Program objectives are the knowledge, skills, and abilities students should possess when they graduate from a program. They are answers to the question, "What should program graduates know and be able to do at the time of program completion?"
When thinking about program objectives, it might be helpful to consider where program graduates should be within three to five years of graduation. Should they be practitioners in the profession of the discipline? Should they have entered the work force prepared for entry-level jobs? Should they be in a graduate or professional degree program? Should they have passed a licensure or certification exam in the field? The answers to questions such a these can help program faculty focus on the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will best prepare program graduates for their next educational or professional endeavors.
The following paragraphs provide some basic guidelines for writing program objectives. Sample program objectives will be given to illustrate several key points.
Answers to common questions about writing program objectives will follow the guidelines.
We have begun to assemble sample program objectives from a variety of academic disciplines that we found on the web sites of other institutions. A link to the page containing those samples is at the bottom of this page. New samples will be added as we find them. We encourage you to read through the sample objectives - even those from disciplines unrelated to your own. A well-written objective from another discipline may give you ideas about an objective well-suited to your program.
Guidelines for writing program objectives
- Program objectives should flow directly from, and support, the department and/or program mission. The connection between the mission and the objective should be clear.
- Program objectives should be directly related to the academic discipline of the program. Focus on program objectives that reflect the specific knowledge and skills you expect students to acquire as part of their educational experience in the program. Avoid program objectives that are more related to the general education component of an education. Writing and critical thinking, for example, are important educational outcomes, but it is unlikely that your program can demonstrate that your graduates acquired their writing or critical thinking skills through their coursework in the program. You may, however, incorporate writing and critical thinking into program objectives directly linked to the academic discipline of the program. Consider these examples:
- General: Graduates of the Criminal Justice program will be critical thinkers.
- Program-specific: Graduates of the Criminal Justice program will analyze a current issue in criminal justice, evaluate evidence, and construct an argument.
- Program objectives must be observable and measurable. Write objectives that are focused on demonstrable behaviors rather than what students know, think, understand, appreciate, etc. What someone knows, thinks, understands, or appreciates is invisible and cannot be directly measured. It is impossible to measure an invisible mental quality like a student's knowledge or understanding. It is possible to measure how well a student solves a problem, presents an argument, or gives a dance performance. Write objectives that are overt rather than covert.
- Covert: Graduates of the BA program will think critically.
- Overt: Graduates of the BA program will interpret, analyze, evaluate and construct arguments.
- Be sure to focus on the knowledge and skills that program graduates should possess. Resist the temptation to write objectives about curricular inputs, department resources, faculty characteristics, or instructional methods. Program objectives are related to demonstrated behaviors of the students who graduate -- not characteristics of the program or its faculty.
- Input focused: Program faculty will improve their content knowledge through participation in professional development activities.
- Input focused: All department labs will be equipped with state-of-the-art instruments.
- Outcome focused: Graduates of the Art History program will analyze the religious and political influences on 18th century European artists.
- Consider any external standards such as accreditation requirements or state certification standards. In most cases, external standards will not suffice as program objectives. That is because they typically address curricular design, instructional content, and faculty qualifications. In other words, external standards are focused on inputs rather than outcomes. Because those inputs yield the outcomes we consider during assessment, it is advisable to align program objectives with external standards. This alignment of program objectives with external standards can provide strong evidence about the quality of programmatic inputs that is useful when preparing self-study reports for accreditation or Academic Program Review.
- External standard: American Bar Association Standard 704. TECHNOLOGICAL CAPACITIES: A law school shall have the technological capacities that are adequate for both its current program of legal education and for program changes anticipated in the immediate future.
- Program objective in alignment with external standard: Graduates of the Juris Doctor program will demonstrate effective use of technology in legal research.
- Although we will post examples of program objectives for a variety of disciplines, those should not be considered the "right" objectives for that discipline. We select examples because they are well-written and follow the guidelines presented here, and because they indicate what faculty at other institutions viewed as important objectives for the graduates of their programs. Your program faculty are the only experts qualified to determine the most appropriate objectives for your program.
- Avoid writing program objectives that combine multiple objectives into a single objective.
- Multiple objectives: Graduates of the psychology program will be lifelong learners who understand the concepts of psychology and can apply those concepts to the design and application of real research problems.
- Single objective: Graduates of the psychology program will be able to design a research study.
We have collected examples of program objectives from a variety of academic disciplines. The objectives presented were collected from the web sites of institutions throughout the U.S. and from ASU departments. In some cases, the examples have been revised to make them consistent with the guidelines presented on this page. The presence of an objective on this site should not be interpreted as an endorsement by the Office of University Evaluation of a particular objective as ideal or even suitable for the associated discipline at ASU. Objectives are provided to illustrate the points made in the guidelines on this page and to provide faculty with ideas as they develop their own objectives.