for support
  • Participating in class discussions by raising your hand a certain amount of times each week
  • Joining campus clubs that fit with your academic and career goals
  • Finishing course work on time (before the day it’s due)

Career goals 

Example: Securing a summer internship at a law firm by the end of Spring Break. 

(Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / Getty)

This goal is specific because you’re not just looking for any job—you want to get an internship in a specific field. 


This goal is measurable because you’ll either get hired or you won’t—there’s no vague in between. 


This goal is achievable as long as you’re giving yourself enough time to get it done, from researching firms to submitting applications to interviewing. You also need to be sure that you’re qualified for the jobs you are applying to, of course. 


This goal is relevant if you want to become a lawyer or are studying law. 


This goal is time bound because you are giving yourself a solid deadline by which to get hired at a law firm. 

Other examples of SMART goals in this category: 

  • Visiting your campus career center one time each semester
  • Spending a set amount of time researching new job opportunities the same day each week
  • Following up with contacts about mentoring and networking opportunities monthly
  • Attending at least two professional development seminars each semester

Financial goals

Example: Apply to 10 college scholarships in the first semester of your senior year


This goal is specific because you set a benchmark for yourself of how many scholarships to which you’ll apply. 


This goal is measurable because you can tick off your scholarships as you submit each one.


This goal is achievable in that you can likely use the same statement of purpose and cover letter for many of the applications, making tweaks here and there as needed. 


This goal is relevant if you’re needing financial assistance for college.


This goal is time bound because you’re giving yourself a deadline of one semester in which to complete and send your applications. 

Other examples of SMART goals in this category: 

  • Committing to learning about mutual fund investing for 20 minutes a day so you can understand how to grow your money over time
  • Sticking to your budget by checking in with your spending once a week
  • Diverting extra money to hit a specific savings goal that you set each month

Self care goals

Example: Making time to reading for fun by choosing one new book to read each month


This goal is specific because you are outlining one form of self care that matters to you and outlining how you will achieve it. 


This goal is measurable because you can say whether or not you accomplished finishing your book.


This goal is achievable if you’re committed to reading each day as a form of leisure.


This goal is relevant if you enjoy reading for fun and want to do it to relax and unwind to balance out your academic and social commitments. 


In committing to reading one book a month you are time bound to finishing your current book by the end of the month. 

Other examples of SMART goals in this category: 

  • Going to bed at a set time each night that feels reasonable to you
  • Setting aside a certain amount of time for fun and leisure activities each week
  • Visiting the guidance counselor or therapist once a month
  • Eating a balanced diet by purchasing healthy groceries and eating out only three times each week
  • Creating a plan for movement and exercise, including how often you plan to exercise and what type of activity you will do
  • Getting outside and in nature once a week by enlisting a friend to hike with you
(GCShutter / Getty)

Relationship goals 

Example: Stay in touch with high school friends by hosting a Zoom hangout once every two weeks


This goal is specific: You have a who (your high school friends), a what (virtual hangout), a when (every two weeks) and a where (over Zoom). 


This goal is measurable because you can see on your calendar where you have committed to these hangouts.


This goal is achievable because you should be able to find time in your schedule to at least hop on Zoom for 15 minutes every two weeks if connecting with these friends truly is important to you. 


This goal is relevant because staying close to these friends is a priority to you. 


This goal is time bound because it is recurring every two weeks. You know when it’s coming and you can plan for it accordingly. 

Other examples of SMART goals in this category: 

  • Checking in with parents and family members a set number of times each month
  • Limiting time on social media to X hours
  • Committing to two or three social events per week to make new friends

Work smarter, not harder

Setting goals in general is important for achieving what you want out of life. But setting SMART goals sets you up from true success. Practicing goal setting through the SMART framework is a skill that you can continue to work on throughout your academic career and into your adult life. 

(Eva-Katalin / Getty)

Use the aforementioned examples to help inspire you to make your own goals. SMART goals will help you achieve both academic success and personal satisfaction. With the right goal setting in place, you’ll have the motivation and the road map you need to accomplish anything you set your mind to.

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