Are you someone who likes to plan ahead or someone who takes life as it comes?  Do you make lists of things that you know you need to do each day, or do you wait until something has to be done to get started?  Do you think ahead about what you will wear each day, laying out clothes the night before?  Or, is it after you wake up each morning that you begin to think about why outfits might be clean? Have you thought about what might get in the way of early planning in general?

Early planning comes more naturally to some of us than others.  For some things—like figuring out what to wear each day—planning ahead might not be that important.  For other decisions, however, planning ahead can be a vital part of whether or not you achieve your goals.  Do you, or your students have goals that include graduating, getting into college and entering the workforce?  The road to graduation doesn’t start in the spring semester of senior year.  It starts the minute 6th graders take those first steps through the doors of the middle school since the process must begin while students are still “clay”.  While goals like graduation and college seem far away from this point, 6th graders should recognize that decisions made now affect the future.  Here are three reasons why it’s important to begin planning for graduation, college, and even careers early.

Early planning begins with setting small actions that move you toward that goal

Most organizations, like businesses and schools, know this.  They engage in a process called “strategic planning,” to set long-term goals and create a plan of action for how to achieve those goals.  The planning is “strategic,” because it involves a series of calculated decisions that will move the organization from a starting point to the goal.   Organizations realize that achieving a goal means taking small steps and actions along the way to move toward the goal.

This is true for most long-term goals, including graduating and getting into college.  Students must realize that decisions made long before graduation can affect them.  For example, many colleges have competitive admissions processes, and one factor they consider is grade point average (GPA).  Colleges won’t just look at how students perform in classes during the senior year, but they will consider the GPA overall.  Low grades early in high school will affect a student’s GPA, and could mean the difference between getting into a first choice college versus a second choice.  So, small actions, like studying during 9th grade year, can impact your future goals.  Furthermore, some degree programs only look at a part of your GPA, known as your “Major GPA”.  If your future goals include becoming a chemist, the average of your math and science grades will create your major GPA.  Often times, schools will only consider your major GPA (and ignore your overall GPA) for these types of degrees. We wrote a valuable story on how this exact concept affected one of the founders of LifePlan Labs.

Knowing where you are going is half the battle

In the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll writes a humorous conversation between Alice and a cat.  The cat asks Alice where she is going, and Alice asks him to tell her which way she should go.  The cat wonders where Alice wants to go, and Alice says she doesn’t know.  So, the cat replies, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”  The cat definitely understands the importance of planning ahead and having a goal in mind.

If students do not have at least some idea of their future plans, then their journey through high school just becomes a series of choices that have no rhyme or reason.  Choosing academic courses, choosing elective courses, and even choosing which clubs and activities to join become moment to moment decisions instead of those calculated, strategic steps that add up to movement in a specific direction.  When students have future goals in mind, they can make smarter choices when faced with a decisions.  Which electives to take?  Well, if you want to go into a field like graphic design, maybe art or computer courses.  If you want to be a teacher, maybe an early childhood education course.  Not sure about a career, but know you want to do something with animals?  Try an agriculture course or take an extra science elective like anatomy.

Having an early plan is also half the battle of getting into the college of your choice and being prepared to do well there.  Most colleges look at rigor of courses taken in high school in addition to GPA.  Some colleges like to see Advanced Placement credits, while others might like to see dual enrollment courses.  When students know the admissions requirements and preferences of their top college choices, they can make strategic choices to position themselves to compete for entry.

Setting goals increases motivation and achievement

Studies of student goal setting underscore the impact of setting goals on student motivation and achievement.  Students who have a vision of their future will be more motivated to achieve because they see the connection between decisions made today and their future plans.  While not every lesson in every class will be relevant to a high school student’s current reality, students who have a vision for future success recognize that every high school course will count for graduation and will affect GPA.

Even setting short-term goals can improve motivation and achievement.  A student may be more motivated to do well during freshman year if he knows that passing all classes this year allows him to choose from more electives next year.  Again, it’s a series of strategic steps moving in one direction that add up to success in the long-term.

Some students don’t know what they want to do in the future, and that is okay.  Even having a broad idea of future plans is better than nothing.

References:

Edwards, L. & Hughes, K. (2011).  Dual enrollment guide for high school students.  Career Academy Support Network.  University of California at Berkley.  Available from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED521460.pdf

Kukreja, D. (Sept. 2013).  Strategic planning: A roadmap to success.  Ivey Business Journal.  Western University, Canada.  Available from: http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/strategic-planning-a-roadmap-to-success/

Turkay, S. (2014). Setting goals: Who, why how?  Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning. Harvard University. Available from: http://vpal.harvard.edu/publications/setting-goals-who-why-how

What about your grades? (n.d.) My College Guide Magazine.  Retrieved from http://mycollegeguide.org/guru/17/what-about-your-grades#overall-gpa