Strategic Thinking for Student Success

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September is International Strategic Thinking Month, and we’re kicking things off in the Learning for Success Center by exploring some of the ways students can use strategic thinking to enhance their learning, improve their academic outcomes, and prepare for a successful career. 

In short, strategic thinking is one’s ability to look at the bigger picture, make a plan, and take actionable steps to achieve one’s goals (Gunaratne, 2022). It goes a step beyond logic, as strategic thinking includes the ability to brainstorm and deal with the unexpected. This skill is universally valued in the workplace. According to Stobierski (2020), “strategic thinking skills are among the most highly sought-after management competencies” (para. 3). In part, this is because studies reveal “a positive and significant relation between strategic thinking and organizational success” (Salamzadeh et al., 2018, p. 16). Students’ work to hone these skills during their college experience will increase their value to future employers while improving their current performance in the classroom. 

Students can use a variety of strategies to improve their strategic thinking while in college. First, many students already began thinking strategically when choosing a college and a degree plan. Students are strategic about selecting a major and a degree plan that prepares them for their desired career, and they may be strategic in their selection of a school for that degree by choosing a college that is widely recognized in that field, that employs faculty doing research the student is interested in, that has an established partnership with their current or future employer, or that accepts prior education credits or workplace experience. 

Once enrolled, students can continue to grow their strategic thinking skills by keeping the bigger picture of their degree and career goals in mind. Students might select research topics and projects that will move them forward toward that goal. Planning to be a teacher? Shape a research project that prepares for classroom work of the future, like effective teaching with AI or engaging students in hybrid educational settings. Even in a general education course, students can choose paper topics that reflect their goals and help them develop knowledge that will be useful in their current or future careers. 

Students can also be strategic in the extracurricular choices they make. Join clubs or honor societies that will provide additional opportunities to gain knowledge in the field, practice relevant skills, or network with others. For instance, a nursing student might be strategic by joining Sigma Theta Tau, an international honor society of nursing, to demonstrate their high academic achievements in the degree program, and also by joining the Purdue Global American Red Cross Club for opportunities to further their skills through CPR or disaster-response training. Getting involved in the student community has been shown to improve students’ academic outcomes (O’Brien & Rollefson, 1994), and it can also be a valuable way to strategically advance one’s career. 

Strategic thinking includes setting priorities. Students can grow this skill by prioritizing tasks that help them advance toward their goals. Make coursework and projects that are directly related to the degree or career goal a priority. Take an honest assessment of any other activities and eliminate those that do not further the goal, at least for now. There may be more time for video games or watching Netflix later, for example, but that time could be used strategically in pursuit of a degree or career goal right now. Purdue Global students can use our Time Management Resources, including a Time Management Calculator, Time Management Template, and more to help prioritize their time and be strategic in how they plan their term, week, or day. 

Finally, students can use strategic thinking strategies in their approach to coursework. Try making a strategic plan for study sessions and course assignments. Begin by identifying the learning objectives and include a plan for confusion or not understanding. Being strategic in the approach to coursework will enhance focus while further improving one’s ability to think strategically and make an effective plan. Learn more about this valuable strategy by watching our Making a Strategic Plan video. 

Our Peer Tutors in the Learning for Success Center help students develop their strategic thinking skills by assisting with research and project plans, time management plans, and even strategic plans for an assignment or course. Students never need an appointment to meet with a Peer Tutor, and a one-on-one session can be an effective opportunity to think about the big picture, identify goals, and make a strategic plan to meet them. 

Until next time, this is Dr. Linscott with another Learning for Success podcast. Happy learning! 


Gunaratne, D. (2022, August 14). Developing strategic thinking skills in grad school. Inside Higher Ed.,own%20or%20an%20organization’s%20goals

O’Brien, E. & Rollefson, M. (1995). Extracurricular participation and student engagement. National Center for Education Statistics.

Salamzadeh, Y., Bidaki, V. Z., & Vahidi, T. (2018). Strategic thinking and organizational success: Perceptions from management graduates and students. Global Business and Management Research, 10(4), 1-19. 

Stobierski, T. (2020, September 10). 4 ways to develop your strategic thinking skills. Harvard Business School Online.

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