A brand-new year has just begun, which presents a brand-new opportunity for you to set goals to make 2020 productive and successful.

If you’re serious about achieving something this year, your process matters—make it SMART! Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

First, let’s define each of these terms:


Make your goals clear, memorable and action oriented. Big goals are fine, but the key to this process is to make them detailed enough that you know how to make progress toward them.


I will strive to earn at least a 3.5 GPA each semester.


Achieving any goal requires taking many smaller steps in the right direction. Don’t just set a goal and forget it. Lay out targets and measurements to track your progress.


I will start homework within 30 minutes of getting home each day to avoid procrastination—and create a specific to-do list for every study session to keep myself focused.


Setting goals that seem out of the realm of possibility isn’t likely to help you much. It’s OK to push yourself, but be realistic so that you feel confident in your ability to reach each goal.


I will raise my C to a B, and my two Bs to As by taking these four steps.


Make sure every goal you set has purpose for you (not for other people in your life). Why is the goal worthwhile to you—and most importantly, how is it connected to your short- and long-term vision for your life?

Example: I will strive to earn a 3.5 GPA in order to begin building a strong résumé for my medical school application.



It’s one thing to set goals for yourself. It’s another to have a timeline in mind. Give yourself milestones so that you can keep yourself on track. Put dates next to those steps.


I will establish a study schedule within two days of the start of each semester.

I will study 20 minutes a day for each class.

I will study at least four days in advance of every exam.

I will visit all of my professors 1-2 times a month with my questions.

Now that we’re clear on what SMART goals are, here are a few tips for setting your own:

Picture Yourself a Year from Now

At this time next year, where do you want to be? What do you hope will be different? It can be helpful to think about yourself in the future and work backward from there. There may be steps you can visualize that will help you get there. 

Focus on What Matters to You

To be truly effective, you must set goals that are important to you—not someone else. Establish goals that are priorities for you for reasons that you can articulate.

Put in the Effort

Man studying

If you take goal-setting seriously, it might take some time—and even a few sessions. Get started on your New Year’s goals over break while you have the downtime. Then polish things up after the hustle and bustle of the holidays are behind you.

Lay Out the Steps

For many of us, setting goals is the easy part. It’s determining how to achieve them—or move closer toward reaching them—that is the hard part. Break things down: What will you do every day and every week this year to achieve each of your goals?

Consider What’s in Your Way

It’s hard to measure progress toward something without acknowledging the present state of affairs. Perhaps your GPA this year was 3.0—but you know you could have done better had you committed more time to studying and homework, or sought out help from your instructors in your most challenging subjects. If you know math is your hardest subject, meeting with that teacher should be a top priority. 

Put Your Goals Somewhere Visible

There’s nothing like a written-down, visible reminder of your goals to help you keep them at the top of your mind. Once you’ve gone through this process, post your goals somewhere—on your closet door, your bathroom mirror, or maybe on the wall behind your desk. It’s OK to keep the specifics (the steps and measurements) elsewhere, but having those overarching goals in front of you can be powerful.

Stick to the Plan

Don’t just hope this next year will be great—lay out a plan to make it so. Think about where you’re headed, how college will help you get there and what you need to do in the months to come. Staying focused on your goals—and the steps to reach them—really can help you make 2020 everything you want it to be.

Related Posts