The college will open up a new world and exciting opportunities. But some of your excitement and dreams for the future will be a little vague and hard to pin down. That’s where SMART goals come in useful. SMART goals will help you get closer to your vision in measurable ways.
Take a look at how we often set a goal when facing a challenge like learning a new language at college abroad.
I want to become proficient enough in Japanese by the end of the second semester to have a fluent fifteen-minute conversation with a native.
Such a goal is good to visualize your dream and propel you towards it in a general way. But you can’t measure fluency. You need something more concrete to help you see results.
Instead, your goal should articulate a clear idea of the steps you need to take to achieve results.
Outside the language classroom, I want to spend two hours every week talking to a native speaker.
This is a more structured approach to language acquisition. It is a measurable goal, and it will guide you systematically towards your vision. It is a SMART goal – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Here are some ideas on how an international student can take advantage of SMART goals to negotiate the challenges of coursework and life at college abroad.
Use SMART goals to stay organized during prep
The preparations leading up to your study abroad program can become a nightmare if you’re not organized. During the applications’ process, you’ll apply for references, fill forms, write essays, collect transcripts, follow up scholarships, look for accommodation and much more.
Organizing your tasks and planning the steps to complete them using SMART rules will take the pain out of planning. Remember that SMART goals are first and foremost about numbers. When writing your college essay, for instance, ask yourself how many drafts you are willing to write. For most students, it starts at 5. As you get more used to tackling college essays, you may find yourself making do with 2 or 3.
Use these rules when you’re preparing your documents for college, when you’re budget planning, making arrangements for accommodation and even when you’re planning what area to major in.
Use SMART Goals to Choose your Major
Imagine that you can’t choose between two programs in Computer Science and Information and Communications Technology at the same college. Do you have a vague idea that you want to work with computers in the future, but can’t decide which stream is more suitable for you?
At this point, you could look up jobs that are available in each stream and ask yourself which jobs look attractive to you. Details are important. If you find the job description of a CIO interesting and don’t want to spend too much time programming, you should opt for ICT.
A rule of thumb to draw up a SMART goal is to include as much detail as possible, so you have smaller, more manageable goals. If you want to graduate with a GPA of 3.9, what grade will you need for each paper, exam, project and assignment? Answering these questions will help you inch towards the big goals through the smaller ones.
Do you want to become a financial consultant and help people plan their finances? Start thinking about what entry-level job will get you where you need to go. What subject will help you get that job? These questions will help you decide your major.
Set Aside Days for Extracurricular Activities
To make the most of your time at an international college, you will probably join a college club or student group to expand your network and meet students from your program. Set aside specific days for these activities, so that you can use them effectively for stress-busting when you need breaks from coursework. Don’t also forget to plan how much time you will spend on these activities.
Plan How Long You Study for Each Course
At the start of the semester, plan how much time you will spend each week on a certain class. If you fail to reach your goal one week, reschedule that block of time for the next week. If you find there are certain times of the day when you’re more productive, reschedule the time blocks to such periods.
Use SMART Goals for Grades in Each Class
Setting an achievable target grade for each class will ensure you have something specific to work towards. While you want to do the best for each class, you must consider the subject. Your target may be lower for advanced level classes than introductory level classes. Also, consider how essential the program is towards your major.
Plan Your Visits to Career Services
As early as your first semester, visit your college’s career services and find out what job opportunities are available for you. Set aside time each semester for a visit. Plan number of visits the closer you get to graduation. Setting specific numbers will help you plan in advance.
Push Yourself for a Challenging Course
Set aside a specific number of credits during a semester or two to spend on a course that takes you out of your comfort zone. Such a course will stimulate you intellectually and add to your skillset. The start of your program is a good time to spend some credits on such elective courses when your main program is still in its introductory stages.
These are some of the ways in which you can use SMART goals to maximize your time at university abroad. Don’t be the unfocused student for whom studying abroad simply becomes a good time – or rather, an expensive waste of time.
If you write your personal essay with some deep thought, you will become clear about why you are attending university in the first place. This will help you come up with better SMART goals to make the most of your time spent abroad.
The last word on SMART goals is to make sure they are realistic. Do you have enough time to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself? Always give yourself deadlines or timeframes. They will give you a sense of urgency, which is necessary when you have a limited time to get familiar with a new country, make friends, and stay on top of your coursework as you prepare for your future.