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The Importance of Setting Goals

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12% of college students expect to change their major at some point, a full 65-85% actually do. 8% of undergrads expect to spend more than 4 years to complete their degrees, whereas 60% end up taking more time. 2% expect to fail a course; 16% actually do. Only 1% of students expect to drop out. A full 40% actually do. Students’ expectations may be far from what actually ends up happening during their college career.

Do not sit back and expect your life to work out. The responsibility for your education rests ultimately with you. In order to make things turn out the way you want them to, you need a plan.

We all have vague, idealized notions of what we want out of life. We say things like, “I want to be a good person”; "I want to be financially secure”; and “I want to be happy.” These are great thoughts, but they aren’t much use to a student dealing with the choice between studying English and going to a party.

To make your goals real, examine them close up. Find out what they look like and listen to what they sound like. A disassembled goal will look different. You may decide that a goal you thought you wanted is not something you want after all. You may find that you need to change directions to accomplish your goals. You will definitely be able to see how your education relates to your long-term goals.

The following exercise will help you to establish long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. It will also give you an opportunity to use your brainstorming skills.

  • PART ONE: LONG-TERM GOALS Long-term goals represent major targets in your life. What are your main educational and career goals? What about your personal relationships? Do you want to travel? What do you want to accomplish in your life? Do you want your life to make a statement? What is it?
    • SECTION A Now it’s time to brainstorm. For eight minutes write down, as fast as you can, everything you want to do or be in your life. Leave no thought out. Don’t worry about accuracy. Do not edit yourself. The object is to generate as many ideas as possible.
    • SECTION B Look over your list. Think about what you wrote. Read your list aloud. Select three goals that are most important to you. Write them down.
  • PART TWO: MID-TERM GOALS Mid-term goals are objectives you can accomplish in 2 to 5 years. They include goals like completing a course of education or achieving a specific career level.
    • SECTION C Read aloud the three long-term goals you selected in section B. Choose one long-term goal to work on. Brainstorm (for eight minutes) a list of goals you might achieve in the next 2 to 5 years that would lead to the accomplishment of that one long-term goal. Go for quantity. Do not edit yourself.
    • SECTION D Review your list of mid-term goals in section C. Select three that you think would lead to the accomplishment of the long-term goal you picked. Write them down.
  • PART THREE: SHORT-TERM GOALS Short-term goals are those that you can accomplish in a year or less. These goals are specific. They can involve goals about a specific course, financial goals with dollar amounts, or personal goals requiring action now or in the very near future.
    • SECTION E Review your mid-term goals in section D. Generate a list (for eight minutes) of goals you can reach in a year or less that will lead to the accomplishment of that mid-term goal. Write down everything that comes to mind. Do not evaluate or judge. The more ideas you write down, the better.
    • SECTION F Review your list of short-term goals in section F. Cross out any that seem inappropriate. The most effective brainstorms are conducted with no judgement, so you might find some strange ideas on your list. That’s ok. Now is the time to weed them out. Evaluate your short-term goals to determine which ones you can accomplish and are willing to work toward. Select three of these and write them down.
  • PART FOUR Take a few minutes to reflect on the goals you selected in sections B, D, and F. Look for relationships. Think about what accomplishing these goals means to you. Develop an action plan to achieve the goals you identified in section F.

The more you practice this exercise, the more effective you will be at choosing goals that have meaning for you. You can repeat this exercise using the other long-term goals you generated or create new ones.

It’s important to remind yourself of your goals. It’s a good idea to revisit the whole topic at least once every semester. This is the time to make sure your goals are still important to you. If not, modify them. You may need to set a different timeline for some goals. By beginning the process of goal setting now, you are embarking on a process that will serve you well for a long time.

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