Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for Undergraduate Students

Colleen M. Smith
Advising & Digital Learning Coordinator
in Academic Advancement Programs, iACE

Colleen currently serves as an advisor and online learning coordinator for graduate school preparation in Academic Advancement Programs. Her previous positions have included co-instructing and coordinating an NSF-funded program to help first-year students engage with their academics through undergraduate research and coordinating an inter-institutional group of pre-transfer advisors, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to aid in the transition and retention of 2-year students to 4-year institutions. Her experiences with integrating academic engagement and IDPs as an instructor, an advisor and as a part of a structured program has led her to create various online tools for students learning how to be successful in undergraduate and graduate school while preparing for their career.

Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) provide a planning template that identifies both professional and educational development opportunities for students to actively work towards during their baccalaureate years. IDPs are created to suit individual needs of development and career choice by intentionally developing skills across multiple connected (and planned) experiences (AAC&U). This integrative-learning experience should be maintained and modified by the student and their mentor at each milestone of the student’s academic career. 

As the mentor, it is important to spend the time initially to create a structured process for your mentees. The process of creating an IDP structure for students can be time consuming on the front end but the extra time early on has a large positive impact on students’ career development throughout their undergraduate careers.

An IDP can be one component of a broader mentoring experience, but specifically, in an IDP, a student will:

  • Assess their knowledge, skills and abilities critically and authentically
  • Explore and define the specific skills needed for the articulated goals
  • Create semester and yearly plans to reach their academic/career goals
  • Establish target dates to reach academic, research and professional milestones
  • Collect artifacts of skills mastered for incorporation into other integrative experiences like developing an ePortfolio
  • Reflect on their progress towards their goals and milestones

Historically, IDPs have been utilized in government, industry and graduate school. Watch this video for an example of a graduate student individual development plan process:

Step by Step image from APA’s Resource for Individual Development Plans.

How to Use Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

IDPs are ideal for creating long-term mentoring relationships and building a student’s portfolio for post-bachelor’s degree plans. IDPs can be utilized as an integrative-learning tool in various environments: in undergraduate (or graduate) co-curricular programs; in consecutive professional development courses within a plan of study; or by advisors as part of a flipped advising approach.


For example, in a multi-semester program, program coordinators can plan for students to complete a self-assessment at the beginning of each semester. Create an assessment of skills you hope students will learn as being a part of the program. The timeline will create natural milestones for the student and give the program director an early foundation to co-create goals with the students.


Advisors can use IDPs to keep students engaged with active learning and professionalization activities between advising appointments. Create a flipped advising approach to focus on mentoring during appointments and exploration and planning outside of advising appointments.


Individual faculty or instructors can use IDPs in a sequence of professionalization or integrative-learning courses. Revisit students’ knowledge, skills and abilities at the start of each course. Align the learning outcomes of the consecutive courses with the natural progression of skills needed to develop in the projected careers within your discipline.

Planning chart for one-year program created for the L.E.A.R.N. Program.

Self-Assessment and Career Exploration

The first step to implementing IDPs is an honest assessment and critical analysis of a student’s skills, knowledge, and abilities in accordance with their career and educational goals. What does the student want to do after earning their bachelor’s degree? What skills in that particular pathway do they need to master? The authentic analysis of a student’s skills, abilities, and confidence levels should provide the guidance for building a template of short-term and long-term goals.

The reflection and self-assessment of goals and skill acquisition should reflect the current state of the student’s knowledge and abilities (e.g. research skills, presentations skills, networking skills, technology skills, time management skills, leadership skills, critical thinking skills). In other words, there should be room to grow in their IDPs. After the assessment, a critical look at the requirements of a successful career is needed to analyze the milestones, artifacts, and experiences that a student should acquire to progress toward their goals. Students should find a position description that matches their career or educational goals, interview faculty in their major about their career pathways, or attend events provided by their institutions (e.g., workshops that feature panels of graduate students, faculty, or alumni, graduate school or internship fairs).

Once students work on researching their possible career pathways, they will need to metacognitively reflect on how to get themselves from their current skills, knowledge, and abilities to the “successful” profile of their career and educational aspirations. When dissecting position descriptions, did they notice a reoccurring qualification that they currently have not mastered? When speaking with their faculty, did they learn of a course elective that aligns with the knowledge needed to be considered for a graduate program? The student should look for ways to bridge the gap between their current skill level and where they would like to be by graduation. When students articulate their individual learning plans more effectively, mentors, faculty or advisors, are able to aid the student in their development by providing advice on long-term and short-term goals and provide more targeted opportunities.

Create and Implement Plan

Utilize the IDP SMART Goal planning template to help your mentees create Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. 

After students set their goals, help them decide on artifacts that can be collected as “proof” that the milestones/goals have been accomplished. Examples of artifacts could be

  • CV/Resume
  • Personal Statement or other reflective writings
  • Informational interview transcripts or reflections
  • Calendar, or list, of events attended or lead
  • Certificates acquired
  • Writing samples or projects depicting skill acquisition
  • Conference booklets with the student’s name published
  • Photos of internships, service learning programs, study abroad experiences, or other opportunities that provided significant value
  • Digital stories of learning progression via video or maps

Artifacts should then be collated and used to develop an ePortfolio, digital story, or other integrative-learning culminating experience to help display the student’s achievements.

Self-Evaluation and Feedback Loop

Students should continue to retake the self-assessment each year and redefine their goals. Mentors, faculty, and advisors should make a point to give feedback, help the student reevaluate their goals, and provide new and timely integrative-learning opportunities and resources to the student according to their self-evaluation and identified goals (IDP). Have a discussion to reflect on how goals have changed throughout their IDP journey. By constantly reflecting, students learn to reiterate this process in the future, which will aid them in their decision-making skills throughout their career. Thoughtful planning for a successful completion of a bachelor’s degree enables students to prepare and achieve significant milestones that are essential to post-baccalaureate success.