Writer and expert in personal development, Earl Nightingale, said “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going”, and this is a proven certainty. A fundamental element of professional and personal success depends on our ability to identify our goals and the development of a plan to reach them. Goal-setting is a skill you should acquire to be successful in your academic and professional life. Goal-setting helps you to focus on what you want, is related to a better performance and increases your self-confidence and feeling of happiness. In this short guide, I will tell you how to set effective academic goals to reach your career milestones.
1. Learn the difference between goals, milestones and objectives: It may sound evident, but the truth is that too many people often confuse these terms:
• Goal: A goal is the desired end result after committing to – and achieving – objectives and milestones.
• Milestone: A milestone is a significant achievement on the road to that overall goal.
• Objective: A strategy in place to help achieve an overall goal.
2. Visualize: Goal-setting can be easy when you have an idea about what you want, but students often struggle to decide about which path they want to take in their professional life. So, the first step is to identify your career goal and visualize yourself in the future; what is the highest level you would like to achieve in your career? Once you know this, it is easy to set the milestones you need to reach to get there. If, say, your dream is to be the marketing director of an important company, you will need a specific background built up by academic skills and work experience that you acquire throughout that time and beyond. These should be your career milestones.
3. Research your chosen field: This is fundamental to setting your academic goals. Nowadays, recruiters are demanding more professionals with knowledge and skills related to their field; it is not enough to have a degree and a good GPA to get a job. Most require second languages, some experience in the field you want to study and specific things that show your interest in the matter—internships, volunteering, researches and publications for example. In order to reach your career milestones, you need to have previously reached these goals in college.
Your academic goals should be based on the research you did. Understand what you need to achieve in order to get the position you want after graduating or which requirements you need to achieve to begin a master’s degree.
4. Classify: Classify your goals according to their nature. Your academics goals could be, for instance, to earn a degree and get a specific GPA. Your skills goals, as I like to call them, are more related to those activities you do to gain experience; network and acquire or improve your professional skills through internships, volunteer work and extra-curricular activities.
5. Keep them few: In his article “The Beginner’s Guide to Goal Setting”, Michael Hyatt proposes five basic principles. The first of them, of which I consider the most important, is: “Keep them few in number”. According to Hyatt, having a lot of goals only makes you lose your focus, so it is important to identify which specific goals you need to accomplish during your career and focus on them.
6. Be specific: All of the theories about goal-setting coincide in this point. Your overall goals have to be all the more clear and as specific as possible when you set objectives—learn a second language or improve your GPA, for example. Remember, when you know where are you going, you will know what you have to do.
7. Choose challenging goals: It is also proven that people make the biggest effort to accomplish a goal when it represents a big challenge. So, at the time of choosing your goals, always prefer those that push you to work hard as this will give you motivation and better results. Even so, don’t forget to be realistic. Your goals have to be reachable so if you choose something out of any possibility of achievement, the only result will be frustration.
8. Write: When you write your goals down it becomes easier to visualize and focus on them. It also helps you to trace your map to reach them. Most theories about this topic recommend activities like writing your goal on a card, focusing on it daily or putting it in a visible place that you’ll see constantly. It is also a good strategy to motivate yourself to add pictures, stories or anything that inspires you on this card to work hard in order to achieve what you want.
9. Ask for help: Many colleges have orientation departments to guide their students on their way to academic success. You can look for a program that helps you to identify what you want to do after graduating, create a strategy to reach your goals and track your progress or set objectives year by year according to your goals.