Competitive Advantage

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Competitive Advantage

Delivering Tips, Insights and Resources for Success

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SMART Goals: Tips for Adult Students


Going to school as an adult is different. You’re not a kid anymore, and you have plenty of demands on your time. You have to earn money, pay bills, keep the house clean, and take care of your kids if you’re a parent. It can be hard to prioritize school, even though you care deeply about finishing.

Don’t worry! SMART goals can help you organize your valuable time. They come with deadlines and specific objectives, so you know what needs to happen and when. And because you decide what’s most important, they put you back in charge of your schedule.

No matter what else gets in the way, SMART goals keep you moving toward your degree.

What Are SMART Goals for Students?

SMART goals are the bull’s-eye in the center of your academic target. They help you define academic success for yourself and give you a target to reach for. That target helps you stay on track when the challenges of adult life threaten to pull you off course.

To understand how it works, we need to look at the SMART goal acronym:

  • Specific: a clearly defined accomplishment, such as “I will study every day this week”
  • Measurable: a trackable goal using numbers or data, such as “I’ll keep a B- or higher average in this class”
  • Action-oriented: something you can plan to do, not just hope for
  • Realistic: an achievable goal, given your situation and abilities
  • Time-framed: defined by time periods or deadlines

It’s important to set SMART goals that fit your life. SMART goals for students with adult responsibilities will look different than goals for traditional college students, who often have only class and extracurricular activities to worry about. 

How To Write SMART Goals

Being an adult college student means carving your path and making school fit your life, not the other way around. Here are some tips on how to write SMART goals for students who don’t fit the typical mold.

Set Realistic Goals

The “R” in SMART — realistic — is essential for busy adult college students. Adults have responsibilities that traditional college-age students don’t have. For example, you might balance school with your family, a part-time job, or both. 

Remember what’s already on your plate as you set your SMART goals. Set realistic goals you can achieve without neglecting your other responsibilities. 

For example, getting an A in your statistics course would be nice, but would you have to skip work or take your kids out of soccer to make it happen? The consequences of those choices would impact your life too much to be worthwhile.

Find goals that work with your life, not against it. If you have to settle for a B but your kids will be happy and your job will be secure, that’s better in the long run.

Think Long Term

As an adult college student, you always need to remember why you’re in school. Think about what you want to achieve with your degree. Maybe it’s a higher-paying job or a career that feels meaningful — or both.

Those career goals should inform your course choices. In the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program, you’ll have a personal coach to help you choose the right courses.

Break Them Up

Even a realistic goal can seem far away. Instead of getting overwhelmed, look at your goal as the finish line for a race with multiple laps. Each lap is an action step.

For example, assume one of your SMART goals is to “turn in all assignments on time this semester.” Your action steps might be to:

  • Make a calendar with assignment due dates
  • Break bigger projects into smaller parts
  • Stick to a weekly study plan

Don’t underestimate the power of a good study plan. A few years ago, researchers looked at the grades of students with weekly study schedules and compared them to those without. The students with study plans earned better exam grades and higher course averages.

Focus on Jobs

Being an adult college student is all about keeping your eyes on the prize. Make sure your academic goals have you on track to reach your ultimate goal of getting a satisfying, lucrative job.

C2C has created a detailed list of trending industries and job titles in Mississippi to get you started. These are fields with a high predicted volume of job opportunities and potential for career growth.

Another useful resource is the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s Occupational Employment Projections. It’s a list of careers that statewide employers are hiring for, including how many new jobs each industry expects to have. Some, such as financial manager and educational administrator, might grow by more than 18%!

How Goals Serve You

SMART goal-setting helps you progress as a student. Even before you achieve a goal, you’ve done a good thing for yourself. Here are just a few things you can do with a relevant goal.

Stay Motivated All Year

Research shows that goal-setting can increase your motivation to succeed. The effect is stronger if the goal is personally meaningful. Use your goals to remind yourself of your “why,” and you’ll find it easier to stay on track.

Improve Time Management Skills

Remember the “time-framed” part of SMART goals? When you have clear goals with deadlines, you make the most of your study time. More productive study time helps you earn better grades with less stress.

Identify Areas of Improvement

In the workplace, an “area of improvement” is a skill or ability someone can work on to do their job better. When you use SMART goals to guide your schoolwork, you see where you shine and where you can get stronger. That information helps you prioritize your studying while making the most of your time.

Examples of SMART Goals for Students

Creating your first SMART goal can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never written SMART goals in education before. It’s OK! Here are a couple of examples that can help you get started.

Example No. 1: Improving Time Management Skills

“I will spend at least 30 minutes on homework every workday this month and an hour on Saturdays and still do bedtime with the kids.”

This goal is SMART because it’s:

  • Specific: focuses on one habit, which is studying 
  • Measurable: includes a target number of homework hours — 30 minutes on weekdays and an hour on Saturdays
  • Action-oriented: focuses on something you can control — your study time
  • Realistic: targets a reasonable period for a working parent
  • Time-framed: is limited to a month

Example No. 2: Academic Achievement 

“I will get at least a B+ in my anatomy class this semester.”

This goal is SMART because it’s:

  • Specific: focuses on one class
  • Measurable: has a target grade
  • Action-oriented: gives you something to work toward
  • Realistic: aims for a good grade, if not the highest possible grade for any student
  • Time-framed: looks at one academic period

Now it’s your turn. Think of a goal you’d like to achieve — it doesn’t even have to be a college-related goal yet. You can practice with a personal goal like “I’ll have a date night with my spouse once a week this month.” Or if you’re dreaming of finishing your degree but haven’t yet, you can make that your SMART goal — and C2C can help!

Seek Academic Guidance With a C2C Coach in Mississippi

It’s a great time to get an education in Mississippi. The state has more than 20 community colleges and public universities, most of which have accommodations or special programs for adult students. 

It’s exciting for students to see the Mississippi education rankings for some of these schools. Several even appear on national top-school lists, including that of U.S. News and World Report. But which one will help you reach your SMART goals?

It’s a big question, but your C2C coach can help. C2C helps Mississippi adults finish their college degrees, and our coaches know the available programs inside and out. 

If you’re already a C2C participant, call your coach and tell them you want to talk about your goals. If you haven’t signed up yet, today’s the day! Apply now and dust off those dreams of future success.


C2C is a state program that helps Mississippi adults who previously attended college earn a degree and create a brighter future.