As 2014 begins, high school and college students like many people are making the obligatory New Year’s resolutions and setting goals to kick the year off right. If you’re in high school, you may want to get accepted to your dream school—but do you know what steps to take to apply? If you’re an undergrad, you may have your sights set on a specific career or grad school—do you know the skills you’ll need to get there? Do you know how to achieve your goals?
Getting detailed about your dreams can make a huge difference in your performance. Here are some tips to get you started on setting realistic, achievable goals.
If your aim is simply, “Get into a top-tier college,” that’s not going to help you much. Consider deconstructing this into highly specific subgoals—such as (1) get my math grade up this term, (2) take a practice SAT exam once a week, (3) find a teacher who can write my letter of recommendation, and (4) join the school band. You’ll find it much easier to stay on track.
It’s a good idea to research schools and careers you’re interested in as soon as possible—preferably years in advance—so you can develop concrete goals.
If you’re in high school, make a list of colleges you would like to attend, including dream and safety schools. Find out the average GPA (or, if that’s not available, class percentile) and standardized test scores of accepted students. The Fiske Guide to Colleges is a great resource for finding this kind of data on hundreds of the country’s best schools. If you’re in college and plan on continuing your education, do the same thing for grad schools.
Read up on the requirements and skills for careers you’re considering. Ask people in those industries for advice on how to prepare. For a good (and free) introduction to many different types of careers, including their educational requirements, check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, available online at www.bls.gov/oco/ (click on the Index link to see a list of jobs).
Knowing what’s required will make it easier to set goals for your GPA, your curriculum, your test scores, your skill set, and much, much more—and with goals comes motivation.
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If you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, don’t despair. Many students are conflicted about their career paths, and this is the perfect time for exploration. Keep yourself motivated by focusing on more immediate, short-term goals.
For instance, in high school you can focus on:
If you’re in college, you have goals such as:
Even if you don’t have concrete plans for the future, try to do the best you can in every class. Good grades will help you no matter what you choose to pursue in the end. You’ll learn valuable skills in almost every subject, and at the very least you’ll come away with a better sense of what you like and don’t like.
Remember: Don’t let uncertainty about your future paralyze your present. Follow these goal-setting tips, and you’ll start the New Year on the right track for success.
For more tips, tools, and techniques for acing high school and college and achieving your dreams, check out The Secrets of Top Students by Stefanie Weisman in the College Countdown store.