Research Paper

Grit: Is It Really Important to College Students

Introducing Grit

What is grit’s meaning? In the course reading, grit means fortitude and determination. In addition, in the Dict online dictionary, grit also means “hard coarse-grained siliceous sandstone.” However, I believe that grit is a type of personal quality. People should have the quality, which is like that the stones endure the wind’s blowing and the rain’s whipping, to endure setbacks and failures. Through the ages, Confucian cultural values still believe that grit is the most important cause of success. In fact, we also can find some useful ideas about grit from Confucian education such as Mencius said:

“Thus, when Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his minds, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies” (Legge, 1960, p. 176).

In other words, Mencius’ saying means that people should have grit to face any obstacles and difficulties and then they can get successes. Coincidentally, the English saying, “Threatened man live long,” also shows us the similar opinion that hardships will make people more gritty and grit can help people became more successful.

After we discuss what grit is, we also need to know how grit is important to college students. Since a lot of studies and sources have proven that grit is a very important character, which can help college students be more successful in their studies and lives. Therefor,  I believe that grit is really important to college students in their academic performance and their daily lives.


Grit in Academic success

In Professor Duckworth “Grit” Scale study, all sources showed that grit influences college students’ academic success. The “Grit” Scale test is very similar to a psychology survey that does not have “correct” answers to each question. This test’s result is 1 point to 5 points, which means not gritty to very gritty. In her first study, it mentioned that grittier adults were more likely to have attained a higher level of education. Also, her third study told us that grit was correlated with the GPA of college students (Duckworth, 2007). In order to prove the results of the “Grit” Scale study, I invited some friends to take the “Grit” Scale test.

In Table 1, Lee and Wong have the highest “Grit” Scale Score. They are my high school classmates who study at the University of Toronto and the University of Sydney now. Lee was our monitor during the last two years of high school because all of his other classmates were getting ready to apply for universities and colleges at that time. At the beginning, some people worried that Lee could not do this job well because his dream university was the University of Toronto, which is the best university in Canada. In fact, he did this job very well and also got the offer from the University of Toronto. He kept his 4.0 out of 4.0 GPA until he graduated from our high school. Presently, his college GPA is 3.97 out of 4.0 and he also joins two clubs. In other words, he is not only good at studying; he also has excellent performance in his college life.

Let us turn our attention to Table 1. Sha has the lowest “Grit” Scale Score. She is my friend, who studies at the Shenzhen Polytechnic (the local vocational technical education). She is an outgoing girl. However, she was very lazy in high school because she did not like to spend too much time studying. She also chose to shrink back when she faced any difficulties. She also does not do well in her college because she resists accepting any new and difficult knowledge. Nevertheless, she can do well in her academic performance because she is very smart. Sha can have a good future if she can be a grittier person that endures any difficulties and setbacks.

Some articles also use data and studies to prove that grit is very important to college students’ academic success. In the article “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” the first study result mentioned “As we predicted, more educated adults were higher in grit than were less educated adults of equal age,” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007, p. 1091). In other words, in the first study, grittier people were more likely to have received a higher level of education and low “Grit” Scale Score’s people were more likely to have attained a lower level of education. In addition, Vicki Davis’ opinion in the article “True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It” agrees with “Grit Scale” results in Professor Duckworth’s research that “Duckworth developed with Chris Peterson, they found that grit is a better indicator of GPA and graduation rates,” and “As GPA becomes more important, grit will become more recognized as a vital part of 21st century student success — as well it should be.” In Davis and Duckworth’s articles, they show us the similar opinion that grit is very important to students’ success with the result of Table 1. Coincidentally, Hanford (2012) concludes that college students, who have higher grit, get the higher GPAs. She also mentions that grit also is an important factor in completing community colleges (CC) and traditional four-year universities (comprehensive university and liberal art colleges). We know that grit is really important to college students’ academic success after discussing those articles above.

Table 1

Table 1


  1. The “Grit” Scale Score, all from my friends, who took Professor Angela Duckworth’s “Grit” Scale study ( in the past week.
  2. The score level from 1 (not gritty) to 5 (very gritty).
  3. In order to protect privacy, all of those names are aliases.
  4. All of those four people are college students.

Grit in Daily Life

In the discussion above, all results show that grit is very important to college students’ academic performance. In fact, grit also influences college students’ success in their daily lives. However, some college students do not know how to develop grit and be grittier because they are satisfied with their current situations. They do not want to do more work to have better academic performances and better lives. This kind of behavior, which mentioned above, is very similar with the Taxi Drivers’ study that all taxi drivers in the New York City have a goal that they need to make $1,000 every day—and after they achieve that goal, they go home. In fact, they can achieve their goal quickly on a rainy day because more people need taxis due to the bad weather (Gough, The Significance of Grit: A Conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth, September 2013). In fact, these taxi drivers can get more money if they work the same hours as a sunny day. However, they need to suffer through the bad weather and very busy traffic conditions. Namely, these drivers can be more successful in their lives if they are grittier. Moreover, in the recent research, which led by Mark Seery, he found that “adults who had experienced little or no adversity growing up were actually less happy and confident than those who had experienced a few significant setbacks in childhood” (Tough, 2012). In other words, those significant setbacks can help people become grittier and then more success in their lives. So, grit is important to college students’ success in their daily lives.

I interviewed an international student named Sam Song who has been studying abroad since he was 15 years old. I asked him about the experience of his past six years in the U.S.A. His response was: “The first two years are very difficult period to me because I did not like American food and I could not speak fluent English. In addition, I missed my hometown and home country. However, I still remember what my dream is. So I chose stay here to endure any difficulties and setbacks. I learned a lot experiences after I overcoming difficulties and setbacks. This is the real reason why I am study abroad.” Let us go back to Table 1. We find that Sam has one of the highest “Grit” Scale Scores, which means that he has high level of grit. As I know, Sam has a lot of friends because he is an outgoing and grittier person. He always brings confident and optimistic feelings to each person. In other words, Sam succeed in his life because he has the good relationship with each person and a grittier manner. The behaviors we can learn from Sam’s story is how to study grit because college students can improve their grit level when they surmount each difficulty.

According to the Taxi Drivers’ study, Tough’s article, and Sam’s interview, they all prove that grit is very important to college students’ success in their daily lives. Moreover, these three sources also show that college students do not develop their grit level because some of them are satisfied with their current situations.

What Should People Do for College Students’ Success?

We know that grit is really important to college students’ success after the discussion above. However, what should adults do for college students’ grit? Some parents and instructors like to praise college students because they believe that these children are old enough and they do not need any feedback and suggestions from their supporting adults. However, the reality is the opposite: college students are at the critical point of their lives. They need more feedback and suggestions to develop their lives. They can independently face every difficulty and setback if they get some experiences from their supporting adults. After surmounting these difficulties and setbacks, their grit level will be improved. Nevertheless, they will lose the chance to improve their grit level if they just receive praise because praise lets people lose interest (Kohn, 2001).

At UC Davis, all college students can get the different kinds of feedback and suggestions from their instructors, TAs, RAs, major advisors, and the Dean’s office. Since people always cannot find their own problems, these feedback and suggestions will help college students to find their own problems and to solve them. Then these students will be grittier. This is the reason why feedback and suggestions is very important to college students.

Nevertheless, How colleges and instructors can help their students to study grit? In Davis’ article (2014), she mentions ten methods to study grit: reading books about grit, talking about grit, sharing opinions and examples, helping students to develop grit and so on.


Grit is really important to college students because it can help them be more gritty people and be more successful in daily life and on academics in the future. Some researchers mention that grit and self-discipline replace IQ in explaining academic success (Komarraju, Karau, & Schmeck, 2009, p. 48). We also discussed the importance of grit on academic success by Davis, Hanford and Prof. Duckworth’s articles and “Grit” Survey Data. And the result of this discussion: higher “Grit” Scale Score’s people can be more successful on academics. I mentioned the Taxi Drivers’ study and Tough’s article to explain how grit can help college students more successful in their lives and why people should not be content with the status quo. On Sam’s interview, we can know that college students will be grittier when they face all difficulties and setbacks and then surmount all of them. In addition, I mention how college students improve their grit level for more successful in daily life and on academics by Davis’ article. In the end of discussion, I also show why supporting adults (parents, instructors) should give more feedback and suggestions rather than praise to college students for their success and how colleges and instructors can help their students learn grit.

Hanford (2012) mentions, “If you’re going to get through a two-year college where the attrition rate is 50 or maybe even 75 percent, maybe you do need more grit to surmount all those obstacles.” Due to this high dropout rate, we know that grit is an important factor in completing four-year universities and community colleges. So, all high school senior and college students should learn grit to improve their possibility of graduation.


Davis, V. (2014, January 9). True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It | Edutopia. Retrieved from

Dict online dictionary –

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Gough, D. P. (2013, September). The Significance of Grit: A Conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 14-20. Retrieved from

“Grit” Scale tools (

Hanford, E. (2012, October 2). How Important is Grit in Student Achievement? | MindShift. Retrieved from

Interview with Sam Song in person on March 1st, 2015

Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., & Schmeck, R. R. (2009). Role of the Big Five personality traits in predicting college students’ academic motivation and achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(1), 47-52. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2008.07.001

Legge, J. (1960). KAOU TSZE. PART II. In The Chinese classics (p. 176). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Tough, P. (2012, September 5). Back to School: Why Letting Your Kids Struggle Helps Them Succeed | Retrieved from


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