Think back on your undergraduate education. Perhaps you were especially driven and began college with the end in mind, and charted your course from matriculation to graduation as quickly as you could. On the other hand, the trajectory of your undergraduate years may look more like a winding path through the forest than a straight shot from Point A to Point B.

Today’s learners are likely not much different: some are more decisive, while others tend to keep things more-open ended until a decision must be made. In your role as an educator, many of your students may seek you out for advice on how to get from where they are, to where they want to be. Given your knowledge and experience, you’re undoubtedly well-equipped to answer those questions — but you may also want to arm those students with some specific steps that will help them make wise and informed choices for their college careers and beyond.

In her book Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, Dr. Christine Harrington offers a process for making effective decisions, which we have summarized below:

1. State your goals, and focus on them. Keep them front-of-mind as you make each decision. By doing so, you’re more likely to make choices that align with your long- and short-term goals.

2. Determine what you need to know in order to make the decision. Account for all factors — such as your time, your talents and abilities, financial resources, and existing commitments — that could have a bearing on the decisions you need to make. Additionally, you may take into consideration material gleaned from outside sources (e.g. job market forecasts, news reports, research findings) that could also shape the outcome of your decisions.

3. Identify as many possible options as you can. At this point, you are exploring, not judging– so keep an open mind, and don’t edit the list just yet. The creativity you invest in this part of the process could lead to an option you might not have originally seen or considered. You may wish to ask a trusted friend or adviser if they have additional suggestions for you.

4. Now, evaluate the merits of those options. Consider which options you believe would be the best fit for you, based on your interests, values – and especially, your ultimate goal. Also take the time to weigh the potential consequences of each decision: Those that could occur now, as well as those that could crop up further down the road. Here again, the perspective of others (such as family, good friends, or a counselor) may help you determine the best choice.

5. Decide what you wish to do – and then, follow through. You’ve invested significant time and effort in taking this process seriously; now, take action, and watch for the results!

6. Evaluate the effects of your choices. Did your decisions help you reach your ultimate goals? Or, do you need to adjust your steps to get back on track? This reflective step is an important part of the process. (pp. 121-125)

As we make key decisions, it’s important that we’re neither too hasty, nor caught in “analysis paralysis”. We hope these steps will help readers make wise decisions that lead them further down the path towards success.


What advice do you share with students who are seeking direction for their academic and professional lives? Share in the comments section below.

Reference: Content adapted from Harrington, Christine. 2013. Student Success in College: Doing What Works! Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.