3 Steps to New Year's Resolutions for College Students

Choosing changes for the coming year can be tough for the collegiate set, but here are some tips.

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New Year's resolutions always present a conundrum. What should I change? In what areas would I like to improve? What would I like to leave behind? Am I really going to stick with these resolutions this year? For college students, these kinds of questions are complicated, as college life involves a delicate balance of personal and academic life.

Making New Year's resolutions, however, doesn't have to be a pain in the brain. In fact, the new year can be a great time to reflect not only on what you'd like to improve but on how you're going to do so. Here are a few steps to follow:

1. Set realistic expectations: Sure, most college students would love to get straight A's this semester. But setting that as a goal for yourself might be a bit of a leap. Do your best to think about the things you'd like to change as well as what a realistic change would look like.

Say, for example, that you'd like to get your grades up. Instead of setting the goal of getting straight A's, look at how you did last semester. Can you aim for a certain increase in your GPA? Or, say, nothing lower than a B? Or a realistic grade for each class instead of perfection for your entire course load?

[Know what to do if you need academic help.]

In your personal life, setting realistic expectations is important, too. Your entire college experience should involve personal growth and learning new things. Don't focus too much on suddenly trying to become the person you'd like to be by the time you graduate. Instead, focus on certain parts of yourself that you'd like to improve—such as your time management or leadership skills, for some examples—and work on those. Eventually, you'll find yourself becoming a better, stronger, wiser person because of the little steps you took instead of the large, unrealistic goals you set for yourself in January.

2. Set both specific and holistic goals: College life involves managing many, many details all the time. In that sense, setting New Year's resolutions that deal with specific goals—such as studying at least a week in advance for your Chemistry exams or getting at least 6 hours of sleep every night—is important for making the complexity of your college life manageable.

[Learn more about how to ensure a healthy college experience.]

As every college student knows, however, your time in college can still be a mess even if you manage the details well. The bigger picture is incredibly important. True, you may have gotten everything done on your task list for a certain day, but you didn't eat well, missed having fun with your friends in the quad, and haven't slept enough. Your big-picture college life can lack if you don't pay attention to what's going on holistically.

Good New Year's resolutions, then, focus on both the details and the bigger picture. Set a few goals for how you'd like to experience your next semester: More rested. In better physical shape. Less crunched for time. More balanced. As time goes on, you can check in with yourself (say, on the first day of each month) and see how you're doing. Do you feel more rested? How have you been treating your body? Do you feel in control of your time and in balance? If not, start setting smaller, specific goals to help you achieve these larger ones.

3. Focus on the means, not just the ends: Focusing specifically on an end result—losing weight, not being so stressed—for your college experience can unintentionally set you up for failure.

One of the best ways to set New Year's resolutions is to focus on the means of getting to where you want to be, not just focusing on where you want to be. If you're interested in losing weight, focus instead on making healthier choices when eating on campus (e.g., always having a salad and calorie-free drinks). If you'd like to reduce your stress, focus on incorporating stress-reducing activities (exercise for 30 minutes every day, join a meditation class, volunteer once a week) into your routine.

[Consider college recreation classes to reduce stress.]

Were you able to set and reach realistic New Year's resolutions as a college student? If so, what was the secret to your success? Pass your wisdom along to other readers by sharing your tips and tricks in the comments below.

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