10 Proven Tips on Setting Smart Goals for Students

Wondering what the best approach is to setting smart goals? For students in college or trade school, it's an important place to start. A surprising number of students haven't thought much about it. They enter school without having a clear idea of what succeeding in college means for them personally. And they forget to map out all of their reasons for going to school, which means they often miss out on the powerful benefits of goal setting for students. But right now you have the chance to make sure you get it right.

Following some or all of the 10 tips below can make a big difference in your ability to get the most out of your education.

1. Imagine your ideal outcome.
Success in college begins with a sense of what's possible. So it's much easier to accomplish your goals if you can visualize what you want. It gives you a clear purpose. It provides a beacon of hope to help guide you during challenging times. And the great thing is that it doesn't have to be permanent. As you change and grow, what you imagine can change and grow with you.

2. Approach college with the right attitude.
One of the most important habits of a successful student is treating school as a gift of opportunity rather than as a necessary evil. The students who thrive are not content with being average or just skating by. Instead, they focus on using their time in school to maximize their individual potential as much as possible.

3. Take charge of your education.
The best results come from staying proactive. So don't wait to be told what to do. Seek out ways to go beyond the minimum required. Stay alert to new opportunities that will help you grow in some way. Take calculated risks. Put your future in your own hands instead of hoping that someone else will come along and lead the way for you.

4. Get the "whys" right.
If you want to become a successful student, then you have to go to school for the right reasons. That means valuing results that have real substance instead of fleeting or elusive outcomes like fame, prestige, or recognition. Be honest with yourself about why you want to go to school. Make sure your reasons line up with things that stick around—such as personal development, acquiring marketable skills, improving your understanding of the world, improving your ability to provide for your family, and so on.

5. Focus on actually learning, not just on your grades.
When you prioritize gaining deep knowledge, retaining what you learn, and mastering valuable skills, the grades tend to take care of themselves. So don't obsess over trying to avoid bad grades. If you get them, simply learn from them and use the experience to improve your habits. Grades are only one measurement of your progress. They never tell the whole story. Only you know whether or not you are really learning something. Never forget that employers expect you to back up your paper degree with actual knowledge and abilities.

6. Trust the small steps.
Success isn't some grand event that happens overnight. It's developed every day, little by little. Think of the process of achieving your goals more as evolution than revolution. It takes time. Make sure you master all of the small stuff so that it eventually adds up to something big.

7. Dream bigger.
Although your short-term goals should be reachable, your long-term goals should feel just out of reach. If you always feel like you've got everything in the bag, then your big goals probably aren't ambitious enough. By dreaming a little bigger, you stretch your potential, sustain your drive, and increase your chances of reaching your vision of success.

8. Stay mindful of negative self-talk.
If you catch yourself saying or thinking that you're not worthy, that you're not talented enough, or that the things before you are too hard or impossible, take a few moments to really listen. Then identify these negative words as the lies they are. They aren't really a part of you. Are you going to give your goals up to them? Students who succeed know how to keep them away by choosing more constructive words to tell themselves.

9. Seek to master at least one skill better than anyone else you know.
In the job market after you graduate, skills will be the main currency. So by planning from the beginning to be an ace at things that employers value, you can give yourself a head start on your classmates in the race to stand out after graduation.

10. Plan on amplifying your strengths.
It seems counterintuitive, but placing too much focus on strengthening your weak areas can sometimes decrease your chances of success. Instead of spending a majority of time improving their weaknesses, many of the most successful college students dedicate the bulk of their energy to honing and maximizing what they are best at. That doesn't mean ignoring the other areas; it just means taking advantage of who you really are. We're each good at different things. By building on our strengths, we can each become great in our own ways.