Goal Setting for Students

A goal without a plan is only a wish.


This is such great wisdom and is often forgotten by people of all ages but can be particularly problematic for students. While most don’t want to be told what to do by you, mom or dad, there are sneaky ways to catch their attention, set an example, and have intentional conversations around this so they’ll latch on to the framework.

How Student Goal Setting Differs from Adults

In my own goal setting, which I learned from Michael Hyatt, I’ve learned to set only 8 to 12 goals per calendar year. One of the early realizations I had when adopting Hyatt’s system was I hadn’t done a great job of recognizing the difference between a goal and a task. By setting too many goals, I was overwhelmed and defeated from the beginning.

Goals are aligned with my vision of the future I want to design for myself. Goals are steps to achieve the vision. Some tasks might be pushing toward the goals, but many throughout the week are simply things that need to be completed. Once the difference is recognized, setting only 8 to 12 feels more manageable.

This framework is great for adult goal setting but doesn’t always work for two reasons.

Your student’s brain is not fully developed yet and lacks the ability to completely embrace future thinking as well as critical thinking. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood”. Teens lack the ability to think too far into the future.

Additionally, the annual calendar of your kiddo differs greatly from the adult calendar. First, their “year” starts around August with the new school year, not in January. AND it likely has 5 periods, not 4 quarters. Most traditional school year calendars have 4 quarters and summer. If your school doesn’t then adapt my thinking to what your student’s year looks like.

With these two considerations, my suggestion for student goal setting is smaller chunks setting 8 to 12 goals for 5 periods, not the traditional 4 quarters like adults do.

The Student Goal Framework

Really this does not differ from adults. In my paper planner, yes, I still believe in paper and writing things out (check out why!), I write out each goal in the SMARTER framework:

  • Specific
  • Measurable (how will you know you achieved it?)
  • Actionable (use a lot of verbs!)
  • Risky (push yourself!)
  • Timebound (have a sense of urgency and a deadline)
  • Exciting (connect with the goal to be inspired)
  • Relevant (does it connect with your vision and values?)

I personally use the Full Focus Planner, by Hyatt, and they have a student planner for high school students and those in college which I highly recommend. You’d think with all this Hyatt talk I get a fee….nope! I’ve just used it and seen a difference in my own life.

Student Goals

First, start with a not too distant vision. Spark a conversation with your teen or young adult around what the future looks like for them 1 to 3 years out. Ask a lot of questions to guide them instead of directing or telling them what to do. If you have a thought you want to tell them, pause and reword it as a question…then wait for them to speak. If they get overwhelmed, table it and come back to it later.

The vision might be to attend a particular college after high school, get a college internship, achieve a specific GPA in school that might open doors, or get involved in a new hobby or extracurricular. Future visions have a lot of components from school, vocation, hobby, physical, financial, and relationships just to make a few.

Next, create a goal for one of the quarters that would be a step toward achieving the vision. I typically start with the nearest quarter then work outward. I reevaluate at the end of each period not only my achievements but what really should come next. I often find myself revising based on what I learned. Because I’m writing these down, I’m thankful for my favorite Frixion erasable pens….I’ve actually become addicted and own them in every color as well as their highlighters – oh my!

Finally, I plan a celebration reward AND I plan incremental small ways to celebrate the wins along the way to the final goal. I believe this is crucial for student success, even more than for adults. Concentrate on celebrating the wins along the way. In my digital course during our weekly live Q&A session, I asked a question of my students about a habit related to the course. Opal hit it 100% – what did I do? I celebrated by gifting her an Amazon gift card. No one knew I had planned to do so, so they weren’t doing it for a reward. Opal is one impressive young lady who is on her way to executing her vision for her life.

What Comes Next

My final advice is to be intentional and create the time and space to achieve the goals and design a course toward the vision. If you don’t design it with time in the week, you’ll drift and leave it to chance that you’ll get to your best fit destination.

If a goal for your student is to figure out what comes after graduation, my digital course Launch Career Clarity for 16 to 25-year-olds is the best way to achieve that goal. The course is only open a few times per year, so sign-up now or join the waitlist for your next opportunity to take a crucial step in designing the future.