Student Learning Commons: Goal Setting and Accountability


Why should students set goals?

  • Students who set goals for themselves tend to do better in school
  • Goals can help students stay motivated
  • The goal-setting process can help students determine what specific steps they need to take to reach their long-term goals
  • Reaching a goal can be a very satisfying personal accomplishment

Why ask someone else to hold you accountable?

  • It will greatly enhance the likelihood of you being successful with your goals
  • The other person’s encouragement can give you a boost when you’re feeling unmotivated
  • Input from another person can help ensure your goals are appropriate and realistic
  • When you reach a goal, you will have another person to share your success


How to set goals and be accountable


Step 1:  Create some goals for yourself

Not sure what your goals should be?

  • Think back on previous classes/semesters—if you could go back in time, what would you have done differently? Use this insight from the past to help develop goals for the future.
  • Think about where you want to get and what steps you’ll need to take to get there.

Tip:To increase the likelihood of success, use SMART goals.

SMART goals are…

Specific – You’ll be more likely to achieve a goal that is specific, rather than general (e.g., “I will spend 8 hours/week on my psychology class” rather than “I will work hard in my psychology class”). When coming up with specific goals for yourself, think about WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.

Measurable – Establish criteria for measuring progress towards achieving your goal. How will you know when your goals have been accomplished?

Achievable – Your goals should be set such that you will be willing and able to accomplish them. Are you at least 50% sure you will accomplish it?

Relevant – Goals should fit with your immediate and long-term plans.

Time-frame specific – Aim to accomplish your goals during a certain time frame. For example, “I will visit my math TA during their office hour at least 3 times by the end of week 6.”


Step 2:  Write your goals down

You will be much more likely to follow through on your goals if you formalize them by writing them down.

Tip: Hang your list of goals up on your wall at home or keep it somewhere handy where you can refer to it often.

Say your goals out loud to yourself often to remind yourself of what you’re working towards and why you’re doing it.


Step 3:  Find a friend or family member to hold you accountable

Share your goals with a friend or family member and ask them to help you stay on track with your goals.

Tip: Be careful about who you ask to hold you accountable. Make sure the person you ask is someone who cares about you, who will encourage you, and who will sincerely want to see you succeed in reaching your goals, even if they have to sacrifice time spent with you. To avoid unwanted nagging, it may be best to ask someone other than a parent.


Step 4:  Establish a “check-in system”

How will your friend/family member check in with you?

Think about:

  • HOW? — Will they check in with you in person? By phone? Through email? Through Skype?
  • HOW OFTEN? — Will they check in with you on a weekly basis? Biweekly?

Tip:  Keep track of your progress so you’ll be able to accurately report on what you did and didn’t do when your friend/family member checks in with you. Setting a specific “accountability appointment” with someone increases the chance of reaching your goal to 95% (American Society for Training and Development Research).


Some final points:

  • Find the desire within yourself to achieve your goals. It will not work as well to base your goals on what other people want for you.
  • If you experience setbacks, try not to become discouraged, but rather learn from it! Make necessary adjustments and continue striving for your goals.
  • Be aware that it takes time to form new habits; be patient with the process.
  • You may find goal setting somewhat challenging at first; it will get easier with practice.