SMART Goals for Nursing Students: How to Plan for Success

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Learning to set SMART goals for nursing students is essential when starting the ABSN program. While there will be challenges, these specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals will equip you to succeed in your greater goal of becoming a nurse and form a SMART nursing framework.

nurse writing in notebook

With returning to school to become a nurse comes the need to set many short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Setting appropriate goals is important to achieving your educational and professional dreams. Nursing school has obstacles and challenges, but these goals help you stay on track and feel accomplished for the smaller wins.

You’ve probably heard of SMART goals as an element of nursing education. SMART goals for nursing students can help you set yourself up for success. This tried-and-true goal-setting model will equip you with confidence and organization as you face the challenges of nursing school.

But what elements make up SMART goals, and how do they impact your nursing knowledge and skills?

nurses standing in simulation lab next to manikin

Wondering what to expect in the ABSN program? Here is more about what nursing school is like.

At Marian University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, you will have increased flexibility with our hybrid learning model, which can be completed in as few as 16 months. With online coursework, on-site labs, and in-person clinical rotations, our students are highly motivated self-starters who want to complete nursing school on an accelerated timeline. As such, many use the SMART goal criteria to help them stay on track. Let’s discuss each component of these goals and what they mean for nursing students.

What Are SMART Goals in Nursing?

SMART goals are helpful in every aspect of life but applying them within the ABSN program will directly translate to SMART framework nursing. Here, we will briefly overview each letter component and elaborate on what makes each important to your nursing school experience.


A vague goal is challenging to achieve because it is subjective. By making a specific goal, you know precisely what you mean to achieve and how you will do it. The criteria for having met your goal will be clear and direct. That way, it will be impossible to cut corners or question the quality of your work.


Keeping your goals measurable helps you determine how far you’ve come and how far you need to go. Always assign a benchmark to your goals. Goals that include words like “improve” or “better” are not measurable. Ask yourself how much you intend to improve and what that will look like. What is a measurable accomplishment that will indicate progress?

student listening to heartbeat


Attainable doesn’t mean easy; it simply means possible. You want your goals to be within reach but not below a level you feel you can perform. Challenge yourself continually, but don’t be extreme. An unattainable goal isn’t helpful when in a challenging nursing program. Set goals you intend to reach so you feel encouraged to keep going.


Relevant means you should work on things that align with your end goal — becoming a nurse. Don’t get caught up in the little stresses of nursing school. You may be expending energy on inconsequential achievements when your progress falls behind. Make sure each goal you set helps you get closer to becoming a nurse.


A target date to shoot for is important for all goals, especially when completing online classes. Make a deadline each time you set a goal, and hold yourself to it. Life moves quickly, and so does the ABSN program. Procrastination is challenging for many students, but holding yourself to the timeline will relieve stress and ensure you progress effectively toward becoming a nurse.

Implementing SMART Goals for Nursing School

When creating your SMART goals for nursing, take time to look at the big picture. Focusing on each next urgent list item can be tempting, but tasks will sneak up on you, and you may quickly lose sight of the more significant goals. Look beyond admission and even beyond nursing school. You will ultimately need to schedule clinical rotation hours, study for exams, pass the NCLEX-RN®, and begin applying for jobs. These 16 months will move quicker than you expect.

Feeling stressed about the difficulties of nursing school? Prepare by learning about these six challenges you will face as a nursing student.

nursing students looking at a professor

Make sure you keep these SMART goals in mind as you work and set priorities. Revisiting these goals in the time frames you set for yourself is part of what makes these goals measurable.

Were you successful in achieving them? Was your time frame reasonable? Did you set expectations too high or too low? What adjustments do you need to make going forward? These are some of the questions you can keep in mind to stay on course. Taking the time to be intentional with your SMART goals will ensure you set yourself up for success.

Examples of SMART Goals for Nursing Students

Setting SMART goals can be challenging, especially if you have never used this model. Practice makes perfect, but here are some examples of nursing SMART goals to help you start this journey for yourself.

Marian nursing student standing and smiling

“I will study Human Nutrition for six hours at the library this week.”

This is a SMART goal because it meets all five criteria. It is specific and leaves no room for interpretation. The qualifications for goal completion are measured. The student will study for a total of six hours at the library. They know it is an attainable amount of time to study and that they will have access to the library throughout the week. It directly pertains to their greater goal of passing Human Nutrition and earning their ABSN degree, making it relevant. And finally, it must be completed by a deadline of one week, giving a specific time frame in which it must be completed.

“I will enroll in my required prerequisite courses by Tuesday.”

This SMART goal also does a great job of meeting all requirements. It may seem minor, but these small SMART goals help you achieve greater outcomes. It is specific and measurable as enrollment demonstrates achievement of the goal. The student knows they can complete the enrollment process as they have set aside specific time to complete it by Tuesday.

This student aims to complete their prerequisites to earn admission into the ABSN program. Enrolling in these courses directly relates to this greater goal. Lastly, this goal has a reasonable timeline with a clear completion day.

Get Started with Marian University ABSN

Now that you are equipped with these SMART goals for nursing students, are you ready to take the first step in your journey to becoming a nurse? Put your goals into action by contacting our admissions team today. We look forward to speaking with you.