How to set yourself up for academic success

By Nora Abujbarah, a junior studying global studies and political science and a First-Year Success coach

I know from experience that there’s no downplaying the difficulty of university work, and that it can be intimidating to feel like you’re starting from scratch when things don’t go your way. But by knowing what you’d like your semester to look like, or how you’d like to change certain aspects of it, you’re already set up to create meaningful goals for the rest of this school year. 

Begin with the end in mind

I start each semester by challenging myself to envision where I want to be at the end of the semester, and start setting goals to help me work toward achieving them. Don’t worry so much about the small details at this point, just develop a picture of what you want things to look like. If you’re having trouble, try this goal-setting method, or pick and modify one of these goals I share as a launching point for the students I coach:

  • Make the dean’s list or reach a particular GPA.

  • Apply for a certain number of scholarships. 

  • Start planning for a study abroad experience. 

  • Learn more about attending graduate school. 

  • Figure out your dream job and start working toward it. 

Make a game plan

Now that you know where you want to end up, break down that large ambition into three to five smaller bite-sized goals for the semester. Ask yourself how much time you need to dedicate to your schoolwork, what habits you’ll need to modify and what else you’ll need to do differently to reach your goal. Once you evaluate how much work you’ll have to put in to get there, write it down. I like to use the SMART goal-setting model to make sure I’ve made them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. 

While you’re fleshing out your goals, pinpoint the resources, methods or people you’ll need to help you. And remember to choose a rough deadline for each step of your goal — it doesn’t have to be exact, but setting a timeline for the steps along the way can motivate you even further, and help you get over any lingering procrastination habits (watch the Ted Talk below for tips on how to overcome procrastination).

Check in with yourself   

I’ve found that staying focused on your goals and consistently working toward them is actually the hardest part of all this, especially during that stretch in the semester before finals, or when you’re in the midst of midterms where we all slowly feel our motivation dissipating. I help myself avoid this by revisiting and revising my goals as necessary, and reminding myself of why I chose that goal in the first place. 

It’s also helpful to understand the science behind creating and keeping habits, which acknowledges how tough it can be to keep a good habit and the importance of starting again or getting back on track when you struggle, instead of giving up. 

Remember that you are not alone

There is no shortage of resources here at ASU to help you with any goal you’ve set.  

  • Tutoring Center: Look into review sessions for tough classes and check out their online tutoring options. 

  • Writing Center: No matter what you’re writing (or how long or how short the piece), bring it to the writing center. They’ll help you refine it and may catch edits or changes you didn’t even notice. 

  • First-Year Success Center: Full disclosure, this is where I work! We’re a team of peer-led coaches who can help you get motivated and stay on track. 

  • Academic Advising: Discuss your major or get help with your academic path by meeting and staying connected with your academic advisor.

Best of luck reaching your goals, Sun Devil, I know you can do it! Remember that while developing a goal may be challenging, once you get the hang of it you can gain control over your academics, your time and your future.


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