Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance

J Appl Psychol. 2010 Mar;95(2):255-64. doi: 10.1037/a0018478.


Of students who enroll in 4-year universities, 25% never finish. Precipitating causes of early departure include poor academic progress and lack of clear goals and motivation. In the present study, we investigated whether an intensive, online, written, goal-setting program for struggling students would have positive effects on academic achievement. Students (N = 85) experiencing academic difficulty were recruited to participate in a randomized, controlled intervention. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 intervention groups: Half completed the goal-setting program, and half completed a control task with intervention-quality face validity. After a 4-month period, students who completed the goal-setting intervention displayed significant improvements in academic performance compared with the control group. The goal-setting program thus appears to be a quick, effective, and inexpensive intervention for struggling undergraduate students.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Social Environment*
  • Software
  • Student Dropouts / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult