Long-term goals for students include getting a specific grade by the end of the year, getting a job in your industry, or winning a prestigious scholarship.
A long-term goal is a goal that’s achievable with hard work, but not achievable quite yet. It’s usually at least 6 months out into the future (or else you might call it a short-term goal).
When setting your goal, make sure you use a framework such as the SMART Goals framework to flesh out the goal. SMART Goals are: smart, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Examples of Long-term Goals for Students
1. Achieve a 3.2 GPA – Change this one up depending on your current GPA. Follow the goldilocks principle: make sure your goal is hard enough to keep you motivated but not too hard (or easy) to cause you to give up.
2. Win an Award or Scholarship – Focus on a scholarship that’s at least 18 months into the future, or else this might be a short-term goal.
3. Become a Leader in my Industry – This is a great long-term goal to keep you motivated over the long term. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s the impetus for you to put your hand up to get involved and gain experience.
4. Become a Professor – Toward the end of your career, you might want to return to university to impart your knowledge on the next generation. This is usually a long-term goal because practitioners often become professors once they’re respected experts in their field.
5. Achieve Financial Security – Most students, at the end of the day, have come to university so they will have a more financially secure future for themselves and their families.
6. Write an Article in an Industry Magazine – An awesome goal for a good college student is to get an article (perhaps an excerpt from their thesis!) published into an industry magazine. This can look great on a resume.
7. Complete my Bachelor’s Degree within 4 Years – Setting a timeframe for your goals is a central feature of the SMART goals framework for students. Decide upon an achievable completion time, then figure out the things you need to do to get there.
8. Get a Master’s Degree – Many students who love their course program set themselves the goal of getting a Master’s Degree which both challenges them intellectually and lets them stand out in job interviews.
9. Get a Ph.D – If you’re particularly ambitious, you might want to say that you don’t want a Master’s Degree, but a Ph.D, to show you’re a peak expert in your field (see also: future goals examples).
10. Start my own Business – Many students find areas of need within their niche when at college. They will want to address those areas of need by starting a business once they’ve gotten the requisite skills at university (this is a really common goal among business studies students).
11. Study Abroad – When I was in my first year at university, I set this as my goal. I ended up spending the first semester of my third year in Canada, achieving this long-term goal.
12. Get a Foot in the Door – Getting a foot in the door of your industry may involve getting a mentor who already works there, getting an internship, or getting a part-time job in the industry. Build on this to get more specific using the SMART goals framework at the end of this article.
13. Get an Interview – Many students come toward the end of their studies and the next pressing thing on their minds is to get an interview and, hopefully, a job. If you set getting an interview in a specific company as your goal, you can start building up your resume now.
14. Work for a Fortune 500 Company – You may decide that you really want a job in a major company with the idea that it’s prestigious and can help you climb the ladder. It’s a good idea to select 3 or 4 companies that you can name to make this a more specific goal.
15. Choose a Major – If you’re toward the beginning of your degree, your most pressing long-term goal might be to choose your major before the cut-off date, which might be 18 months or more away.
16. Get an Internship – This is an important stepping stone for getting your foot in the door in an industry. While this might be a long-term goal if you’re a high school student or freshman, if you’re getting toward the end of your college degree, it’s a good idea to apply for internships with a short-term timeframe.
17. Become a Recognized Leader – This one’s truly long-term. You might need to spend decades in your job and climbing the ranks before you’re recognized as a leader in your field.
18. Create an Invention – Inventing something can be extremely exciting, and is a great long-term goal for an engineering student or a similar field of study.
19. Get your Dream Job – Sometimes, having a dream board with your ‘dream job’ written up on the board can give you a guiding professional goal to aspire toward.
20. Save enough to Retire – It’s never too early to start thinking about how much money you’ll need to retire. This way, you can know how much you need to start saving now. The earlier you start, the less you have to save per week.
21. Own my own House – Another great goal that’s on the long-term horizon is having enough money to put a down payment on your own house.
22. Become a Millionaire – If you’re particularly ambitious, you might set the goal of saving a million dollars. The problem you’ll face here is that you next need to reverse engineer exactly how you might achieve that!
23. Obtain a professional certification – In many cases, you’ll finish your degree or diploma and still need to get professionally certified by sitting an exam or spending a certain amount of time as an intern.
24. Change Someone’s Life – One of the most altruistic long-term goals you could set is to do something in your career or life that changes a life. For example, if you’re training to be a nurse, your long-term goal could be to save a patient by going above and beyond in your job.
25. Give a Ted Talk – If you’re passionate about a certain aspect in your career path, you might aspire to giving a ted talk about that thing you’re passionate about.
26. Start a Podcast – Students who are passionate about a topic may also decide to start a podcast, which can open doors in interesting ways. For example, you can interview industry experts to build contacts, or use the podcast as a way to get well-known by businesses that may in the future employ you.
27. Graduate summa cum laude – Graduating summa cum laude means that you graduated as one of the top students in the course. You graduated “with the highest honors”. To achieve this long-term goal, you’ll need to do your absolute best in every subject you study. You’ll need a GPA of 3.7 plus be in the top 95% of your graduating class.
28. Get an A in one Subject – If summa cum laude sounds like too high a goal, you could instead set yourself the goal of getting an A in just one subject. To achieve this, you might need to set in place a series of study routines.
29. Pay off my Student Debt – You could set a date for when you want your student debt paid down, then figure out how much you need to save per week to achieve this long-term goal.
30. Gain the Confidence to Give a Public Speech – Many students struggle with self-confidence. One way to work on this is to set a goal that requires a lot of confidence to achieve, like giving a public speech or a speech in class.
31. Find a Mentor – You may set yourself the goal of having a mentor who is already working in your profession. You obviously can’t do this right away, so you can set it as a longer-term goal that you can keep in mind when networking over the years.
32. Become a Mentor – Take the previous example further, by deciding you want to become a mentor for a student who is a few steps behind you.
33. Create a Stellar Resume – Your long-term goal might be to ensure your resume is up to scratch. This can’t be short-term because you need to get a stack of achievements to put on the resume, so each achievement can be a milestone along the path.
34. Get Accepted into a Better College – Some students go to a community college or lower-tier university then try to transfer to a better university once they prove they have a good GPA. The ends up being a one- or two-year goal.
35. Change Majors – You may decide that you don’t like your current major, so you want to change. To achieve this, you might need to first take a few specific subjects, making this a longer-term goal.
36. Get a Job Abroad – You may want to travel, but also want financial freedom. To achieve this, your long-term goal might be to get the degree, then apply for jobs abroad.
37. Write a Book – If you love to write, you might decide that your goal (once you’ve got the knowledge from your studies) is to turn all your knowledge into an engaging and detailed book.
38. Move to a Certain City – One of my goals when I was at university was to move to the nearest major city to my rural university, where I thought there were more career prospects than in my town.
How to Set your Goals with the SMART Goals Framework
Once you have decided upon your goal, you’ll need to make sure it’s clear and detailed. The best way to do this is to set SMART goals.
A SMART goal is a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Let’s use this goal as an example: I will complete my degree within 4 years
- Specific: Specifically, I will have completed every required course for my degree to be conferred.
- Measurable: The measurement is a yes or no: did I get my degree certificate?
- Attainable: If I take a full course load every semester and follow a regular study schedule, this is attainable.
- Relevant: Obtaining my degree is the whole reason I’m a student, so it’s definitely relevant!
- Time-Bound: The goal will be completed exactly 4 years from today.
See more SMART goals in education.
How to Achieve your Long-Term Goals
1. Write Down your Goals
A famous study by Dr Gael Matthews asked groups of people to come up with goals.
Here were the groups:
- The Thinkers: Group 1 was asked to think about their goals.
- The Writers: Group 2 were asked to write down their goals.
- The Actors: Group 3 were asked to write down their goals and commit to taking action.
- The Sayers: Group 4 were asked to write their action goals down and send a commitment to their friends saying they will achieve the goal.
- The Partners: Group 5 were asked to do all of the above, and meet with a friend once a week to give progress reports.
If we separate Group 1 from Groups 2-5, we get two clusters:
- Those who think about their goals
- Those who write down their goals.
According to the study, the people who wrote down their goals were 42% more likely to achieve them.
In other words, writing down your goals can make you more likely to commit to achieving them.
2. Get an Accountability Partner
The above study also reveals the value of accountability partners. The people in Group 5 (‘The Partners’) had accountability partners. All other groups didn’t.
And you guessed it – more people in Group 5 met their goals than the people in any other group:
|Group||Mean Goal Achievement|
|The Thinkers (Unwritten goals)||4.28|
|The Writers (Written goals)||6.08|
|The Actors (Written Actions)||5.08|
|The Sayers (Commitment to a friend)||6.41|
|The Partners (Progress reports)||7.6|
3. Create Milestones
A key feature of long-term goals is that they can’t be achieved in one big burst of effort. They’re long-term!
If a short-term goal is like running a sprint, a long-term goal is like running a marathon.
To achieve longer-term goals, you’ll need to put in place milestones. Just like a marathon runner says “Okay I’ll get to the next mile marker in 10 minutes”, the goal setter needs to set intermediate milestones to know they’re on track.
Right now, you can grab your goal and tell yourself: what are 5 steps I need to take to achieve this goal?
For example, let’s look again at the goal to complete your degree within 4 years. Here are some milestones to get there:
- Set a study schedule and stick to it for the next 6 months.
- Complete my Literature 101 and 102 subjects next semester.
- Ensure my Econ 202 subject is completed in the Fall semester as it’s not offered in the Spring semester.
- Start studying for my Chem 301 exam in September so I can ace it in December.
4. Create a Daily To-Do List
I create a to-do list every day because it motivates me to get started and gives me direction.
Here’s my trick.
If the list is too long, I know I won’t achieve it. So I give up.
If it’s too short, it’s not motivating.
Ideally, I choose three – just three – key things I need to get done today.
Three things are enough to get me out of bed, but also enough that make me want to get started – immediately. It literally makes me get out of bed in the morning!
Long-term goals are tough because you need to remain committed across a longer time horizon. But they’re also more rewarding once you’ve achieved them. Use the above examples as stimuli to come up with your own goal. Once you’ve selected one, make sure you flesh it out using the SMART framework and, most importantly, take regular action to ensure you stay on track until your long-term goal is reached.
 O’Neil, J. and Conzemius, A. (2006). The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. London: Solution Tree Press.
 Yemm, G. (2013). Essential Guide to Leading Your Team: How to Set Goals, Measure Performance and Reward Talent. Melbourne: Pearson Education. pp. 37–39.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.