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Chart Your Future with "SMART" Goals

charting course in education

Getting a degree requires a lot of planning and little bit of luck. Unfortunately for many of us, our luck is limited and our planning skills aren't much better. The more you plan and plot your course, the less luck you need, that's where setting goals can help.

Personal goal setting is no different than mission or objective planning in the military. All you need is a set of clear objectives that are well defined, measurable, realistic and time driven. You can use a simple process called "SMART" goal setting for writing down your goals and assuring you hit they target.

SPECIFIC
MEASUREABLE
ACTION ORIENTED
REALISTIC
TIME-DRIVEN/TIMELY

SPECIFIC: Your goals need to be clear, focused, concise, and well defined. Avoid general terms and be as detailed as you can.

A vague example: I want to get my degree.
A specific example
: I am going to get my associate degree in Liberal Arts.

MEASURABLE: You need to have time frames, dates, dollar amounts, number of credits, etc. to measure your success.

An un-measurable example: I want to get my degree, someday.
A measurable example: I am going to get my associate degree in Liberal Arts, by next summer.

ACTION ORIENTED: The goal must require you to take action, not a reaction. Winning the Lotto jackpot may be one of the few examples of achieving your goals without giving much effort. However, your odds are more than one in 4 million.

A non-action oriented example: I want to get my degree.
An action-oriented example: I will take two classes a semester, and pass all of the general CLEP exams to earn my associate degree in Liberal Arts, by next summer.

REALISTIC: Your goals need to be manageable, attainable, believable and your own! Letting others set your goals for you leads to low motivation and high anxiety.

A not-so-realistic example: I want to get my bachelors degree within a year.
A more realistic example: I will take two classes a semester, pass all of the general CLEP exams, and use my Military Experience credits to earn my associate degree in Liberal Arts, by next December.

TIME DRIVEN/TIMELY: Your goals need to have a starting point, a timeline and an ending point. Goals can also be broken down into smaller objectives.

  • SHORT-TERM GOALS or STEPS (goals to be accomplished within the next six to 12 months)
  • MEDIUM-TERM GOALS (goals to be accomplished within one to five years)
  • LONG-TERM GOALS (goals to be accomplished within the next five to15 years)

An undefined example: I want to get my degree by the time I get out.
A well-defined (medium-term) example: I am going to get started tomorrow taking two classes a semester, and I will pass a general CLEP exam each month to earn my associate degree in Liberal Arts by next summer.

Critical Success Factors:

  • Your goals should be written down in positive terms.
  • Your goals should be posted in a prominent place, so you can stay focused.
  • The goals have to be your own.
  • Be flexible, your situations and goals can and will change as life circumstances change. In other words, if your deadline becomes unrealistic, change it.

What's next?

  1. Write down your goals. Be sure to reach out to your local ESO or VA Counselor to help review your goals.
  2. Start contacting colleges and Universities to get their help creating your degree plan.
  3. Develop a personal action plan.

And remember, getting your degree should be mid-term goal -- a step to reaching your larger career and life goals.

Related Topics

College Level Examination Program

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