Chapter 2: Setting Goals

Defining Goals

Visualize graduation

Athletes and their trainers have long known about the importance of visualization. Mentally preparing for competitive events can help all athletes maximize performance in any sport, and the same concept can be applied to academics and to job interviews. Students who visualize their success can create an optimal level of mental readiness that will help them achieve their academic and career goals.

  • Think about your graduation and commencement and be prepared to describe it either verbally or in writing.
  • When do you think that day will arrive? Two years? Three years? Longer?
  • What does graduation day look like for you? What will you wear? How will you get there?
  • Will you wear a red, white, and blue honor cord because you are a veteran or current member of the armed forces? a gold cord because you graduated with distinction (3.5 or higher GPA)? and/or a green cord because you received a scholarship from the MCC Foundation?
  • Picture the weather, smell the cologne or perfume or aromatic hair product you’ll be wearing, and hear the sounds coming from the many people seated at the graduation.
  • Do you already have a clear idea of what degree will be conferred to you?
  • Who will attend to see you cross the stage? How will their pride in your accomplishment make you feel?
  • Imagine your name being called, shaking hands with college officials, and accepting your diploma. Where will you display that important piece of paper?
  • Visualize how it will feel to move your tassel from the right to the left of your mortarboard, indicating you’re now a college graduate.
  • Picture the celebration you’d like after all the pomp and circumstance of the commencement ceremony.

How did this visualization exercise make you feel? Many students find it very inspiring to take a picture of themselves in a cap and gown and post it in a place where they can see it every day. This vision of achieving your end game, whether a physical photograph or a mental image, can make the day-to-day work of achieving your goals easier and serve as motivation to overcome any obstacles along the way.

stock photo, blue, tassel, emotion, student, graduation, commencements

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

Goal Setting

Transitioning to college is challenging for most students. They are faced with new physical surroundings, new social environments, new daily tasks and responsibilities, and most likely new financial obligations. It is a time filled with exciting new challenges. Successful college students find ways to balance work and life and commit to new goals.

A goal is a desired result that you envision, then plan, and commit to achieving. Goals can relate to family, education, career, wellness, spirituality, and many other areas of your life. Generally, goals are associated with finite time expectations, even deadlines.

As a college student, many of your goals are defined for you. For example, you must take specific courses, comply with certain terms and schedules, and turn in assignments at specified times. These goals are mostly set for you by someone else, but there are plenty of goals for you to define for yourself. For example, you decide what you’d like to major in. You decide how long you are going to be in college or what semesters you want to enroll in. You largely plan how you’d like your studies to relate to employment and your career.

Obstacles are things people see when they take their eyes off the goal. – E. Joseph Cossman

Break Goals into Small Steps

Consider the following question: If we decided today that our goal is to run a marathon and then tried to run one tomorrow, what would happen? You might be thinking: (jokingly) “I would die,” or “I couldn’t do it.” Why? Because we might need training, running shoes, support, knowledge, experience, and confidence—and these things cannot be gained overnight. Instead of giving up and thinking it’s impossible because the task is too big to prepare for, it’s important to develop smaller steps or tasks that can be started and worked on immediately. Once all of the small steps are completed, you’ll be on your way to accomplishing your big goals.

What steps would you need to complete the following big goals?

  • Buying a house
  • Getting married
  • Attaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Paying off a debt
  • Losing weight

These smaller steps you came up with, like contacting a real estate agent or choosing a diet plan, are necessary intermediate steps to achieving the big goal, and even those must be broken down into even smaller actions, such as doing research. All of our major life goals require us to formulate and accomplish smaller more manageable actions that will eventually lead us to the success we’re looking to achieve.

Short-term, Mid-term, and Long-term Goals

As you think about your own goals, think about more than just being a student. You’re also a person with individual needs, hopes, and plans. Your long-term goals likely include graduation and a career, but if you are unsure about your future career, MCC has many resources to help you explore. As you work through your goals project you will be asked to create a long-term goal for your certificate or degree at MCC. Your goals may also involve social relationships, a romantic relationship, family, hobbies or other activities, a desirable place to live, and so on.

Career Coach

You can get started investigating in-demand careers that match your interest by using Career Coach.

  • Click on Take the Assessment
  • Choose the 6 question or 60 question assessment
  • Check out your top three traits
  • Look at your top career matches
  • Click on a career match to review your options
  • Choose several careers to explore more by clicking on them
  • Read the descriptions, noting the salary and typical education
  • Click on the career title to find out more about salary, annual job openings, and available programs at MCC
  • See the textbox at the end of this section to complete your Career Plan, the one part of the final project in your College Success Class.

Check out the following video about Career Coach for more information:

Goals also vary in terms of time. Short-term goals focus on today, the next few days, and perhaps weeks. Smaller and more manageable tasks, such as studying for a test, reading a textbook chapter, or working out, are examples of short-term goals. Achieving your short-term goals leads to achieving your mid-term goals, which involve plans for this semester or school year. Midterm goals include such things as earning passing grades in all classes, making the dean’s list, or making new friends. Long-term goals may include graduating college and transferring to another institution or seeking employment in your field of study. Often your long-term goals (the kind of career you want) guide your mid-term goals (getting the right education for that career), and your short-term goals (doing well on an exam) become steps for reaching those larger goals. Thinking about your goals in this way helps you realize how even the little things you do every day can keep you moving toward your most important long-term goals.

8334714234_161961fd1a_oThe act of finding the best words to describe your goals helps you think more clearly about them. Follow these SMART guidelines when creating goals:

Goals should be specific.  The more concrete a goal is, the more likely we are to achieve it. Begin by answering the who, what, when, where, how, and why to help avoid goals that are too general. Some of these questions may be answered in the next steps. For example, “I will become a great musician” could be replaced with a more specific statement, such as, “I will finish my music degree in five years and be employed in a symphony orchestra.”

Goals should be measurable.  Establish concrete criteria for your goal by choosing specific dates, numbers, or milestones to help you stay on track. Goals such as, “I will read twenty pages a day” or “I will work out three days a week” are examples of measurable goals.

Goals should be attainable. It’s good to dream and to challenge ourselves, but goals should also relate to our personal strengths and abilities. Setting realistic goals increases the likelihood of achieving them.

Goals should be relevant. It’s important to consider our own passions and desires when setting goals so they’re applicable to our own lives and relate to who we are and what we value.

Goals should have a time frame. Vague goals, such as “finish college someday,” are not as motivating as goals with a deadline. Project a time frame for reaching your goal such as, “I will have a final draft of my paper completed by Friday” or “I will graduate from MCC in six semesters.”

You should really want to reach the goal. We’re willing to work hard to reach goals we care about, but we’re likely to give up when we encounter obstacles if we don’t feel strongly about a goal. Be sure you are committing to a goal for the right reasons and it is something you really want to pursue. Then take all the small and steady steps that eventually lead to long-term success.

The following video examines SMART goals:

Examples of academic goals that demonstrate educational planning

In order to achieve long-term goals (from college on), you’ll need to first achieve a series of shorter goals. By setting mid-term goals (this year and while in college) and short-term goals (today, this week, and this month) you’ll identify what you will need to do in order to achieve your long-term goals. Once you have written out all your academic goals, you’ll gain a full view of your trajectory.

  • Phrase goals as positive statements: Affirm your excitement and enthusiasm about attaining a goal by using positive language and expectations.
  • Be specific: Set a precise goal that includes dates, times, and amounts, so that you have a basis for measuring how closely you achieve your goals.
  • Identify goals that are relevant to who you are and what you value. Link your goals to your own performance, so they are not dependent on the actions of other people or situations beyond your control.
  • Be realistic but optimistic and ambitious: The goals you set should be achievable, but sometimes it pays to reach a little higher than what you may think is possible. Certainly don’t set your goals too low.
  • Be hopeful, excited, and committed: Your enthusiasm and perseverance can open many doors!

Examples of Long-Term Academic Goals (end of college):

  • I plan to attain a certificate in Homeland Security in one year.
  • I plan to graduate with an Applied Associate’s Degree (career program) in Health Information Technology/Medical Records in 2 years.
  • I plan to graduate with an Associate’s Degree (transfer program) in Sport Management in 3 years.

Examples of Mid-term Academic Goals (month to semester):

  • By the end of the semester, I would like to earn an overall GPA of 3.7.
  • By the end of the month, I plan to make an appointment with my adviser to review the courses I need to graduate.
  • By the end of my College Success course, I want to learn and use at least two new study techniques.

Examples of Short-Term Academic Goals (today to this week):

  • I will create a schedule that includes study time for each of my classes by the end of this week.
  • I will find my degree in the online catalog and print the semester sequence by Wednesday of this week.
  • I will read the chapter in my College Success textbook on studying and take notes on study techniques today.

Personal Goals

Reflect on the following questions to help focus your personal goals:

  1. What are my top priorities?
  2. Which of my skills and interests make my goals realistic for me?
  3. What makes my goals believable and possible?
  4. Are my goals measurable? How long will it take me to reach them? How will I know if I have achieved them?
  5. Are my goals flexible? What will I do if I experience a setback?
  6. Are my goals controllable? Can I achieve them on my own?
  7. Are my goals in sync with my values?

Create your goals

Take some time to write out your SMART long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals.

Long-term goals (finishing college or transferring):

Mid-term goals (this semester):

Short-term goals (today, this week, and this month):

Motivational Strategies to Support You

Creating goals and keeping them in a place you can see them is a good strategy for many students. As you are working, studying, and juggling all your responsibilities, it can be nice to see a visual reminder of what you are trying to accomplish. There are also many resources at MCC that can support you toward achieving your goals. Your professors are also routing for your success.

Who else do you have in your corner? Your family? Your significant other? Your friends? A grandparent? A neighbor? Your children? Yourself? It is important to know your resources and know who you can count on. If you have people in your support network that have been to college, it can be great to seek them out for advice or just to talk to them because they’ve been through it. If people in your support network have not been to college, you may find you need to help them understand all the new demands on your time. It might be helpful to share your goals with them and to let them know that while you value their relationship, there may be times in the semester that you’ll need to study and work on papers and projects. The conversation is especially important if they don’t understand that college takes more time than simply attending classes. Whether you have a support network that understands what you’re going through or not, make an effort to make connections on campus. Get to know your classmates, your professors, a tutor, adviser, Peer Navigator, or staff member. Find people you can go to when you need support.

Asking for support

College can be really challenging. At certain times in the semester, you may have the flexibility to be involved with your friends and family like you were before you started college, but there are likely going to be times when you cannot participate in planned activities or help out the way you normally would. In those instances, you may need to remind your friends and family that you need space and time to complete all that is required of you as a college student. You may need to stay on campus longer, seclude yourself in a quiet place, say no, or miss activities you usually attend.

Think about the people in your life who support you. How can you tell them what you need to be successful in college? Could you share your goals and the path to achieving them? Could you tell them what you need to pass the next test or complete an upcoming assignment? The more specific you are about what you need and how others can support you, the more they will be able to be there for you.

Remember, it is okay to ask for support when you need it.

Choices for Success

Every day we make choices. Some are as simple as what clothes we decide to wear, what we’ll eat for lunch, or how long to study for a test. But what about life-altering choices—the ones that leave us at a crossroads? How much thought do you give to taking Path A versus Path B? Do you like to plan and schedule your choices, by making a list of pros and cons, for instance? Or do you prefer to make decisions spontaneously and just play the cards that life deals you as they come?

The videos that follow are about choices for success. Watch them with a keen eye and ear. Take notes, too, because you might pick up some good ideas for strategies that can help you reach your goals.

Haroon F. Mirza is the director of business development at Intel Corp. Mirza talks about defining moments, how life is all about choices and how we can create defining moments that can change the trajectory of our lives:

Dr. Nido R. Qubein is the president of High Point University. In this video he discusses his book Seven Choices for Success and Significance: How to Live Life from the Inside Out:

Problem-Solving Through Setbacks and Obstacles

At times, unexpected events and challenges can get in the way of our best-laid plans. For example, you might get sick or injured or need to deal with a family issue or a financial crisis. Your priorities may shift, or you may need to reevaluate your goals.

Goals can also be sidetracked. Consider the following scenarios in which students make discoveries that challenge them to reexamine their goals, priorities, and timetables:

Student Original Plan Unexpected Obstacle Actions Taken and Revised Plan
Jose Jose chose accounting as his major when he applied because his uncle is an accountant who makes a decent living, and Jose read there is a demand in the field. Jose enrolled in an accounting course his first semester and struggled to maintain interest. He found the material boring and the math concepts challenging. During the same semester, he attended several plays in the theatre and truly enjoyed helping his roommate practice for his role in them.  Jose signed up for regular math tutoring, but even after he mastered some of the concepts in his accounting class, his level of engagement and enjoyment did not rise. Jose took a variety of career assessments and discovered an office job might not be a good fit for him. After talking to a career counselor and taking a theater class the next semester, Jose changed his major to fine arts and landed a leading role.
 Regina Regina chose nursing because she enjoyed taking care of people and knew that nurses make a good living. She had long admired the work that nurses do in hospitals and clinics. Regina knew that the nursing program at MCC was highly selective, but she did not know that she would have to spend a year taking prerequisite courses before she could even apply. During her first semester, Regina worked very hard and sought help from professors and tutors regularly, but she still had difficulty in her math class. When she started her basic biology course the second semester, she found herself even more frustrated and unhappy. Her psychology and sociology courses, however, fascinated her, and as her classmates complained about how difficult PSY 101 was and how much writing they had to do in SOC 101, Regina found herself drawn deeper into the material, and enjoyed the readings and assignments more and more. By the end of her first year, Regina knew that she did not have the grades to get into the nursing program, but she was so interested in psychology and sociology that she didn’t care. She decided that social work or counseling would suit her even better than nursing: she would still be helping people, and she would also be immersed in the subjects that interested her most. Regina changed her major to Human Services, and eagerly drove to the Downtown Campus the next fall to begin her new classes and career.
 John John loves to spending time with his family, and when he cooks them, everyone compliments him on the food. When he got laid off from his job, John returned to school to become a chef. John talked to several people who work in the culinary field and discovered that, although they love their jobs, they work mostly nights and weekends. Because he wants to attend his kids’ sporting events and take them on weekend trips, John decided that those hours aren’t going to make him happy and he needed a new major. John decided he still wanted a major that allowed him to work with his hands during the day time. He took some career inventories and looked at Career Coach to see what might be a better option for him. After touring the Applied Technology Center, John switched his major to automotive. He enjoyed his internship and ended up with a daytime job that enabled him to support his family and be available to spend time with them each evening.

These scenarios represent some of the many opportunities we have, on an ongoing basis, to assess our relationship to our goals, reevaluate priorities, and adjust.

Problem-Solving Strategies

One way to avoid potential problems is to think proactively, meaning you think through potential problems and solutions so you are better able to handle issues when they arise. An added benefit of proactive thinking is that you can process calmly and clearly without the stress and other emotions that often come with crisis situations.

Below is a four-step problem-solving process that can be applied to any area of your life.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Define the problem. Analyze the situation by answering the following questions: What is the real issue? Why is it a problem? What are the root causes? What are some of the key characteristics: Timing? Resources? Availability of tools and materials? You may need to narrow the problem down. Many problems are made up of a series of smaller problems, each requiring its own solution. Can you break the problem into different parts? What aspects of the current issue are “noise” that should not be considered in the solution? Use your critical thinking skills to separate facts from opinions in this step.
  • Generate possible solutions. List all your options. Use your creative thinking skills in this phase. Did you come up with a second “right” answer, a third, or a fourth? Can any of these answers be combined to create a stronger solution? What past or existing solutions can be adapted or combined to solve this problem?
  • Evaluate your options. Consider the pros and cons of each possible solution and/or combination of solutions and try to predict the likely outcome of each option.
  • Choose the best solution. Commit to the best course of action for your situation.

Another way to be sure you are on course to achieve your goals is to review the earlier set of questions about focusing with the intention on goals. Remember that setting goals is a process you need to continually adjust. Think about what is working or not working and make changes as needed.

Predicting and addressing possible obstacles

Think through what might set you off course as you try to reach your goals. What distracts you? Cell phone? Social media? Roommates? Significant other? Work? Utilize the four-step problem-solving process to think about how you can stay on course and avoid distractions.

Reflect on the problem-solving process and its effectiveness in this and future situations.

Create a career plan

Utilize Career Coach and other course materials to discuss the following related to the career you are planning to pursue at this point in your life:

  1. A “Day in the Life” of your chosen career
  2. Employment outlook in this career field
  3. Average annual salary for this career
  4. Education and training you will need for this career
  5. Skills you plan to acquire or enhance in order to be successful in this field
  6. Three goals related to achieving your career plan
  7. Three action steps to achieve those goals
  8. The resources you will utilize to achieve your career goals



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