Career Resources

Setting SMART Goals in 2024 for Your Education

Setting SMART Goals in 2024 for Your Education
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Keith Carlson profile
Keith Carlson March 25, 2024

If you’re thinking about heading in a new direction in 2024, learn how the “SMART” approach can move you forward on your education pathway.

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As 2024 gets into full swing, are you thinking about what’s next for you? Do you want to head in a new, positive direction in your career or personal and professional development? If so, what’s your main goal for the year?

Make It “SMART”

You want to have a good year in which you feel like you’re moving forward, right? If that’s the case, then setting goals that are attainable and focused is a great place to start.

People who set SMART goals are more likely to achieve them than those who simply imagine an outcome without defining the process for reaching it. They move forward because answering each step brings clarity and direction. And the small satisfactions you experience along the way grow as you get closer to arriving at your goal. The challenge is to make your goal attainable, while ensuring that it’s time-based, measurable, specific enough, and relevant to what you want in your life.

What Do We Mean by SMART Goals?

We call them SMART goals because they offer a roadmap for setting and pursuing concrete steps to advance your education or career. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Sometimes, when we set goals, we want them to be ambitious and transformative, for ourselves or the world. This is all well and good, but if your goal is so lofty that you’re unable to lay out specific steps to follow in a reasonable amount of time, then you’ve got some thinking (and planning) to do.

What Counts as Specific?

If we take the example of a nursing career, deciding to apply to nursing programs, the locations, and the areas of nursing practice you’re interested in represent specific goals. You’ll need to consider whether you want to pursue your education at a community college, a four-year university, or online. Ask yourself if you want to stay in the area where you currently live, or if you’re able to re-locate to a new community. Are you balancing home or work responsibilities with your education? The answers to these questions will help you begin to define specific aims to pursue next steps.

How Do We Know if It’s Measurable?

Once you’ve decided on specific criteria to investigate nursing education options, consider how many programs you want to apply to. Nursing applications take time, so you need to be realistic about the number you can complete before the program deadlines. The total could be two, or it could be 10 — as long as you can quantify and achieve it.

Is Attainable Good Enough?

Many people believe that they have to do the most or get the best or hit the highest before they can take the next step; don’t set goals that keep you from moving forward. If it’s reasonable for you to complete six nursing school applications, then make this your goal. If you work full time or are raising children, and you know that you can take on two applications, then this should be your goal. The important question is, “What can I attain?”

And in response to the question “Is attainable good enough?,” I would respond a resounding yes! Attainable is what we want, and a SMART goal must be something that we can achieve. It doesn’t have to be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible.

Are My Efforts Relevant?

Assessing how relevant your efforts are depends largely on the answers to the preceding SMART questions. If you’re a college graduate who has decided to return to school for a second degree in nursing, but you haven’t yet investigated prerequisites, sending out applications at this point isn’t where you need to spend your time. Calling or reading the websites of the programs you want to apply to in order to learn what their prerequisites are and where you need to take them is relevant work. It’s important that the efforts you put in match the goal you’ve set and the stage of the process you’re in.

Have I Set a Time-Based Goal?

Simply put, deadlines help. Most of us respond well knowing that there’s a fixed point in time when we need to complete a task. If you’ve decided that you want to begin nursing school in the fall of 2026, researching programs, submitting applications, and applying for financial aid are tasks you’ll need to work on in 2024. Creating a calendar for steps on the path to your fall 2026 goal will enable you to stay organized and proactive. And this has the added bonus of being satisfying — there’s nothing better than seeing your progress along the way!

Use the SMART Test Every Time

Whether you want to apply to school, seek a special certification, meet a particular person of influence, or get your GED, every goal that you set can and should be tested against the SMART protocol.

Attaining our goals is based on the goal-setter doing his due diligence so that achieving them is entirely within reach. Sometimes, the SMART process will lead us to rethink our goals — and that’s great. At other times, we’ll see that our goals are spot on and ready for us to take inspired action.

Whatever your goal may be, use SMART to test it; reaching it will be that much more assured!

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