Take Control: How to Set Academic Goals in 2021 and Beyond

As a college student, setting academic goals can help you gain clarity on where you want to go in life. It can also help you decide where to focus your efforts, so you’re able to maximize the time and energy you spend.

Both professional and academic landscapes shifted drastically in 2020, leaving many students feeling anxious. Now more than ever, students can benefit from approaching the new year with a newfound optimism and a fresh set of objectives. Here’s why setting academic goals matters, and how you can find motivation for your goals in 2021—and beyond.

Why Setting Academic Goals Matters

“Goals, just like many other tools, are one of the compasses that students can use to confidently take that next step in life, no matter the circumstance,” said Victoria Leigh Julien, employer partnership coordinator in the Career Center at Azusa Pacific University. Setting attainable benchmarks is a great way to stay on track while working toward a larger target.

This can not only help you reach the objectives you set out to accomplish but can also provide you with a few other benefits. According to Psychology Today, setting goals can boost academic performance and also increase:

  • Self-confidence
  • Motivation levels
  • Autonomy (your desire to do things on your own)

“As students experience growth, their goals change. Therefore, it is imperative that students take time to reflect on how classes and experiences over the year may have impacted their knowledge, views, and values which directly impact their goals,” said Stephanie Gala, director of academic success in APU’s Academic Success Center.

Gala recommends reflecting on the following questions to help you identify academic goals and plan a course of action:

  • How have the classes and experiences from the previous year energized and engaged me?
  • Are there new skills or passions I have developed that provide affirmation to maintain or adjust my academic goals?
  • Who can help me process my goals?

Setting academic goals is like creating a blueprint for how you’ll succeed in college and beyond. If your educational or professional goals were disrupted in 2020, you can clarify your vision by setting new objectives and charting a path toward them.

Getting Motivated in Uncertain Times

Motivation is an inner drive that fuels you to achieve your goals. While it may feel easy to lose motivation during times of uncertainty, you can benefit by holding onto your desire to succeed. It helps to understand the types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is your internal desire to achieve something. Extrinsic motivation is based on external factors, such as earning rewards or receiving praise from others.

If you’ve struggled to find motivation in 2020—and you’re certainly not alone in this—you might be relying too heavily on extrinsic motivation. Alternatively, looking internally can help.

Here are some ways to drum up internal motivation:

  • Ask yourself what you’ve learned from the adversities you’ve faced.
  • Ask how you can make a difference in light of current events.
  • Write down what you need to do each day to be at your best (exercising, eating healthy, studying, etc.).
  • Make a list of things you can always control no matter what.

“Rather than see the past year’s investment in their college education as a disappointment,” Julien said, “students must shift perspectives to consider what lessons they learned, what experiences molded their character further, and how they grew in their professional skills and relationship with God.”

What Kind of Goals Should You Set?

It’s important to set goals that matter to you—after all, you’re the one who will be working toward them! It’s also key to ensure your desired outcomes are meaningful and personal. Otherwise, you might find it hard to stick to your goals in the long term.

Creating meaningful goals is an individual process, but there’s a proven format you can use to get started: the SMART goal system. “SMART” stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Here’s an example of a SMART goal in action: “I will study for at least two hours a day and attend all of my classes so that I can achieve a 3.75 GPA or higher during the 2021 spring semester.”

Compare this to a regular goal, that might simply read: “I will get a 3.75 GPA this semester.”

Use the template above to craft your own academic SMART goals for 2021, or reference it as an example to aim for. Remember, the clearer your goals are, the easier it will be to come up with strategies for achieving them. What are you hoping to accomplish academically in the next six months? What about the next year? Are there certain subjects you’d like to learn more about? Campus clubs you want to explore?

Other Tips for Achieving Your Goals

Following the aforementioned steps can put you on the right track toward setting and accomplishing your goals. Here are some other helpful tips for achieving your desired outcomes in 2021:

In addition to these tips, one of the most important pieces of advice around goal-setting is to not beat yourself up if you stray or fall off the path. Everyone does from time to time—the important thing is to simply keep going! Tomorrow is a new day.

None of us can predict what the future will be like, exactly. But by setting clear academic goals, you can take control of the new year.

Looking to learn more about the academic opportunities currently on offer at Azusa Pacific University? Explore the school’s Career Center for additional information and insights.