2.3 Goal Setting

RaeAnna Jeffers and Laura Haygood

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will:

  • Understand how to break large goals into smaller segments.
  • Conceptualize their degree plan into goals and sub-goals.
  • Recognize that small actions lead to goal attainment.

Goal Setting

The video in 2.1 illustrates that your use of time depends on your priorities at a given moment. Priorities shift based on the amount of time you have to dedicate to the tasks associated with any goal.  Defining your goals ahead will allow you to remain focused, stay motivated, and on track, which reduces anxiety.

Break goals down into smaller sub-goals. Sub-goals are actionable items that move you closer to a large goal like earning a degree:

Image depicting a long-term goal broken down into a hierarchy of subgoals
Figure 2.3.1 Long-term goals subdivided into sub-goals. York University (2007)


If obtaining a BSN degree is your primary goal, treat each year and semester as a milestone toward attaining the degree. Break that down further into the classes you need to take each semester. Each course has objectives that must be met to receive credit for the class. Assignments address the objectives, therefore, assignments are sub-goals of objectives. Each assignment also has requirements you must meet, so, even your assignments have sub-goals. Ultimately, as you address each sub-goal, you edge closer to your dream of graduating with a Nursing degree. 

Figures 2.3.2- 2.3.7 illustrate examples of sub-goals for earning a BSN degree. Use the slider to progress through the images.


BSN Goal Setting

  • Drag and drop the correct words into the sentences.

Writing your goals and objectives

Writing down your goals and objectives will help you remain focused as you work to complete your degree. College can be exhausting and it is easy to get distracted from your goals. Reminding yourself of the reason why you are in school can help you to persevere and overcome obstacles.

What is the difference between goals and objectives? Goals are broad outcomes you want to see reached; these can often take years to achieve, or they can be narrow and specific, like the SMART goals listed below.  Objectives are the detailed, specific tasks you will take to achieve your goals and should be time-based when possible.

Now it’s your turn to set goals and objectives for yourself.


A S.M.A.R.T. goal is an acronym for a written goal that includes these derived aspects:

Specific – Describes what you want to accomplish in as much detail as possible.

Measurable – Describes your goal in a way that can be evaluated or measured.

Action-oriented – Identifies the general actions that may be taken rather than personal qualities.

Realistic – Identifies a goal that you are capable of attaining.

Timely – Clearly specifies a completion date or may even break the long-term goal down into short-term goals.

Example of a goal related to running

I want to run a half marathon. 

Example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal related to running:

I am going to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 8 months by purchasing equipment, making a plan, and registering for a race. 

Sample Objectives:

  • During the first week, purchase needed equipment (running shoes, athletic attire, water bottles, etc).
  • Make a plan to run at least 3 days per week.
  • During month 1, begin training with a local running group.
  • By the end of month 3, be capable of running 3 miles.
  • By the end of month 5, be capable of running 5 miles.
  • During month 6, register for the race.

Activity 2.3B: Goal setting

Goal Setting Exercise

Write a personal goal and an academic goal using the S.M.A.R.T. formula discussed in “Be S.M.A.R.T. about Your Goals” above.

Think about these questions:

  • Is there a level of education you’d like to complete?
  • Is there a particular role you’d like?  Or an organization for whom you would like to work?

Now, list the objectives you need to meet to reach each goal.

  • Specific courses you need to take?
  • Networking and/or internship opportunities?


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2.3 Goal Setting by RaeAnna Jeffers and Laura Haygood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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