Grit leads to a student’s success
46% of students who enter a college fail to graduate within six years, and only around 40% of African Americans and Hispanic students are able to graduate within six years (Burke, 2013). The American Dream 2.0 Report showed us very depressing college dropout rate statistics in 2013. Compared to the statistics of other developed countries, the United States has a relatively high college dropout rate. A higher dropout rate can dramatically affect a nation’s stability and economy. Many factors contribute to a student’s dropout, but lack of grit is the most dominant factor. Grit is defined as persistence for long-term goals, and it is a very powerful tool when we confront a challenge. College is such a challenging experience that we have to develop grit to help us surmount various obstacles. If we can know what kind of factors strongly affect the development of grit, we can figure out the best way to display our grit in college and earn high GPAs.
Understanding of Grit
In the past, talent was considered the key ingredient to a person’s success. However, Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recently has suggested that a trait called “grit” may be as essential as intelligence, when it comes to a higher achievement (Hanford, 2012). “Grit is defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals” Duckworth (2007) says, “It entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” Her statement is quite obvious as looking around, we can easily find the peers who are very successful in college share a common characteristic: persistence and never giving up when confronting obstacles. More deeply, grit comprises several traits that help students to succeed (Goodwin and Miller, 2013):
- Goal-directedness (knowing where to go and how to get there)
- Motivation (having a strong will to achieve identified goals)
- Self-control (avoiding distractions and focusing on the task at hand
- Positive mind-set (embracing challenge and viewing failure as a learning opportunity)
Furthermore, based on research done by Duckworth, we will realize that grit is the major cause of a student’s achievement.
Inverse Correlation of Talent and Grit
According to research conducted by Duckworth (2007) among 139 undergraduate students in the Department of Psychology in an elite school, she found talent is inversely related to grit, and it has a stronger correlation with high GPAs than SAT score does. College Admissions always use SAT as a good predictor of a student’s potential college performance as SAT gives officers a feeling of general mental ability of a student. However, just as Hanford mentions (2012), in college, intellectual students are less likely to have high GPAs than gritty students who score lower in IQ tests because “people who are not as bright as their peers compensate by working harder and with more determination (Hanford, 2012).” More specifically, some intellectual students are overconfident and believe that their old study habits can still help them succeed in college, but they neglect the difficult transition from high school to college. In high school, smarter students can still get an A in class by reading the bare minimum or by starting to work on homework the night before due date. However, in college, these strategies do not work any more. Cramming for midterms without reading textbooks thoroughly will negatively affect test grades and even final grades. Additionally, saving homework up to the last minute usually ends up with poor quality work and a lower grade. As a result, in some cases, talent will not guarantee a student’s academic success. On the other hand, gritty students know, in terms of talent, they have no superiority over others. Therefore, they are more likely to start to work on their homework earlier than others and put much more effort outside the class to catch up with teachers’ paces. That is the reason why gritty students, in most cases, have higher GPAs than the intellectual students with less grit.
The Important Role of Grit
1) High self-discipline
Duckworth’s research team elected 175 of 273 finalists in the 2005 Scripps National Spelling Bee to take a verbal IQ test and to investigate the number of hours these contestants spent for the preparation of current Spelling Bee and the number of prior final competitions they entered (Duckworth et al, 2007). Duckworth (2007) suggests, “Gritty children work harder and longer than their less gritty peers and, as a consequence, perform better. The prospective, longitudinal design of this study give us some confidence that, indeed, an enduring personality characteristic we call grit is driving the observed correlations with success outcomes rather than the other way around.” The reason that these gritty children outperformed their peers in the National Spelling Bee is that they put in much more effort than others. It is exactly the same situation in college. If we want to receive high GPAs and outperform others, we have to study longer than our peers. Here comes the role of grit. Grit helps us develop self-control and helps us become a high self-disciplined student. Therefore, we can resist various temptations that affect our studying, such as watching too much TV, going to parties frequently, or spending too much time on Facebook. Because of the development of high self-discipline, we are likely to come to the library frequently and to start working on homework as early as possible. In other words, we have much more time on doing homework and practicing the skills we have learned in class, and therefore, we will deeply understand the topics and outperform others.
2) Open to failure and obstacles
When Cedric Jennings was born, he confronted so much adversity: his father was in jail, and his mother hardly supported this family. As a result, Jennings had a very bad learning environment and community environment. Even though he was pushed to the edge of darkness, he didn’t give up and was brave enough to face others’ ridicule as well as obstacles. In the end, he ended up with earning a graduate degree from Harvard University (Goodwin and Miller, 2013). We cannot image how many difficulties Jennings faced when he was in college. A student from a low-income family got acceptance to an elite university, which a majority of students come from upper-income families. He had to surmount both academic and financial difficulties, but he persisted through college because of the quality emerged from within himself—Grit. Grit plays an important role in college because gritty students consider failure a great opportunity to learn, and obstacles will not defeat them. Failure and obstacles are parts of our learning, and we are not supposed to let these things become a wall. To become a gritty student, we are supposed to be open-minded, and therefore, we will not be afraid to make mistakes or be afraid to fail because next time, we will not repeat the same mistakes and will keep working on our goals. The more mistakes we make, the more we can learn from our past experience. All these experiences help us become a determined student, and in turn, help us build a concrete foundation for future achievement.
Factors Affecting Grit
1 ) Social Belonging
However, not all of people display grit successfully. Some of us fail to display grit in college. Social belonging might be one of the main reasons that some of us fail to persist through college. Social belonging facilitates our involvement in social life and academics. The sense of belonging comes from one’s confidence and self-esteem. Just as Hanford (2012) suggests in ‘How important is Grit in Student Achievement’, a student from a low-income family might feel inferior to a student from a upper-income family, especially in private universities where a majority of students’ parents achieved a higher level of education and have higher incomes than average. The low-income student is less likely to feel the sense of belonging and no longer wants to continue his or her education once he or she faces academic or financial difficulties. As a result, he or she is unable to persist through college, and even worse, drops out from school to support his or her family by doing a part-time or a full-time job. In general, the differences in social status hierarchy and household income can cause a low-income student to feel no sense of belonging, and as a result, he or she finds it hard to persist through college.
“Duckworth believes grit can wax and wane in response to experiences. In addition, people might be gritty about some things and not others. (Hanford, 2012)” The survey that I did matches up with this statement. Given the link to ‘Grit Scale Test’, an online survey created by Duckworth, I chose 10 people I know very well and sent the link to them. Once they completed the survey, I asked them for their grit scores, current GPAs and school performances. The average of their grit scores is around 3.4, which is higher than 60% Americans. A person who got 3.7 shows a great interest and persistence on Music study, but she was really not good at Life science, which was reflected by her high school performance. Our high school science teachers used to think about her as a less gritty student, but she actually showed a relatively high grit score on her current major: Music. This is due to the fact that she now studies in an environment where Life science classes are not required by her major any more, and she can further develop her interest on Music with teachers’ full support. Additionally, another student who got 4.88 grit score is a truly gritty student in the Department of Chemical Engineering because he really enjoys the Chemical Engineering courses here and likes our professors’ teaching styles so much. However, he is not a gritty student on art and music because he thinks he does not have any innate talent on them. This observation is the same as the result of Duckworth’s study and she concludes, “You can see a child be exceptionally self-disciplined about their basketball practicing, and yet when you see them in math class, they give up at the slightest frustration. (Duckworth, 2007)” In general, different people have different interests. A person can be less gritty on Math class but it doesn’t indicate he is not a gritty person on literature.
Development of Grit
To develop grit, first of all, we need to have a positive mind-set. Therefore, we are likely to take challenges and break away from the traditional rules. During this process, we will face many obstacles and failures, but a positive mind-set enables us to face a failure as a great opportunity to learn something and avoid repeating the same mistake next time. Additionally, we are supposed to develop self-control by resisting the temptations negatively affecting our studying and by highly concentrating on the current task at hand. Furthermore, setting up a study goal as early as possible is very essential. A good goal lets us know where to go and how to get there (Goodwin and Miller, 2013). In general, to be a successful college student, we need to have good study habits, develop test-taking strategies and manage time effectively. These good habits will help us earn high GPAs and outperform others, and the most important step to develop these good habits is to develop grit in college.
The word ‘intelligence’ usually pops up in people’s minds when asking them the most important factor of a student’s success. However, based on the research Duckworth conducted in 2007, we realize that grit plays a much more vital role, and talent is not correlated with the development of grit. The development of grit is very essential for us as grit helps us to become a high self-discipline student who is open to failure and obstacles at the same time. However, in reality, not every one succeeds to display grit on academics. Many factors contribute to this issue. One of the main reasons is that the differences in social status can cause a student to feel no sense of belonging, and as a result, he or she finds it hard to persist through college. Another main reason is that a person can display differently under different contexts and environments. Because of the significance of grit, we need to know how to develop our grit. In this case, having a positive mind-set and setting an early goal are extraordinarily important for us to achieve success.
Burke,L.A. (2013, January). College dropout rate called national crisis in new report. Politic365. Retrieved from http://politic365.com/2013/01/24/college-dropout- rate-called-national-crisis-in-new-report/
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson,C., Matthews,M.D., Kelly,D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance
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Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.
Goodwin, B., Miller, K. (2013,September). Research says/Grit plus talent equals student success. Resilience and Learning, 71, 74-76. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational- leadership/sept13/vol71/num01/Grit-Plus-Talent-Equals-Student-Success.aspx
Hanford, E. (2012,October 2). How important is grit in student achievement? KQED News. Retrieved from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/10/02/how-important-is-grit-in-student-achievement/
Wang, R. (2015). Grit scale test analysis. Unpublished raw data.