Use "SMART" Goals to Create an Action Plan!

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An action plan is nothing more than a road map with a time-driven detailed checklist of steps and short-term goals that lead to the completion of your longer term goal. This step-by-step plan is a personalized path to your success and should be taken seriously.

Let's use one of the goals we covered in our SMART Goals article to develop a sample action plan.

Goal: Take two classes a semester, a general CLEP exam each month, and use my Military Experience credits to earn my Associate of Science degree in Liberal Arts, by next summer.

Note: Although the following simplified action plan doesn't have a timeline, your personal action plan should have as much detail as possible to ensure your success.

Step One: Contact your local Education Services, Navy College Office, or VA counselor to make an appointment to discuss the following topics:

  • Tuition Assistance, Top-up and GI Bill eligibility.
  • The process for scheduling taking CLEP Exams. (Active Duty and Reserve)
  • Getting a copy of your Military Training and Education Transcripts. You may also learn how to get college credit for military service online.
  • Command Voluntary Education requirements. (Active Duty and Reserve Only)

Tip: You should request a copy of your military transcript as soon as possible, this will help your education counselor and college admissions office determine your exact education needs.

Step Two: Find a school that offers the degree that fits stated goals. Schools offer a wide range of "Majors" or areas of concentration, finding a school that offers the degree you want in addition to accepting CLEP and Military Experience credits is very important.

Tip: Online schools start classes every five to eight weeks. This means you don't have to wait for next semester - you can start when you're ready.

Step Three: Get organized - Making a commitment to getting a degree will require time management. Schedule your time carefully. This will take effort and tenacity. But remember: your goal is worth it.

Step Four: Start taking the classes needed to fulfill the requirements for the degree.

Tip: Be sure to apply for the GI Bill or TA before you take any classes - The GI Bill can take weeks to process and TA will not cover classes without a prior approval.

Step Five: Schedule CLEP exam dates. Schedule your 5 CLEP exams often enough to keep you on track for your goal, but spaced far enough apart to give you ample study time. One to two month intervals may work best to keep you on target.

Note: Many active-duty servicemembers, E-5 and above, who have 30 or more Military Experience credits and have passed the 5 general CLEP exams are within just a few credits of fulfilling the requirements for an Associate of Science degree. Although not required, an Associate degree is a great first step toward getting your Bachelor's.

Critical Success Factors:

  • Think of each step as a short-term goal.
  • Your action plan must be as detailed as possible.
  • Your action plan should be posted in a prominent place, so you can stay focused.
  • Each step will help you determine the best time frames and goals for the next step.
  • Be flexible, your situations and goals can and will change as life circumstances change. In other words, if your deadline becomes unrealistic, change it.

Many schools offer free information packets they will mail you. You can request information from multiple schools at once by filling out the "School Finder"  form on With no obligation or cost, learning about different schools is a great way to get started.

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