The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on things you would like to accomplish, or areas of your life you would like to improve upon or change. This reflection often leads to setting resolutions or goals. But a recent survey by the University of Scranton found that only 8 percent of adults manage to achieve their goals; that’s a staggering 92 percent failure rate.

Setting — and accomplishing — goals is important as they help to guide our decisions and motivate us to become the best versions of ourselves. They drive us to achieve the things we feel are important. 

Benefits of Setting Goals in High School

Goal setting isn’t just for adults. It’s also critically important for high school students to learn how to set and achieve goals. Practicing this skill early in life can help you stay motivated through school and to guide you in the direction you want to take in life.

Learning to set goals is also a skill that will carry over into your adult life, making it more likely for you to achieve any future goals you set for yourself.

Other benefits of learning how to set goals in high school include the following: 

Achieving a desired result

Goals help students work towards a desired result. For example, you could set a goal to earn a high result on an AP exam or to make your high school’s field hockey team. You know what you want to achieve, and by setting a goal, you can make a plan on how to achieve the outcome.  

Developing a strong work ethic

Students who set goals learn how to work toward achieving them. This builds the foundation for a work ethic that will carry over into your future career, helping you to find greater success throughout your adult life. 

Building resiliency and problem-solving skills

Achieving goals doesn’t always go as planned. Students who set goals learn how to overcome barriers by solving problems to help them achieve their desired results. If a plan falls through, this teaches resiliency, accepting setbacks, and how to adapt to change.

Knowing how to take action

It’s easy to say you want to accomplish something; it’s much harder to actually do it. Setting a goal shows commitment to what is important to you and motivates you to take action to keep that commitment.

How to Set SMART Goals

Hope is not a strategy, and it takes more than just a wish to achieve a goal. There is a process to setting and achieving goals. While people should do what works best for them personally, following the “SMART” goal process can offer guidelines if you don’t know where to start. 

“SMART” is an acronym for the steps needed to create and accomplish goals.


Goals should be clearly defined to help you focus your efforts. For example, having a goal to start jogging is very broad. Instead, set a goal to start jogging to participate in a 5K by a future date. Having a more specific goal can also make it more tangible.


When goals are specific, they are also measurable. Students can define and track results based on success criteria, which will help you stay motivated and improve the likelihood of achieving  your goals.


Setting a goal that is too lofty or out of reach can be discouraging instead of motivating. Ambition is admirable, but if you experience feelings of failure because what you want is out of reach, this may also  lead to an unwillingness to attempt other goals in the future. 


Identify what goals are realistic and what may be simply inaccessible. Think about what resources you have available to you, such as how much time you may have to devote to the goal, and what elements can and cannot be changed. 

Unrealistic goals are often wishes and may include factors that are beyond your control.


A critical element in setting goals is setting an achievement date, along with dates for any key milestones. Short-term goals can be broken down into actions to achieve over a short period of time. Long-term goals can be broken down into milestones that can be tracked and measured over specific dates to help keep you on track. 

Following Through

While creating goals using the SMART process will help set students up for success, there are other things you can do to help you achieve your goals.

Make a plan

A critical element to finding success is to build a plan with actionable activities. Consider what may best help you along the way and include those factors in your plan. A goal calendar with  important dates and reminders for completing different tasks and activities may also provide structure and  help you  achieve your goal. 

Find a buddy

Students should seek a buddy to help motivate them and hold them accountable. This could be a trusted friend, mentor, or parent who offers encouragement and can help you work through any barriers. 

Celebrate milestones

It’s also important to celebrate milestones along the journey! Celebrating accomplishments can give you a sense of pride and help you set and achieve future goals. 

Know When to Pivot

Life moves fast, and students today have a lot on their plates. It’s okay if busy schedules and other setbacks get in the way of achieving a desired goal. It’s better to take a step back from a goal and pick up the process when the time is right than to experience stress or anxiety when attempting to achieve a goal. Remember, aim for progress, not perfection.

It’s also okay if you realize that the original goal might not be something you enjoy doing. High school is a time of discovery — students discover what they like and what they don’t like. If the goal isn’t bringing you joy, then it’s okay to stop working toward it. 

Goals for High School Students

There are many goals that high school students can set to build their confidence and help them learn about things they might want to do after high school, such as trying a new sport, practicing self-care, volunteering, or learning a new skill or language. 

Goals don’t have to be grand ideas, or even long-term goals. Short-term goals are a great way to learn the process of setting goals and can offer quick wins. When you experience a sense of accomplishment through achieving short-term goals, this can boost your self-confidence to set other goals that are more long-term or outside of your comfort zone.

Harvard Programs for High School Students

Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education offers programs that can help high school students work toward achieving their goals. 

For students who want to explore college while in high school and strengthen their college applications, they can attend a Harvard Summer School college program for high school students

These programs run from two to seven weeks and offer high school students the opportunity to challenge themselves in college-level academics. During the program, students will build skills that will help them be successful in college and beyond. Learn more and apply to Harvard’s Secondary School Program or Pre-College Program.