Succeeding Despite Invisible Handicaps

(Comment by Al Siebert: This letter from a college student with mental problems that I counseled is a useful reminder to instructors that some students have invisible handicaps that they may not reveal. "Gil’s" letter also shows that some "challenged" students show amazing resourcefulness and courage in their determination to succeed. Here is his letter…) Continue reading “Succeeding Despite Invisible Handicaps”

Angry Mothers on Welfare Must Fight for Education Funding

Diana Spatz was a single mother on welfare. She encountered many barriers when she tried to get an education to become self-sufficient, but she found ways to overcome them. She now works to help other parents on welfare gain access to funding that is available for their education. Diana says: Continue reading “Angry Mothers on Welfare Must Fight for Education Funding”

Make Friends with Your Instructors

To make the most of your learning experience, and to get the best grades possible, it is good to form a positive relationship with each of your instructors. In some cases this is easy to do: you are dazzled by the instructor’s knowledge, make opportunities to ask questions, and find encouragement to share your views. A mentor helps you make contacts in your field of interest, and coaches you in your early efforts. Continue reading “Make Friends with Your Instructors”

Adult Student Links

Here are all the links from The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success, 7th Edition, plus, some new and updated links. Please note — does not take any responsibility for the information presented on any of the outside sites we link to. The links are provided as a courtesy to our visitors.

Adult Student Resources


General College Resources

Financial Aid Resources

Learning Disability / Resources for Persons with Disabilities

Alternative contact information for most of these resources is available on our Help for those with Learning or Physical Disabilities page.

Distance Learning Resources


Basic Job Resources / Career Search

Miscellaneous / Family Support / Study Skills

Reference Resources

Consumer References

Provided as a courtesy to adult students who, like all students, usually have little money to spare!


Search Engines and Directories

A random list of search engines beyond Google! Review our own internet searching help tips

Between Dread and Assurance: Autobiography and Academic Conventions in the Writing of Adult Learners

describes methods used in L. Nishihara’s writing course that have succeeded in increasing the confidence of adult learners.

by Laverne Nishihara
Assistant Professor of English
Indiana University East

As a teacher of composition and autobiographical writing at a university with a high percentage of nontraditional students, I have often heard adult learners express anxiety about writing papers for the first time in years. My presentation described methods used in my Autobiographical Writing course that have succeeded in increasing the confidence of adult learners, methods that establish a foundation for achievement in writing. I took participants through exercises that have increased the learners’ confidence and cultivated their enthusiasm. Later in the presentation, I speculated about possibilities for extending the techniques used in autobiographical writing to improving the formal academic research and writing of adult learners.

In the Autobiographical Writing class, a good part of the writers’ increased confidence can be attributed to their examining, during the first class period, a short excerpt from Brenda Ueland’s classic text If You Want to Write. It is no coincidence that Ueland describes her own writing class as one dominated by adult learners: "prosperous and poor, stenographers, housewives, salesmen, . . . timid people and bold ones" (3). Students ponder Ueland’s other statements: "everybody is talented, original and has something important to say." (3). "Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express" (4); and "Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be" (4). The magic in Ueland’s work appears to be its assertion of the integrity of individual experience, and its placement of talent and originality in being truthful about that experience. Examining her statements appears to modify adult learners’ conception of writing as a rule-following, constricting exercise. Among the students in my classes, I have seen the paralyzing fear of the instructor’s red pen replaced by an attitude of freedom to write productively and originally. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, which I have adapted for in-class freewriting exercises, have led to stimulating essay drafts based on the writers’ experiences.

Initially, I was afraid that using Ueland’s statements and Goldberg’s freewriting techniques would lead to undisciplined writing. However, it has become clear that the definition of talent as expression, and originality as truth-telling, also leads to writers’ willingness to offer and consider suggestions about their writing. The peer reviewing process, in which students offer comments about each other’s writing, appears to work more productively in the atmosphere of acceptance created by this class than an atmosphere of criticism. Though this is a long-accepted truism, I was struck by the contrast between this class’s peer reviewing and that of my others. I was also struck by the writers’ increased willingness to dialogue with me about their writing: they would voluntarily write what amounted to long letters explaining their intentions and hopes, and asking me to look for specific elements in their work. The quality of the essays turned in for Autobiographical Writing has been superior to the quality of those turned in for any others I teach, reversing any impression that emphasizing criticism would lead to the greatest improvement. Typical student comments about the class include "excerpts, books, and workshops . . . helped me to elicit out of myself uninhibited writing"; "I was a skeptic at first as I am not a sharing individual, but it grew on me"; and "the essays I read in class were remarkable."

A challenge now is to transfer some of the atmosphere and the outcomes of the Autobiographical Writing course to my composition classes. I have thought that one important function of a first-year composition and research class that I teach is that it is a survival course in academic writing; people should emerge from it better prepared to write reports and papers in as many academic disciplines as possible. Yet the transition from personal writing to academic writing is difficult; adult learners in particular might decide to withdraw from the class in the face of the academic writing conventions that might seem to inhibit thought rather than inspire it. Bruce Ballenger’s recent book Beyond Note Cards: Rethinking the Freshman Research Paper has been useful in addressing this transition from the autobiographical essay to the research paper. Ballenger advocates the exploratory research essay as an alternative to the thesis-driven research paper. Rather than beginning with a claim and then selecting lifeless excerpts from research to support it, students are encouraged to generate and explore questions in their research. The papers are more accurately called essays in their exploratory quality and in their freer development of thought.

I have just begun a process of offering people in my classes the option of building their research papers upon autobiographical topics; previously, I had only specified that personal anecdotes could supplement other (more legitimate) evidence. My motive is to increase the personal engagement of the writer in the research paper assignments. The experiences of adult learners, which contributed so potently to their work in the Autobiographical Writing class, would then provide motivation for research writing. I am also trying to re-frame the tools and conventions of academic writing (the claim, the introduction, the organizational strategies, the documentation formats) as structures that can liberate rather than inhibit. Just as the dimensions of a canvas or a block of marble provide a foundation for the creativity of the visual artist, so can the structures of writing provide a creative challenge and inspiration to the writer.

Thus far, I have seen some positive outcomes of giving adult learners the option of using an aspect of their extensive experience as the center of their research papers. They appreciate the choice, and some are selecting that option. One difficulty so far has been that writers tend to compose their entire paper drafts around personal experience, leaving research to be fitted in at the end; they have not been interacting with the research materials as extensively and with as much engagement as I had hoped. I have consequently altered assignments so that the writers frame autobiographical questions that motivate their research from the very start.

Works Cited

Ballenger, Bruce. Beyond Note Cards: Rethinking the Freshman Research Paper. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 1999.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. 1986. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.

Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write: A Book about Arts, Independence and Spirit. 2nd Ed. Saint Paul: Graywolf, 1987.

Posted with permission.

Help for those with Learning or Physical Disabilities

A list of links and resources for college students with learning or physical disabilities.

Personal Experiences:

Dare Take Risks! A personal narrative on using your physical limitations to find your purpose in life by Stephen Hopson. Essay also appears in Chicken Soup for the College Soul.

Succeeding Despite Invisible Handicaps – “Gil Meyers” story – a first person experience from someone with a learning disability.

Tips for Students on Medications – Hints compiled by recent adult student Kate Stephens.

Disabled Student Resources Online

Visit the Resources for Persons with Learning or Physical Disabilities section of our links page. Below are some of the resources that have alternative contact information:

Attention Deficit Disorder Association
Site is full of great stuff, specifically, search on  “College Tips.”
15000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C
Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
Phone: 856-439-9099 (toll call to New Jersey).

US Government Disability info (US Department of Labor):
Current Federal iteration of its public information site.

Learning Disabilities WorldWideEnriching the lives of individuals with learning disabilities around the world
Landmark College
79 Bear Hill Road Suite 104
Waltham, MA 02451

Landmark College – The college of choice for students who learn differently
19 River Road South
Putney, VT 05346

Job Accommodation Network – Ask JAN
PO Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506-6080
(800)526-7234 (V)
(877)781-9403 (TTY)

Program for Advancement of Learning from Curry College (PAL):
“The nation’s premier support program for college students with learning disabilities.”
PAL Program
Curry College
1071 Blue Hill Avenue
Milton, MA 02186
617-333-0500 (Toll call to Massachusetts)

LD Online Technology Resources:
A ton of resources. Also use their search box and enter the term “college.” Sponsored through WETA Public Television of Washington, DC.
LD OnLine
WETA Public Television
2775 S. Quincy St.
Arlington, VA 22206
703-998-2600 (Toll call to Virginia)

Learning Differences:
Provided by the Richard Cooper and the Center for Alternative Learning. Check under “Learning Tools” for some good memory hints and articles.
6 E. Eagle Rd.
Havertown, PA 19083
610-446-6126 (Toll call to Pennsylvania)
800-869-8336 (toll free)

National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs: “an e-community that offers members a centralized hub of information, professional development, technical assistance, communication on issues and trends, and advocacy initiatives on behalf of adults with special learning needs.”
c/o KOC Member Services
1143 Tidewater Court
Westerville, OH 43082
Toll free: 888-5-NAASLN (888-562-2756)

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Life with LD: Navigating the Transition to College
381 Park Avenue South Suite 1401
New York, NY 10016
212-545-7510 (Toll call to New York)
or, toll-free: 888-575-7373

National Center on Workforce and Disability –
National Center on Workforce and Disability
UMass Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125

Older Sites / Archives:
Literacy and Learning Disabilities Archive
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy Archive
Resources for Adults with Disabilities (PDF, 2004) produced by: A publication of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities as viewed via the WayBack Machine

updated: 09/09/19

Your Accomplishments Portfolio

The traditional portfolio was used by artists, photographers, and architects to demonstrate samples of their work. Unlike a cover letter, resume, or application form, a portfolio demonstrates how one’s skills, experiences, and history match a position.

Special to by Barbara Ritter, M.A. *

Why Create a Portfolio?

  1. The traditional portfolio was used by artists, photographers, and architects to demonstrate samples of their work. Unlike a cover letter, resume, or application form, a portfolio demonstrates how one’s skills, experiences, and history match a position.

  2. Today, with many applicants for each job opening and with the necessity of screening individuals efficiently and effectively, the portfolio is emerging as an excellent tool to accomplish this task. A one page list of the "Portfolio Contents"sent with your cover letter and resume allows the employer to screen your qualifications quickly and then request items from your portfolio, if desired.

  3. The cost of training and maintaining excellent employees is high, both in terms of financial resources and time. A portfolio is a visible means of proving that one is well-matched to a specific position in an organization. Employers know that in the long run, time, energy, and resources will be saved by making the first choice the right choice.

Guidelines to Building a Portfolio

When one is ready to seek a job, is common to think ahead to the future: What will the job require in terms of skills? What will I need to know? What will I be doing? Rather than think of future requirements, building a portfolio is best done by concentrating on one’s past: What have I done? What skills have I mastered and practiced? What experiences do I have that have made me the quality person I am? What do I know? What have I done well?

By answering these questions and then aligning items that demonstrate the answers, an "accomplishments to date" of one’s past is created. This will serve as a material, visible presentation to a future employer. It will also put the owner of the portfolio in better control of an application and interview situation because the material to be discussed is chosen and familiar to the holder!

Another added benefit is that it is simpler to narrow the focus of one’s desires in future employment. That is, rather than applying for all kinds of openings that may look interesting (a very time and energy-consuming and sometimes defeating process), one can apply only for positions in which both that applicant and the employer will find true success and satisfaction.

8 Steps to Creating Your Portfolio

  1. Ask and answer the questions that follow. Leave nothing out in this brainstorming look at yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once, but take several days to return to your list and jot other items down as they occur to you. You may always trim your list down, but you don’t want to omit important characteristics that really are the essence of you!

    • What paid employment have I had?

    • What unpaid work have I done? (Volunteering, service, informal helpfulness all count).

    • What courses have I taken (particularly a category, such as writing classes or acting classes) where I have gained skills and felt successful?

    • What training have I had? This might include informal classes, seminars, groups of friends that gather with common interests (such as book groups), or specific programs?

    • What life experiences have I had that I enjoyed, felt successful, and learned? This includes such things as travel (even family vacations growing up), living situations (such as summers on the water where boating or swimming were a part of the experience), a talent for cooking or baking, special collections of interest, and hobbies that have yielded you information, such as hiking in the woods that taught you about wildflowers, animals, and preparing for weather changes.

    • What skills do I have that make me capable of accomplishing tasks? This includes abilities such as organizing, speaking, writing, driving, care giving, sensitive listening, dancing, woodworking, using tools, following directions, and noticing details, for example.

  2. Collect items that correspond to your answers to the questions.

    Gather materials by scouring through your old school records, awards bestowed upon you for volunteer work, collections of hobby items, certificates, and photographs. Again, leave nothing uncovered! Faded newspaper articles that highlighted your achievement can be rewritten or copied. Collections too big to put into a portfolio can be photographed. How to fit something into the portfolio should not eliminate any materials at this point.

    Once these items are collected, it becomes important to categorize them according to theme, skill, or qualification. It is at this point where you can start to see how one thing you have done is related to other things, or how one skill has built upon itself.

  3. Select how your items might best be displayed.

    Some items lend themselves to easy display; a certificate or diploma, for example, can be copied and shown. Some items are more difficult, but with creativity can by shown. A collection can be photographed. A collage of photographs can be copied. A video tape can be edited with highlights of oral speeches, presentations, and dance or athletic competitions, for example. With computers, scanning and editing can be done to nicely demonstrate many performance-type achievements. Professional videographers, copy centers, and computer whizzes are available for consultation or to format this work.

    After you have gathered your materials and selected how you want them to be demonstrated, decide which (if any) are simply not important or relevant. However, do not eliminate anything from your portfolio that you consider an essential element of you or your achievements. When you present your portfolio, it does not have to be done in whole. For a specific position, you may want to include only 4 of 6 portions, for instance, if that is all that seems relevant to that job.

  4. Demonstrate that you have a demonstration portfolio!

    This may sound like double talk, but it means that you need to indicate that you have a portfolio and what kinds of materials it contains. You will not be handing your portfolio out to many people at one time, but you need to let them know what you have. This could be done in the form of your resume, a personal brochure, or cover letter. You might have a heading in your resume that is called "Portfolio Contents," for instance. Then, by category, you could list the items it contains. Or you may choose to include a paragraph in a cover letter indicating you have a portfolio containing specific items that you will be glad to review with them at their request.

    Compile a list of what the portfolio contains by category. This contents may be included inside the portfolio and also as an attachment to your resume or cover letter. You may wish to write a cover letter that describes some sample highlights from your portfolio and then note the portfolio may be requested in whole or part. In doing this, you have shown an ability to organize, confidence in your past accomplishments, proven demonstration of your skills and achievements, and a willingness to be helpful and available to a future employer.

  5. Duplicate your portfolio one time.

    Be sure you have two complete portfolios in case one is loaned temporarily. However, unlike a resume, you need not duplicate your portfolio many times. It will be loaned, not given, to future employers. In some cases just listing what is contained in the portfolio is sufficient to secure an interview.

  6. Select a container for your portfolio.

    This may vary as your portfolio builds. Office supply stores carry many inexpensive containers that would serve this purpose well. Accordion folders, small briefcase-type holders, or other similar carrying pockets are available. A portfolio does not have to be expensive, but does need to be lean and neat.

  7. Update your portfolio periodically and keep it current.

    As you accomplish new tasks, keep material demonstrations of them. Once you begin thinking in terms of creating and keeping a portfolio, it becomes natural to think, "How can I include this in my portfolio?" You will begin to photograph, record, and collect proof of your work in many displayable ways.

  8. Use and enjoy your portfolio!

    This is a tangible picture of you–your skills, experiences, accomplishments, qualifications, and interests. Use it to reflect on your past, know yourself, and move to your future!

The Electronic Portfolio

An Addendum to The Professional Portfolio

All of the information that can be collected for the portfolio can be placed in what is sometimes called an "electronic portfolio". This is an alternative to gathering paper (hard) copies of information; "electronically," or via a web page or computer disc, the portfolio information is accessed through a computer.

The easiest way to create the electronic portfolio is to use an electronic format from the start. That is, documents and resumes could be placed on the web page or disc as they are originated rather than trying to collect information and transfer it later to the electronic version later.

When a person is ready to distribute the portfolio to potential employers, several options for making the portfolio information available exist. First, a number of employers, newspapers, and agencies have web page postings. By going into these web sites, directions can be followed as to how to post one’s own portfolio on the web. Secondly, writing to employers with directions as to how to access one’s portfolio on one’s own web site can be included in the letter. This requires that the creator (owner of the portfolio) establish a web site on which to display the portfolio and how an interested employer might respond. (Assistance with doing this is available from anyone knowledgeable in how to set up a web site). Thirdly, the contents of the portfolio can be placed on a disc and the disc duplicated and distributed to potential employers.

The convenience of displaying the portfolio in this manner, the ability to reach many people, and the demonstration of technology skills are all evident by using the electronic portfolio format. Finally, the ability to be creative, colorful, and even three-dimensional are limited only by one’s imagination!

* Barbara Ritter, M.A., is Director of Vocational Education for Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington. Her accomplishments include serving as director of a consortium of employers and educators that created a highly successful portfolio program.

© Barbara Ritter. Posted with permission.

For more information on portfolios, please see our links page.

Emoticons, Emojis, Chat Abbreviations and Avatars

— (Page 46). Hey, what do all those symbols and abbreviations mean??

As the web has grown as a form of communication, it’s funny to think that we are actually returning back to our written communication roots! But, oh how different communicating by "keyboard" in the 21st century is from the type or hand written communications of the past.

Since written communications can be interpreted in many ways, and feeling can sometimes get lost, people have come up with creative ways to express emotion in their work. USING ALL CAPS HAS THE EFFECT OF SHOUTING. using all lower case letters even for proper names, the pronoun i, and sentence capitals can convey either very casual communications or lack of effort. b aware of what image you may be portraying.

Punctuation becomes of utmost importance too. It is always good to read your note, letter, or request out loud before you send it. One brief example of a misunderstanding due to punctuation and emphasis is:

Let’s eat, mommy.
Let’s eat mommy.

The longer the sentence is, the more ripe for misinterpretation due to inaccurate punctuation.

AFK or BRB???

If you are bewildered by the amount of chat abbreviations people use while communicating on the internet, (and almost everywhere else) you are not alone! In an effort to cut down on text-message charges, time, and to befuddle those who do not know, people of all ages have really grabbed on to the abbreviations.

A few of the most common are:

  • AFK – away from keyboard
  • BRB – be right back
  • BTW – by the way
  • FYI – for your information
  • F2F – face to face
  • HAND – have a nice day
  • HB – hurry back
  • IDK – I don’t know
  • IMHO – in my humble opinion
  • LOL – laugh out loud (or sometimes, lots of love)
  • NP – no problem
  • RL – real life
  • ROFL / ROTFL – rolling on the floor, laughing
  • TIA – thanks in advance
  • TMI – too much information
  • WRK – work
  • WTG – way to go
  • YW – you’re welcome

Here’s a comprehensive listing:

Have a Happy Day! :)
happy face emoticon
on the phone emoticon
big grin emoticon
roll on the floor laughing emoticon

According to wikipedia (see emoticon article link below), the predecessor of the modern "emoticon" (the cute little smiley faces and such) was first documented in 1857 when Morse code operators purportedly used the number 73 to mean love and kisses…. In 1982, professor Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University suggested using :-) to indicate jokes and :-( to indicate things that weren’t jokes… and we haven’t looked back since!

Emoticons have evolved into more than just smiley faces. There are bugs, cowboys, four-leafed clovers, flowers, animals and more. No longer are they always a small 16×16 pixel size. While some people now refer to any sort of fun graphic embedded into an email as an emoticon, most still only consider the ones that convey some actual emotion an emoticon. These usually have some reference to the human body, such as a nose, eye, hand, or an action of emotion like crying, giving flowers, wishing good luck, etc. But… like most everything else on the internet, there are no hard and fast rules.

These days, most every instant messaging and chat service and even email software has their own depiction of the common emoticons. Below are a few directories. The basic typography is similar among them, but the graphical image can vary. See the traditional smiley face for comparison.

To use emoticons:

  1. If you have a newer version of an email program like Outlook or Eudora, you should be able to access the emoticons from your formatting menu. (See your software’s help and search on "emoticon.") Third-party additions are also available for Windows computers, see the specific software for installation information.
  2. If you have a chat service like Yahoo Messenger, MSN, iChat, or AOL Instant Messenger, you can usually access a menu with many of the emoticons programmed in already. If one you want is not there, try typing in the typographical equivalent — you’ll have to know what it is first by checking the Yahoo, MSN and Wikipedia links below.
  3. Search on and visit a site for "free smilies" or "free emoticons." Some will have applications you can download with bonus smilies for your chat application.
  4. Other free emoticon sites will just have pages of fun (and some disturbing!) images. If you find one you like, right-click (or command-click on a Mac) and "save image to disk" or the like and remember where you saved it. You should be able then to drag and drop the graphic into your email, or if that doesn’t work, open it (with Picture Viewer or Preview, copy it, and paste it back into your email.

Who do I want to be today???

Many online environments allow users to create their own cartoon-like image known as an "avatar" to represent themselves. AOL Instant Messenger was one of the first to do so, and now even product support forums (such as this sample one for WordPress, an open source blogging software) allow users to upload or create their own online persona. Some even allow for uploading of real-life photos, or both. A major element of the online community Second Life is avatar customization… but beware, this can take precious time away from your studies!

In addition, many distance learning software modules allow students and instructors to upload a photo or avatar. While it is usually a completely optional activity, it can be a good way to help connect with your classmates.


Developing Goals

If you feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of you—and even if not—read on. Setting and reaching your goals can be easier than you think.

(Setting goals you can live with)

So you’ve gotten yourself into college. One goal reached! Now what will you do?

Many adults returning to college already have an idea of what they will study due to the type of career toward which they are working. But many do not. If you are one of those who may feel overwhelmed about the future—and even if not—read on!

Below you’ll find several different philosophies on "setting and reaching goals" because what may work for one person may not work for another. Similarly, each style may be better suited to one situation over another. Feel free to borrow ideas from several methods, combine the tips, and develop ways of your own!

A basic way to begin setting goals is:

Develop a plan or vision as your goal and find or create a "picture": Based on your likes and aptitudes, determine what you want to work toward. You can write it down, take a picture of something that resembles your goal, find an article in a newspaper or magazine that describes what you’d like to become or do, or anything else that represents your vision. (More on this below.)

Break it into workable, measurable steps, and then break it down again: If you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that’s OK. It happens to everyone with a big plan. Try breaking down the goal you’ve created into smaller parts. For example, a goal of "succeeding in college" might have as one objective "getting an A in history." While that is a good start, it can still be too big to get a handle on exactly HOW to get an A in history. Break it down into even more steps, and continue to do so until you have a list of things that are "do-able" for you. For example:

  • attend all classes
  • read a chapter every two days
  • read all extra materials
  • study 4 hours at the library before each test
  • complete homework assignments on time

Get started: Actually, by this point, you are already started! Planning and analysis are very important first steps. Now it’s time to implement some of your actions. Create a To-Do list.

Uh-oh…. Get back on track: Sometimes it’s easy to get a little discouraged if your plan goes astray. Maybe you receive a C on the first history test, weighing 30% of the grade. You feel there’s no way you can recover enough to get an A now. This is the time for your best creative thinking. Is there extra credit available? Will the instructor work individually with you? I had that exact situation once and the instructor let me create a crossword puzzle for the class on terms we needed to know. It worked. I ended up with an A. There’s almost always something you can do if you catch the slide quickly. The longer you wait, the harder it is to recover.

Measure results: In the classroom, results are easily measured by the grades you receive from your instructor. Other goals may have less obvious measurable benchmarks. Say you want to learn photography. Some broad benchmarks might include: learning to operate a camera, taking a class or buying a book on technique or lighting, buying and using extra accessories, learning to develop and print negatives the old way. "Learning" here is a subjective phrase, but you can ask yourself what level of proficiency you wish to have at the skill you want to learn.

Reward yourself: When you reach a benchmark or complete a goal, reward yourself! Appreciate the hard work you put in to accomplishing your goal, even if it is a little one, like getting all the errands run (Phew!). For smaller goals, many find "to-do" lists rewarding. Seeing the items get crossed off brings a sense of accomplishment.* For those bigger goals, you should take time to pause and reflect. First, remember your past self prior to your achievement. What were your ambitions, visions, energies, and excitements about the future? How have they turned out? What did you DO to make that happen? What have you learned that will help you moving forward (not just academically — but for you as a person)? Embrace your development, appreciate the effort you put forth, remember that at one time, this was exactly what you wanted… and treat yourself to something special!

What now? Develop a new Goal: The final part of the process is to figure out what you are going to challenge yourself with next. Many people find that once they have accomplished their goal, they are not as satisfied as they thought they would be. Most of the time this is due to a simple belief that once they have accomplished one thing all else will be well. But, kind of like inflation, you need to judge your past goal on the circumstances of its time. What is not realized is that life goes on, changes come, and different outcomes from the original goal may be needed. It’s also helpful to have more than one goal at any given time, have ones under development, in the beginning stages and full on. This way, you’ll always have something to do!

Strategic Planning Process

In most organizations, strategic planning and goal setting are part of the on-going development process. The same is true in life. Here are some steps based on a data-gathering model of goal setting. Write it down or type it in:

  • Decide where you are / what your current status is: Use your feelings and intuition, assess your situation, obtain and analyze any available data, and ask for input from others. Ask where am I? Why here? Why now? Why am I doing this? Avoid asking "how" in this step. It dwells too much on the past for this exercise.

  • Locate where you want to go or be: Based on where you are, decide where you want to go. Ask where do I want to be? What do I want to do?

  • Develop a course based on the conditions you want to satisfy: Using the data collected above, and input from the rest of the article, create a listing or chart of what steps need to be accomplished to get to where you want to be. (This is the tough one… use the rest of this article to help break it down.) Use deadlines if helpful.

  • Chart your progress: Check off the items accomplished. Make notes about things that need updating or changing.

  • Alter plans based on new information and opportunities: Time changes things no matter what. What you dreamed of 5 years ago may be quite different from what you visualize now. New obstacles, responsibilities, and opportunities are sure to pop up after the first draft of your goals. Don’t be afraid to revisit the plan to add new tasks or delete items that are no longer relevant.

A Top Down Approach

The Top-Down approach starts with general statements and goals, and like a reporter, asks questions to extract specific steps you can take and aptitudes you can develop to fulfill your goal.

Start with a general goal, desire, or aspiration such as "I want to be happy" or "I want to be successful." Begin by asking yourself "what" makes me happy or "what" makes a successful person, or whatever question (how, what, when, why, where, who, what does it take) best fits the situation.

Continue asking as many questions at each level as you can. (Answer: "I am happy when I am outside and when I am helping people." Follow up questions: Where outside? Why outside? Doing what outside? Helping people how?)

You may want to chart your answers in a pyramid type structure, starting at the top with your goal, and filling in each level below it with progressively more specific answers.

With continued sifting of the answers through thorough questioning, you can help identify the traits, actions and requirements necessary for you to have in order to accomplish your goal.

Conversely, by starting with a specific activity you enjoy, you can use this questioning method (and research in your college career center) as a tool to help you figure out how to take a trait you already posses and "grow" it into a career path. Be advised, it is as important to know your weaknesses and dislikes in order to find a career path that is best suited to you. One bad aspect of a job can far outweigh several good aspects. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What do I like to do?
  • What do I like about it?
  • Is there anything I don’t like about it?
  • What do I do well?
  • What do I get praise for?
  • What do I struggle with?
  • What do I wish for?

To-Do List

A simple and rewarding activity essential to goal setting is the simple creation of a "to-do" list. Either the night before or morning of a day, write down the items and activities you wish to accomplish. You can have one list for several days if you’d like.

Being able to prioritize is a necessity. It can be helpful to group items in one of several ways: urgency, topically, level of difficulty, geographically, time of day constraints, etc. Keep the list near and as you go through the day, mark off the items your complete. Some people like to start with a few easy items to warm up. Others like to get the hard stuff out of the way. I’ll do a mix of these, depending on the urgency, and my mood or energy level.

Sometimes (many times??—at least for me) you will not get everything done. Don’t sweat it. You can transfer the incomplete items to a new list. While doing so, think about why you may not have completed that item. Was it just a time issue, or was there some obstacle to getting it done? If you identify an issue, add that as a subentry on your new list.

* Note: for some people, To-Do lists represent what is not yet done and can add a level of stress. If you can relate to this, I would suggest breaking down the activities on the to-do list into smaller parts, and if possible, allow yourself more time to complete each item.

You can also apply a To-Do list for a long-term goal. Don’t think of it as a daily list, but more of a regular check-in list to chart your progress over the long term. Here, a more generalized list is OK.

5 elements of a useful goal

Adapted from: Carolyn Hopper, Middle Tennessee State University, (author of Practicing College Study Skills, Houghton Mifflin, © 1998, ISBN: 0395852749)

  1. Specific: describe with as much detail as possible
  2. Measurable: describe in a way that can be clearly evaluated
  3. Challenging / Inspiring: one that takes energy to accomplish, that makes you get up in the morning
  4. Realistic: you know you are capable of attaining in a reasonable amount of time
  5. Has Completion Date: create a measurable deadline for your work

Online References

Many, many references can be found about goal setting and development. Here are just a few:

  • Personal Professional Development Program (National Science Teacher’s Association):

    Meant for teachers, but contains useful information for anyone setting goals. (PDF format).


    A course developed by two community college teachers as an online self-directed resource. Free for now, use it soon! Also available, for sale, are individualized career development packages.

  • Program Development and Evaluation Resources

    A Project of the Southern Region Program and Staff Development Committee, Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Some are applicable, some are not. but an interesting list none the less.

Recommended Reading:

What Color is Your Parachute, by Dick Bolles, is a time-honored book with several activities to help you prioritize your likes, dislikes, and competencies. A new version is released every year, however, if you find a copy at a used bookshop, it is just as helpful as the latest edition.

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by Kristin Pintarich, Editor-in-Chief, The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival & Success