Phone: (617) 993-4823

How to Use the SMART Method in the College Admissions Process

The college admissions process can be hectic and overwhelming, from the pressure of writing a great college application essay to tackling multiple applications with several different college essays.  Luckily, you can use the acronym “SMART” to break down your college application goals into manageable steps.

Each college admissions cycle is a long, multi-faceted process that can often make students feel a significant amount of stress. Students are required to submit comprehensive lists of extracurriculars, awards, and honors in addition to multiple college admissions essays that need to be brainstormed, outlined, and proofread. 

For instance, writing your personal statement and other college essays is one of the most important parts of the college application process. Sometimes, the essay prompt can be vague and difficult to sufficiently answer, and writing a compelling but short supplemental essay topic, especially a more “creative” essay topic like schools like the University of Chicago are known for, can prove difficult for students.

Luckily, there is a proven strategy that can help any student tackle all parts of their college applications: the SMART method. 

The SMART acronym comes from goal and intention setting, and it stands for:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable (or Achievable)
  4. Realistic (or Relevant)
  5. Time-bound

Often, the SMART method is used in healthcare environments, but it is powerfully applicable to education goals as well. You can use it to increase your motivation, keep track of time, and build success through maximizing your goal achievement momentum. Motivation tends to come after you have achieved some of your smaller goals and inspires you to continue on your path. By designing your goals using the SMART method, you can build up your self-confidence and reduce stress to help you achieve bigger and better things. 

Let’s break down all five parts of the SMART acronym and what they mean in the context of the college admissions process, particularly in regard to completing the required college admissions essays.

S: Specific

If you’re not clear on what exact goal you would like to achieve, it can make it exceedingly difficult to take steps to make it happen. That’s why you want to make your goal as specific as possible using an “I” statement such as: “I will write 100 words for my UPenn supplemental essay after dinner.”

Specificity makes your goal more tangible. Just like more specificity leads to more vivid language in college essays, specificity in your college planning goals allows you to visualize what you need to accomplish in concrete terms.

If you have been struggling with procrastination as you prepare, try to avoid making a negatively framed goal such as: “I will stop procrastinating starting my common app essay.” Instead, you want to frame the way you will approach the goal rather than what you want to avoid doing, such as: “I will work on the outline for my Common App essay for two hours tonight.”

M: Measurable

Have you ever heard the riddle, “How do you eat an elephant?” Well, the answer is: “One bite at a time!” That is, in fact, you tackle any big goal in small chunks, and the college essay-writing process is no different. The point of deciding a measurable “number” in your goal is to set you up for success with a small incremental challenge, one bite. This helps you keep track of time and your progress in the whole process.

So, a 100-word daily goal after 6 days brings you within reach of the 650-word limit for the main Common App essay. Perhaps, you might find using the Pomodoro method for writing helpful as well, which is a time management method based on 25-minute stretches of focused work broken by 5-minute breaks. This further compounds the measurability of your goal, but choose whatever time management strategy works best fo ryou.

Setting aside 15- or 20-minute chunks to approach your writing can help you defeat writer’s block. No more staring at a blank document, feeling as though you must power through for hours to be productive. Set the timer and free-write, when it rings, take a short mental break, then return and edit your writing, and repeat until you reach those 100 words.

A: Attainable

During the summer and fall of senior year, you likely have several priorities competing for your time and energy. With that in mind, it’s best you check if you’ve done something similar in the past 2 weeks when creating your SMART goal.

For example: Are you attempting to write five 300+ word count essays in one day? This might be possible if you intend to put yourself through a grueling hours-long writing spree, or if you’ve already written 5 similar essays and intend to repurpose old writing. However, if these are 5 new essays, this goal is probably unattainable, but it could be attainable over the course of one to two weeks, depending on your school schedule.

Again, ask yourself — how can I create smaller steps to achieve this goal? That way, the larger goal of completing the essay-writing process or completing the other parts of your application in a short amount of time won’t feel so daunting. 

R: Realistic

Part of this piece of the puzzle is about making sure your step towards the larger goal is not only meaningful but practical given your constraints. You can also readjust your goals after setting them and pursuing them for a few weeks to make them more feasible for your situation.

If you have been having a hard time meeting your college preparation goals, it might be time to reframe your motivation. Instead of “I want to apply to this college,” perhaps you can say “I want to reflect on all I’ve achieved during high school,” or “I want to write to my family members out of town who do not know what I’ve been up to in my extracurricular activities.” The goal is to give yourself realistic motivation that can draw you out of your writing slump.

T: Time-bound

While summer is usually relatively calm — making it a good time to start planning for your college applications — the school year gets very busy quickly. Before you know it, classes and extracurricular activities will take up your time as you balance it all.

The time-bound piece of your goal describes specifically what time of day you will work on it and the discipline you’ll need to stick to this schedule. It can also refer to a broader goal for a segment of the entire application process, such as: “I will spend 30 minutes a day after school working on my early action applications until November 1st.” Give yourself checkpoints throughout the process that allow you to ensure you’re meeting all of your goals in a timely fashion.

Now, you have the opportunity to go forth and set SMART goals that bring you closer to getting accepted to the school that fits you best. Try not to overextend yourself or underestimate your potential. Set your goals daily, weekly, and monthly. A regular practice of goal setting will help you navigate the application process.

Another smart choice is reaching out to H&C so an admissions consultant can guide you through the goal-setting process. Reach out to us today to learn more!

Recent Posts