How to Help Students Be SMART

December 15, 2022 | By Peter Titlebaum and Jon Linderman


TAGS: best practices, career development, member voices,

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Timebound. This concept can be hard for college students to understand, and they may seem uncomfortable putting in the effort to make sure they’ve really thought through this process.

With that in mind, before registration each year we ask our students to answer two questions besides which classes they are planning on taking: 1. What is their short-term goal for next semester, and 2. What is their long-term goal for the next calendar year? 

These are meant to make students think and to create a sense of urgency to assist them in arriving at a destination on purpose. Having this conversation helps the adviser to better prepare the student.

The student’s short-term goal needs to be accomplished by the end of the semester, and the student needs to plan how to achieve it. Some examples include improving their GPA or gaining professional experience in the field. 

These are worthwhile goals, but they are vague and require students to develop a plan in order to accomplish them. For example, improving GPA is a great idea, but needs more measurable detail. Students may lose sight of the fact that even if they get all As and Bs one semester, their GPA may not show much improvement. If a student has a D or F, they may want to consider retaking that class instead, which will help the GPA improve because the student is replacing a grade and not simply adding to these credits.  

Similarly, gaining more experience is a great idea, but also needs a more detailed plan. For example, we recommend that students look at job descriptions to know what employers and/or graduate schools are looking for. Using this information, students can put that vocabulary and experience on their resume; this also can help the student know what they’re lacking so they can focus on those skills and develop a targeted plan to gain the right kind of experience.

Ultimately, a goal without a plan and steps on how to accomplish it is not likely to be achieved. In general, the student’s faculty adviser is likely to offer the best assistance for developing a goal-setting plan. Over many years of advising, faculty have developed techniques, ideas, and suggestions, and they serve as excellent sounding boards for students.

The idea of adding yet another task—developing a plan to achieve their goal—may seem daunting for students but is important.

Please note that having a plan for achieving a goal is not a guarantee of success, but a methodical plan means the student has a higher probability of making their goals happen. It is a proactive, not reactive, approach and has a better chance of success because it is SMART, just what we want for our students.

Peter J. TitlebaumPeter J. Titlebaum, Ed.D., is a professor in the School of Education and Health Sciences: Health and Sport Science at the University of Dayton.

John K. LindermanJohn K. Linderman, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor in the School of Education and Health Sciences: Health and Sport Science and director of Base Sciences at the University of Dayton.

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