How to Set and Achieve Academic Goals



The grades you earn in both high school and college have enormous implications, as they can greatly influence what will be the next stage in your life. 

For high school students, the grades on your transcript will play a big role in where you’ll attend college. And for those already pursuing undergraduate degrees, your grades can determine everything from the scholarships you’re eligible for to the jobs you may earn after graduation. 

But achieving grades that you’re confident will set you up for success is no simple task. It takes motivation, accountability, and, most importantly, effective strategy. 

With that in mind, we at The University Network (TUN) have put together a list of tips that will help you effectively strategize and, in turn, earn grades you’re proud of and confident in. 

Set specific, realistic goals

Start off the term by asking yourself, “what do I want out of this?” Answering this question will help you set specific, realistic goals and give you some motivation to work your hardest.

If you’re a high school student with aspirations to go to the prestigious Duke University, for example, look up Duke’s admissions requirements. If you’re early on in your high school career, this will give you an idea of the types of courses you should take and the grades you need to make. If you’re already an upperclassmen, knowing the admissions requirements will help you honestly and accurately assess whether attending Duke is still a realistic option. If it’s not, you can move onto the next school you’re interested in and set your goals based on its requirements. 

And if you’re an undergraduate student, are you doing everything you can to learn the skills that will set you up for success in your career? Do you have aspirations to continue your education after earning your undergraduate degree? If so, are you earning the grades that will qualify you to be admitted to the school you want to go to? 

These are all the questions you should ask yourself at the beginning, and throughout the duration of, each academic term. Once you establish overarching goals, you can begin to develop a more detailed plan on how to achieve them. 

Practice time management

The first step to academic success is creating a schedule, developing a routine, and sticking to it. 

“Any student’s academic success is built on a foundation of time management. It’s nearly impossible to do well in classes without a routine, a way to balance priorities, and a system for planning ahead,” UNC Chapel Hill’s Learning Center explains in a tip sheet.

As soon as you get your syllabi, write down all of the important dates in a calendar, planner, or notebook. But don’t stop there. Also make sure to jot down all of your outside engagements to make sure there isn’t a conflict. For example, if you have a baseball game on the same day that your mid-term paper is due, you’ll recognize that early on and make a note to finish the paper a day or two early. 

A big part of time management is also knowing how to use your time most effectively. For example, if you have the most brain power early on in the day, that is when you should schedule your most difficult and demanding assignments. Later in the day, when you’re worn out, is when you can do tasks you are more comfortable with and confident that you’ll be able to complete without exerting too much energy. 

Use study strategies that work for you

There’s no universal approach to studying, as what works best for you depends on your unique strengths and weaknesses. 

Visual learners, for example, may benefit from making flashcards, while auditory learners may retain information best by listening to recordings of lectures, lessons, or classroom discussions.

And those who feel particularly anxious or weighed down by the thought of studying may benefit from using the Pomodoro study method. The method uses a timer to break down studying into intervals of 25 minutes with short breaks in between. During the breaks you can get on your phone, take a walk around the block, or make a quick bite to eat. 

But, no matter your preferred method of studying, you should always make an effort to actively engage your brain, rather than just going through the motions. 

If you’re creating a study guide, for example, UNC Chapel Hill’s Learning Center suggests writing down as much as you can from memory before using your notes to fill in the gaps. This will help you better understand what you do and don’t know so that you can focus your studies effectively. 

And after a little while, when you think you have a decent grasp on the information, try to “become a teacher” by explaining the material to a friend or even back to yourself, UNC suggests. Metacognition, which is reflectively thinking about what you do and don’t know, is key to making your study efforts effective, UNC adds. 

For more study tips, check here

For tips on how to study without the stress and anxiety, check here

Be disciplined

High school and college are really busy times, full of distractions. Occasionally, things will pop up that may intrigue you to put your studies aside for a moment. Maybe, during the time you allot yourself to study, you get a text from your friend asking if you want to go to the beach. Other times, you may completely lack motivation and can’t make yourself get up from the couch to move to your desk. 

Putting your commitments aside every now and then to go with your friends to the beach or watch one more episode on the couch, for example, can be freeing and rewarding. But, you shouldn’t make a habit of it, as your grades may start to suffer as a result. 

“Training yourself to do work even if you don’t necessarily feel super inspired in the moment is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop. It’s kind of like working out a muscle. So it really comes down a lot to practicing method,” Jasmine, a study influencer on Instagram, told TUN

Take good notes

Good note-taking is key to achieving your academic goals in both high school and college. No matter how well you pay attention in class, if you don’t have a photographic memory, chances are you’ll need your notes to refresh your mind before that exam, quiz, or writing assignment.

If you’ve yet to establish a good note-taking system, it may benefit you to try out either the Cornell note-taking method or bullet journaling. 

Cornell note-taking involves separating a sheet of paper into three separate sections. Draw one line vertically about 2.5  inches from the left side of the notebook paper, and draw a horizontal line about 2 inches from bottom of the sheet. 

The biggest space (the top right section) is where you should take your in-class notes. The space on the left side is called the “cue column.” The cue column is where you jot down important vocabulary words, main concepts, and other important materials that might show up on the test or exam. It’s best to do this when the class is fresh in your mind, so you should aim to fill the cue column right after class. 

The bottom section is the “summary section.” This is where you write a brief summary highlighting the main points. This section is supposed to be primarily organizational and help you determine what is on each sheet of paper when reviewing for the test later on. 

Another note-taking method that has become popular recently is known as bullet journaling. It’s a customizable DIY technique that includes using a blank-page notebook to artistically organize your notes and daily tasks.

“The main purpose of bullet journaling is that it is a completely customizable system that you design yourself,” Jasmine told TUN. “So you decide how many pages you want to take up in your notes or what type of time frame you want your planner to be based around. It’s all up to you. And that’s the main benefit of this system. You get to decide it yourself.”

Whichever note-taking method works for you, be sure to be an active note-taker. That means, devote all of your attention to your teacher or professor and try not to break your focus.

For more note-taking tips, check here.

Read effectively

Being able to read effectively is also a huge part of achieving academic success. 

Oftentimes, class reading material is dense and can be overwhelming. To minimize the stress and anxiety attached to reading and to help you better retain information, it’s important to engage in “active reading.”

“Research shows that you retain more when you actively engage and interact with texts, as opposed to simply reading and re-reading without a clear purpose,” UNC Chapel Hill’s Learning Center explains in a separate tip sheet

“Many students can relate to the type of reading that involves copying down pages of notes word-for-word from the text or simply scanning over pages without really reading them or interacting at all,” it adds. “While these two approaches are on opposite ends of the spectrum, neither of them engages your brain in a way that elicits deep understanding and retention. Active reading engages your brain in effective strategies that force your brain to interact with the text before, during, and after reading and that help you better gauge what you are (and aren’t) learning.”

The first step to active reading is taking time, before you jump into the text, to consider the purpose of the reading assignment, UNC explains.

What, exactly, does your teacher or professor want you to take away from the reading? What should you understand or be able to do after reading the material?

Once you start reading, UNC adds, you should keep your brain active and engaged and routinely self-monitor to make sure you’re digesting the material. If it’s material that you’ll be tested on or are required to understand on a deep level, it may benefit you to summarize small sections of the text on a separate sheet of paper and jot down some hard-hitting questions — the ones your professor or teacher may ask in a quiz or test. 

After reading, take time to reflect on what you learned and quiz yourself. If something remains unclear, jot down a note to ask your instructor or a classmate. 

Start off strong

At the beginning of an academic term, it can be tempting to slack off a bit. It’s easy to sit back with the mindset that you have all quarter or semester to get your grades up. But a poor test score, some missed homework assignments, or a couple of failed pop quizzes early on in a term may hurt you more than you think. 

You don’t want to spend the second half of the term racing the clock to boost your overall grade before the quarter or semester is over. So, start off strong. Don’t give yourself leeway to make mistakes early on, or you’ll be kicking yourself for it later. 

Check in on your progress 

Routinely, throughout the term, you should take time to check in on yourself and evaluate if you’re on track to achieve your academic goals. Make sure that you’re honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. 

If you’re slipping behind, find ways to make adjustments. Look back and determine where mistakes were made. Maybe you aren’t taking effective notes, are struggling to digest the material you’re reading, or have missed too many homework assignments, for example. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help 

If your academics have taken a turn for the worse and you are struggling to bring them back up on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If you’re a college student, go see your professor(s) during office hours and explain what you’re struggling with. They’ll be able to help or, at the very least, point you in the right direction. 

On many college campuses and in many high schools, there are learning centers full of tutors or counselors who can help you improve in specific areas, such as writing, reading, and math. These people are there to help. So, you should never feel ashamed to reach out.

Set aside time for sleep, nutrition, and exercise

Focusing all of your time and effort on studying can occasionally be counterproductive. You need to allot time to care for your body and mind so that your studying is efficient. 

“I’ve found that there are three important parts of life,” Joshua Spodek, a passionate exerciser who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics and an MBA from Columbia University, told TUN. “And if these aren’t together, then everything else is secondary. It’s a healthy diet, vigorous exercise and the right amount of sleep every night. If those aren’t there, I just find that nothing else works. You get sick more easily and you don’t concentrate as much.”

Although, all-nighters, poor diets, and minimal exercise are all too common among college and high school students, you should do what you can to prioritize your health. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are all crucial to your brain function, productivity, and ability to control stress and anxiety. 

“Viewing your eight hours of sleep every night as sacrosanct can go a long way toward staving off chronic stress. So before you pull another all-nighter, think about the effects it may have on you the next day,” Deb Levy, a certified life and business coach and a Harvard Extension career workshop leader, explains in a Harvard blog post. “Taking breaks, setting aside time for meals, and enjoying recreation can help fuel you and keep you on course to achieve your goals.”


You can go into high school or college with the desire to do well. But unless you have an effective strategy, you run the risk of just going through the motions and earning grades you aren’t proud of or confident in. So, go above and beyond. Use the tips provided in this article to establish and achieve all of your academic goals. 

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