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Graphic of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals.


How SMART Goals Can Help You Succeed

SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

It can feel really satisfying to achieve a goal—and really disheartening not to. Sometimes the most critical factor in success is, perhaps surprisingly, the goal itself. If you find yourself falling short of your goals, procrastinating, or getting burned out, you may need to evaluate your process. According to the American Psychological Association, Monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that comes into play between setting and attaining a goal, ensuring that the goals are translated into action.

Think of goal-setting itself as a skill. It’s something you can practice and improve over time. One way to do this it to become familiar with SMART goals, which can provide a structured framework for outlining objectives, measuring progress, and maintaining focus.

Here’s what you need to know about how to set SMART goals.


Ensure that your goals are well-defined. Instead of setting a broad goal, such as "improve grades," it is more effective to establish a specific objective, such as "increase math grade from a B+ to an A– by the end of the semester." Similarly, instead of setting a goal of get better at swimming, you might try aiming for swimming a certain number of laps each day, or swimming a particular number of times per week. Clearly identifying each of your goals is key for measuring progress.


TSpecificity lends itself to measurability. You need to be clear with yourself about how you’re defining success. If your goal is to improve your grades, for instance, then this is easily tracked via report cards. If your goal is to swim 20 laps per day, then you can easily determine whether you attain that objective. Set measurable targets that have tangible tracking opportunities.


While it's important to dream big, it's even more crucial to set goals that are realistically attainable. To return to the example of swimming, if you decide on a goal of swimming 300 laps per day, you may be setting yourself up to fail. Ambitious goals are great—so long as they’re also achievable. When setting SMART goals, assess your abilities, resources, and time constraints to ensure that your goals are achievable. Set yourself up for success!


Align academic goals with your broader aspirations and personal values. For example, if you aspire to pursue a career in science, then setting a SMART goal such as apply for an internship at local research laboratory, or volunteer to help organize the high school chemistry classroom, would contribute directly to your long-term professional plans.


SMART goals should have a clear start and finish date. Setting a specific timeframe for achieving goals provides a sense of urgency and accountability. Additionally, breaking long-term goals into smaller milestones with designated timelines can help you stay focused and ensure that SMART goals remain achievable.

By setting SMART goals, you’ll have the opportunity to take control over your personal and academic progress. Once your SMART goals are set, work to realize them by creating an action plan, tracking progress, and staying focused. Breaking up large goals into smaller, more attainable chunks and sharing goals with others can also help you stay motivated and accountable. Remember, SMART goal-setting is a learned skill that will improve over time, so keep at it!

Want to learn more about setting goals and making decisions? Watch our webinar!