Higher education can be a remarkable experience filled with many challenges and opportunities. College presents students with unique circumstances, including the freedom to explore your passions, the excitement of new college friendships, and the rigors of academic pursuits. However, so many new responsibilities can be overwhelming. 

This is where the importance of proactive goal setting cannot be overstated. Setting clear, achievable goals can act as a compass, helping you navigate through your academic career while shaping your personal growth and professional development. These 24 goals can help you make the most of your higher education journey, whether you're fresh out of high school or returning to college after some time in the field.

Academic Excellence

Set the following academic goals to help set yourself up for success.

1. Set a Target GPA for Each Semester

For goals to be effective, they should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound). It’s therefore much more productive to set a target GPA for each semester than to set a vague goal of getting “good” grades. 

2. Commit to Regular Class Attendance and Participation

It will be difficult to maintain your GPA if you aren’t attending class regularly.  Even if your professors don’t take attendance (and plenty do, often basing part of your grade on participation), your ability to understand the materials will be severely hampered by spotty attendance. Commit to attending every class and actively participate when you do—you’ll thank yourself, come exam time.

3. Allocate Specific Hours for Study Sessions and Coursework

Approach college as an opportunity to hone your time management skills. Instead of studying when you find yourself free or cramming at the last minute, set aside specific days and times of the week to study throughout the semester. Treat it like you would any other appointment and add it to your calendar or planner. By developing healthy study habits, you can help ensure you complete your coursework on time and give yourself adequate time to review the material.

4. Seek Additional Academic Resources When Needed

Most students notice a considerable boost in difficulty in college compared to high school. Don’t be too proud to take advantage of your university or college’s academic resources, if you need help. Most schools have a tutoring center, or perhaps your TA hosts office hours. Research your options and set a goal to get comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance.

Personal Development and Soft Skills

Soft skills are equally vital to academic and career success. Consider the following:

5. Prioritize Effective Time Management and Organizational Habits

Your efforts to improve your time management abilities don’t end with developing study habits. Most college students find themselves pulled in multiple directions—you’ll likely be juggling a job, family responsibilities, schoolwork, and a social life. That’s why one of the most important goals you can set is to develop strong time management and organizational habits. These skills will serve you well in all aspects of your life long after graduation. Some tasks you could perform to work toward this goal include using time management tools like planners, calendars, and apps on your phone. 

6. Develop Strong Communication Skills

Communication skills are another area that will always be helpful, no matter what degree or career you pursue. Commit to asking your instructors questions when you find something unclear. Learn how to work well with others by speaking with your classmates, whether during class to compare notes or during a group study session. Read books and articles about emotional intelligence and effective communication techniques, and then put them into practice.

7. Embrace Opportunities for Leadership, Public Speaking and Teamwork

Although it may not be evident at face value, speaking up in class, participating in group discussions, and asking questions all help you develop leadership, public speaking, and teamwork skills. If you have a question, it’s likely someone else in class does, too; you just had the confidence to speak up. Take the lead by asking your fellow students if they’d like to form a study group. Seek out on-campus opportunities to get involved, ideally in a leadership capacity. When you graduate, there's a risk of looking identical to every other person with the same degree. Differentiate yourself by demonstrating the kinds of soft skills employers need.

Health and Well-Being

Make sure you pay attention to your health and well-being with the following goals.

8. Adopt a Balanced Diet and Regular Exercise Routine

You’ll find it difficult to complete any of your other goals if you allow your health to fall by the wayside. Perhaps the most crucial goal of all is to follow a balanced diet with a regular exercise routine. Forget the food pyramid: the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) now recommends you follow MyPlate guidelines. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that, ideally, you should aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week, but at a minimum, set a goal to move more and sit less.

9. Prioritize Mental Health and Stress-Relief Activities

College can be stressful, so get ahead of it and prioritize your mental well-being. Check out your school's student health services and schedule an appointment if you’re struggling. Devote time to activities that boost your mental state, whether yoga, meditation, mindfulness practice, or simply taking a walk in nature. The influence of yoga and meditation for students’ mental well-being is especially well-documented.

10. Ensure Adequate Sleep and Downtime

When you’re working on your time management, remember to schedule time for rest. You need downtime to recharge and decompress. Set a sleep schedule to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, and resist the snooze button. Avoid late night activities proven to disrupt sleep, such as bright screens and alcohol consumption

Social Integration and Networking

Make the most of socializing and networking while you’re in college by setting the following goals.

11. Engage in Campus Events and Activities

We briefly touched on the importance of getting involved for improving your communication skills, but we should also note how vital these are to your networking ability. When you’re in college, you’re surrounded by similarly driven, curious people who may share many of your interests and passions. Attend campus events and participate in activities: it’s a great way to get to know your fellow students, faculty, and staff.

12. Join Student Organizations or Clubs Aligned With Interests and Career Aspirations

Join clubs and organizations aligned with your career goals. There’s no harm in joining the zoology club just because you like animals, but the networking potential of a stock market club for a business major is much more evident. The connections you make through these groups will form an excellent base for your professional network upon graduation.

13. Build Meaningful Relationships with Peers, Professors, and Industry Professionals

Just showing up may not be enough—you’ll need to build substantive relationships if you really want to expand your professional network in a meaningful way. Form and lead that study group we mentioned earlier; build relationships with your professors by attending office hours and demonstrating you’re a bright, engaged student; introduce yourself to industry professionals at campus job fairs. The possibilities for developing your social network in college are nearly limitless if you’re willing to put in the effort.

14. Attend Career Fairs and Networking Events

An especially useful way to network and build your connections is to go to dedicated career fairs and networking events. Local industry leaders or alumni networks may host these kinds of events, or your department may offer them each year. Dress like you would for a job interview and go prepared with copies of your resume, business cards, and an elevator pitch.

Financial Responsibility

Get off on the right foot with your finances with these financial goals.

15. Craft and Adhere to a Budget

College can be expensive. To manage this reality, create a comprehensive budget and stick to it. Monitor your income and expenses each month to identify areas of inefficiency or overspending. If you aren’t making enough money to adequately cover your costs, find ways to increase your income or reduce your expenses. Live within your means and do your best to set aside enough money to have an emergency fund tucked away.

16. Seek Out Scholarships and Work-Study Opportunities

Tons of scholarship funds go unclaimed each year, indicating that plenty of financial aid is on the table for individuals willing to seek it out and apply. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you’re eligible for any scholarships and grants offered by your school or program. You may also be eligible for work-study opportunities to further lower the cost of tuition.

17. Gain an Understanding of Student Loans and Financial Literacy

You may need to take out student loans to attend college, so it’s vital to develop a thorough understanding of how student loans work. Financial literacy, in general, is a great life skill to hone, but at this juncture, grasping the terms of your student loan options is essential. What are the repayment terms? Is it subsidized or not? What is your interest rate and is it fixed or variable? When will you need to start making payments? Ensure you know the answers to these questions and more before you take on any debt you can’t handle.

Internships and Professional Development

There’s no reason to wait until graduation to start making inroads professionally. Consider these goals for professional development.

18. Set a Target Number of Internships or Part-Time Jobs to Acquire Before Graduation

Assuming you aren’t already working full time while pursuing your degree, a helpful goal you could set is to aim to complete a specific number of internships by the time you graduate. While it may not look great to potential employers to job hop too frequently, if you’re able to obtain short-term contract work that gets you real-world experience while still in school, that could also help boost your resume.

19. Regularly Update Your Resume and Portfolio

Are you taking a class that is directly relevant to your desired career field? Mention it on your LinkedIn profile. Those internships and part-time jobs? Add them to your resume. Do you have proofs or examples of your work? Include them in your portfolio. You’re going to learn and do a lot throughout college, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can forget by the end. Set a goal to update your resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile with each achievement or advancement as you go. Check out your school’s career services offerings, as they may be able to assist you with services like resume building, career counseling, and practicing job interviews.

Lifelong Learning and Curiosity

Develop a mindset of being a lifelong learner whose curiosity is never sated with these goals.

20. Set Goals for Reading Outside of Required Course Materials

Even if you’re pursuing a very specific degree, it’s critical you commit to reading outside of your assigned course materials. Find time for those pulpy sci-fi novels you love. Stay abreast of international news. Read about trends and advances in your career field in your spare time. You’ll graduate a more interesting (and interested) person.

21. Explore Additional Online Courses or Workshops

Don’t limit yourself to extracurricular courses that count toward your degree. Online platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Brilliant.org all offer opportunities to learn about a vast array of subjects. Your school may even host workshops or webinars to help you further diversify your knowledge base. 

22. Participate in Study Abroad or Exchange Programs

Mark Twain famously said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and that alone is reason enough to take advantage of any opportunity to travel and meet people from different backgrounds. Study abroad experiences can be transformative, so participate in an exchange program if you can. If studying abroad isn’t in the cards, consider joining a local language meet-up to help build a more worldly perspective.

Feedback and Adaptability

Naval-gazing is not conducive to self-improvement and personal evolution, so gain an outside perspective with these goals.

23. Regularly Seek Feedback on Academic and Personal Performance

An ability to receive and respond appropriately to feedback, especially constructive criticism, is a highly valuable trait. Be proactive and seek out feedback from others, whether your professors, academic advisor, or employers. Take in the information you gather and identify areas for improvement. Then, create new goals that reflect your more accurate self-image.

24. Adapt and Revise Goals Based on Experiences and Evolving Interests

Earning a degree should hopefully prepare you to be an adaptable person, which is invaluable, regardless of what career you end up pursuing. It’s all right to change your mind; it doesn’t make you wishy-washy or easily swayed. A willingness to adapt and revise your goals in light of new information and experiences will make you a better student, employee, and person. If a goal is no longer serving you and your vision for the future, change it!

Learn More

To learn more about how effective goal setting can help you find success in college, consider exploring the Multidisciplinary Studies degree program at the University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies. Your journey to success begins with meaningful goals, and your college experience is an ideal place to start. For more information, contact us today.