You may be at any number of different stages on your way to reaching your education goal, whether it is earning your first college degree, studying for a certification or just trying to figure out financial aid. Everyone has a vision of where they want to be, but the path to get there remains unclear. You can clarify that path to your desired end-result by setting clear goals and breaking those goals down into individual actions.
“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going,
because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra
Education goals are the answers to specific questions, like, “How can I advance my career?” or “Will I be able to afford college?” And sometimes the answers are more complex than we’d like, involving more questions that we need to answer before we have a clear path to follow. That may be partly why we procrastinate and put off figuring out the concrete details. Procrastinating on your goals is a result of fear—fear that you’re not up to the task, fear of the unknown, fear of failing.
Setting Clear Education Goals
Only one thing can get you past those fears and on your way to reaching the vision you have for yourself, and that is breaking those big, abstract dreams of the future into small, concrete steps that you can reach to make them a reality. Let’s go through some no-nonsense steps that you can follow to set real, substantive goals that will drive you toward the education goals you truly want.
- Start by defining your overall vision. You might have broad goals like, “I want to get out of my dead-end job,” but that doesn’t really give you anything to work towards, aside from writing your resignation letter. How are you going to quit your dead-end job? Well, you’ll need a better job, which might require an online MBA or some other degree program to get you there. How are you going to do that? Well, you may need to find out what it would take financially and time-wise for you to accomplish those goals. Broad goals lead to more specific goals when you start asking yourself questions.
- Evaluate your needs. There are certain barriers to accomplishing your final goals, and you need to find out what the requirements will be for you to get past them. For you educational goals, most of those barriers are related to time and money. Do the research to find out what the actual cost of various online degree programs, and see whether you can’t make the math work with the financial aid options available to you. Then you have to consider how you’re going to fit school in to your schedule. Once you know what you need to make your education goals happen, you can start getting real about setting concrete goals.
- Set concrete goals to move you forward. Abstract goals, a la “I will start researching degree options,” rarely translate into action, and they’re easy to shrug off. Writing down “I will write one page of notes about each of the 3 different degrees I’m considering,” is a specific goal which a clear path to fulfilling it. You now have a toe-hold to get started on it, and it seems instantly more do-able than a non-concrete goal. Setting up successive goals gives you a path to completion and a feeling of progress that drives and motivates you.
- Give yourself a deadline. Deadlines shouldn’t be arbitrary; make sure you can actually get done what you need to in that time-frame. You can only do that when you know the exact steps required to complete the goal. Set a deadline to start working on it, and one to have it finished; you don’t want to get close to the date and realize you haven’t done anything yet. You can move these deadlines around to make them more realistic. Just make sure you’re moving them for a better reason than you just ran out of time to figure them out.
This is a systematic approach to goal setting that will help you get from abstract ideas of what you want to do down to substantive details and a roadmap to completing education goals. Remember that no matter how far away your goals seem right now, breaking it down into concrete details will show you the path to get there. And that process of study and goal-setting may just show you that your dreams aren’t as far away as you thought.
Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes on student life, going back to school and online learning technology for Strayer.edu. When she isn't writing, you can track her down in the library, trying to check out more books than her card allows.