Research Paper

Grit, The Foundation of Success
Monica Y. Rivera
University of California, Davis


Why is grit considered a determinant of a college student’s success? The enclosed research explores the reasons as to why grit is such an important characteristic to have in high school in order to be successful as a college student. This study will help emphasize the importance in understanding the relationship between grit and drop out rates. The dropout rates that are being studied are of students transitioning from high school to college. Because within the last fifteen years the United States drop out rates have become an epidemic, the study focuses on the difference between the impact of high school students with grit and the impact of high school students without girt. Given that the transition from high school to college is difficult, to better demonstrate the importance of grit and how it greatly determines success, the study also expands to the impact grit has on first-year college students.

Grit, The Foundation of Success

Amongst students, success is not a privilege but an opportunity; an opportunity that has been earned through passion, time and effort. That passion, time, and effort derives from grit. Grit is a term that has just recently been discovered and it is defined as the perseverance and passion found in a student in order to achieve long-term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Mathews, & Kelly, 2007). High school students must develop a sense of grit in order to become successful college students because without grit, success is limited or non-existent and may cause students to be on the verge of being part of another dropout statistic.
High school students with grit

Grit is not just a quality to have but it is a quality that must be earned. “It entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress” (Duckworth et al., 2007). Though grit is not always an enjoyable trait to have due to the tremendous effort one must perform, it does result in more achievement. For instance, in a research conducted by Duckworth, Kirby, Tsukayama, Berstein, and Ericsson (2011) about gritty participants in a spelling bee, they discovered that if deliberate practice is more effortful and less enjoyable, then it is expected for grittier spellers to sustain more deliberate practices which in return would cause them to perform better at the National Spelling Bee. Having grit is having passion, no matter the obstacle, and the gritty spellers attested by performing well even when they did not enjoy the deliberate practices. Though grit is a factor in student success, one cannot always expect that success will come even if there is a great sense of grit present because part of having grit is an unwavering commitment to the process (C. Luu, personal communication, December 4th, 2014). Grit is not just about accomplishments, it is about learning from the process of failure and being able to make success out of it.

Grit is more than just passion, time, and effort; it is a particularly helpful trait when it comes to challenging experiences (Hanford and Radioworks, 2012). For example, high school students who are of a low-income status and have many struggles demonstrate grit when they are able to overcome such obstacles as having little to no resources because they have a desire to do something better for themselves and try to do something that has never been done before (Geis, 2005). Given that prospective longitudinal studies have shown that grit predicts the completion of challenging goals despite obstacles and set-backs (Duckworth and Gross, 2014), it is highly possible that if a high school student with grit sets a goal of going to college, they will achieve their goal.

High School Students without grit

High school drop out rates have increased tremendously and there are many reasons as to why high school students drop out before even obtaining their high school diploma. As Geis (2005) explains, when a person feels bored, it often serves as an indicator that it is time for that individual to change while on the other hand, an individual with grit will remain constant on their course. To a high school student without grit, boredom could mean difficult or uninteresting and change could mean giving up or looking for something easier which causes them to give up and drop out. In other words, less gritty students are more easily discouraged, prone to take “naps” mid-course, and frequently led off track by new passions (Duckworth and Eskreis-Wrinkler, 2013).

However, dropping out does not necessarily mean a student is not intelligent; intelligence does not measure nor predict success. There are smart people who are not high achievers, and there are people who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores (Hanford and Radioworks, 2012). There is high school students whom are very smart but yet do not succeed because they do not have the passion (grit) to do so. Crystal Luu argues that even though intelligence does not play a factor in a high school student’s sense of grit, a fixed mindset does; having a fixed-mind set does not allow the student to follow the criteria needed to achieve success (Personal communication, December 4th, 2014). Having a fixed- mindset can stop many high school students from preforming at their best, which will in return cause the dropout rates to continue to increase.

Impact of grit on first year college students

Transitioning from high school to college is very difficult because there are new environments, new people, and new goals that a student must adapt to. However, The gritty college student not only finishes tasks at hand but also pursues a given aim over years (Duckworth et al., 2007). Being a freshman in college is not just about having the short-term goal of finishing that first year in college, it is about seeking the future and thriving to achieve more.

Though the SAT is one of the most popular admission tests for undergraduates (Engel, 2013), as Barnes explains, people have become skeptical of the SAT (as cited in Engel, 2013). For that reason, colleges now also take a look at a student’s personal statement to determine how much effort, passion, and time (grit) one has put and will continue to put into their education. In addition, when a college student pursues an education as a long-term goal they are more likely to be successful because as Duckworth (2007) explains, the association between grit and education serves as evidence that sticking with long-range goals over time makes possible completion of high levels of education. For instance, some of Duckworth’s previous research shows that people who have some college experience but no college degree, then they are lower in grit than people who have college degrees (Hanford and Radioworks, 2012). Going to college may be one accomplishment but accomplishments do not end there. Rather than attending college and not thriving for more success, a first year college student demonstrates grit when they have the passion to pursue a degree.


Grit is more than just having the perseverance to accomplish long term-goals; it is mindset, where one pushes themselves forward to do so (C. Luu, personal communication, December 4, 2014). High school students demonstrate grit, not through intelligence, but through the passion one has to pull themselves forward from a failure. Research on grit is still in its infancy, and much remains to be discovered about its underlying psychological mechanisms (Duckworth and Gross, 2014), but one things has been proven: when a high school student attends college for the first year, their grit should not end there because a college student needs grit to have the strength and power to achieve success.

References Page
1. Duckworth A.L, Peterson C., Mathews M.D., and Kelly D. R. (2007). Personality Process and Individual Differences 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
2. Geis, Cathy. (2005). Low Socioeconomic status high school students who are academically successful: A phenomenological study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest. (3180936)
3. Hanford, Emily and RadioWorks, American. (2012). How Important is Grit in student achievement. Retrieved from
4. Engel, Leah. (2013). What Predicts First Semester College Performance? Cognitive Ability, SAT, Conscientiousness, and Grit (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest (3594291)
5. Duckworth, A. L., and Eskreis-Wrinkler, Lauren. (2013). True Grit. Observer. 26(4). Retrieved from
6. Duckworth, A. and Gross, J. J. (2014) Self Control and Grit: Determinants of success. Sage Journal, 23(5), 319-325. Doi: 10.1177/0963721414541462
7. Duckworth, A. L., Kirby, T. A., Tsukayama, E., Berstein, H., and Ericsson, A. k. (2011). Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee. Social Psychological and Personality Sciences 2(2), 174-181. Doi:10.1177/1948550610385872


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