Choosing the Right College for You: What Are Your Goals?

What are your goals

It’s easy to assume that adult learners will have an easier time going to school because they know what they want and have “grown up” since the last time they were in school.

In reality, adults returning to school face just as much – and often more – pressure than first-timers. For many, the choice to pursue a degree could mean putting a career or starting a family on hold; it could mean adding another financial commitment to a stretched-thin budget; or it could be the first step in a career change that was never anticipated.

That pressure will start building the moment you contemplate a return to school, and your anxieties will pull you in multiple directions while your brain comes up with question after question.

If I go to school, should I go full-time? Should I attend online? On campus? Out-of-state?

Don’t get overwhelmed. There’s a way for you to corral your concerns and focus on making a smart decision. In “How to Choose the Right College For You,” the process starts with writing out your goals.

It doesn’t need to be an extensive list – three will do – but you will want to make sure your goals are ambitious, specific, and somewhat difficult to achieve. Goal setting theories put forth by researchers Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham (1990) highlight five areas of focus that can improve your chances of success:

  1. Clarity – You should know exactly what you’re trying to achieve.

  2. Challenge – This area is critical for motivation; your goals shouldn’t be easily attainable.

  3. Commitment – Some people use a “vision board” so they can always see what they want. Feel free to use any method you want to stay on task.

  4. Feedback – You’ll want to know how you’re doing as you work toward your goal.

  5. Task Complexity – A long-term goal will likely require a lot of small steps. Take it one step at a time, but don’t get bogged down by complications that are out of your control.

Once you’ve put your goals down on paper, you’ll have a better idea of how school fits into the picture. For instance, if your goal is to live in another part of the country or another part of the world, you may consider enrolling in an online university or one near where you want to live.

Is one of your goals to start a family or a new relationship? You’ll have to think about how being a student will influence that aspect of your life.

Are you eager to buy a home or a new car? Making a large purchase might impede your ability to cover tuition at your future school.

This exercise is critical to making a smart decision when it comes to college. You might find that once your goals are laid out, there’s no room for school. Or setting your goals could tell you the time is now, and you can move on to the next step in selecting the school that’s right for you.

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Written by Jason R. Latham, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education.


Reilly, M., Minnick, C., & Baack, D. (2011). The Five Functions of Effective Management. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc

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