The Importance of Grit at The Collegiate Level

The Importance of Grit at The Collegiate Level:
Learning How to Be Gritty in College
Tomas Torres – Garcia
Professor Zugnoni
University of California, Davis
Word Count: 2208


Grit is becoming an important topic in education because it is believed to have a major impact in student’s success. The research focused on finding what effects grit has on college students and the comparison between grit (which is also referred as perseverance) and intelligence (how much a student knows). The main questions that are expected to be assessed in this research paper are, is grit more important than intelligence? Is a gritty person more likely to succeed than an intelligent person? I will focus on the difference between students who have grit but may not be very intelligent and students who are intelligent but lack grit, I will review actions they believe may lead them towards success and how these actions may affect the chances of them being successful or not. My focus will be college students in the United States within the past 5 years.

The Beginning

Studying at the University level is extremely stressful, especially when studying at a UC (University of California), an Ivy League or any other demanding University around the country. The quarter system, which is used by most UC’s, moves very fast and forces students’ levels of stress to rise. At this point in their life they are expected to do various tasks like dealing with work, relationships, school and handling the fact that they are away from home. One may ask, how is it that students get this done? Students who achieve to graduate from a UC, or any other Universities that demand tremendous effort from the student, accomplish this because of their attitude. They face crucial obstacles that require them to have a strong character so that they can keep moving forward. In other words they need to have grit.

Success is being determined by how gritty a certain individual is. It is how dedicated or motivated someone is in achieving a particular long term goal or goals and how persistent they are (Duckworth 2007). While, intelligence is how well someone knows the material that is being covered. Grit is more important than intelligence. This is the main reason why students should learn grit in order to insure that they are successful at the different rigorous universities all around the country and to help them overcome the challenges they face like academic anxiety and social issues. Intelligence is perceived to be the main factor in not only getting students to college but maintaining them there. This is not necessarily true, they need to have a strong mentality in order to overcome any obstacle that they face. This mentality that must be developed will help them be successful not only while dealing with rigorous curriculum but with other non-educational obstacles that may be present during the time they spend in college.

Grit v. Intelligence

The perception that students have to achieve high grades and high test scores in order to be successful in college is misleading. Test scores and grades have nothing to do with how successful an individual will become. The character and the mentality that students have is more important than intelligence in determining success because as Terrell Strayhorn (2013) from Ohio State University, Professor in Education, explains, “[g]rit, alone, added incremental predictive validity over and beyond traditional measures of academic success such as high school grade point average and American College Test scores” (p. 1). Grades and test scores are what colleges usually focus on while selecting students. However, none of these things are as important as grit. Test scores, like the ones the American College Test provide, do not tell the full story of students. They do not measure how determined the student is or if they will ultimately become successful. These scores tell colleges how much an individual knows, but what it does not tell colleges is what type of attitude students have when facing monstrous academic barriers or personal problems. If a student cannot overcome difficult situations then he or she will simply not be successful. Intelligence is falsely looked at as the main factor that can make students successful. However, being successful is all about a student’s ability to keep moving forward even when times are extremely stressful and they feel like giving up.

One of the main reasons into which grittier people are expected to have more success in college based on their dedication and perseverance is because the smart individuals have a sense of security in the academics. The grittier individual knows that he or she is not smart and has to work harder and be mentally ready to take on anything that challenges them. The smarter individual, the one who has less grit, knows that they are smart and will most likely not study or practice for an exam as hard as the other grittier student. Grittier students are now accomplishing more than intelligent students as Emily Hanford (2014), a multimedia Journalist for American Radioworks, explains that intelligence does tell what a student can or will do because there are many who accomplish a lot without being the best in their class, and people who are the best but do not accomplish much (How is Grit Important in Student Achievement?). The reason to why there are students who achieve a lot without being the smartest is because they work hard to accomplish what task they may face. People who consider themselves smart tend not to work as hard as others because they feel a sense of confidence. They consider themselves to be superior than most of the other students because they believe that they do not have to any studying or practice because they have a specific talent that they were born with. These students will not achieve anything with this because it is well known that if you do not go out of your way and practice extra problems, or other material related to the one covered on the curriculum, than it will be very difficult for someone to achieve an A in the class. Grit is more important than intelligence, grit needs to be learned, if students focus on being gritty more than being smart then more of them will be successful in life.

Development of Grit in Different Stages of Life

Mental toughness and a strong character are not taught during high school and just because someone has had a life full of hardships does not mean that they will possess these characteristics. The two characteristics are crucial towards students’ success. It may be assumed that just because someone comes from a certain background or falls in a certain category in the economic status that he or she possesses grit. However, this is not necessarily true. Hanford (2014) states in her blog how Professor Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study about charter schools in which she determines that, “charter schools have succeeded in providing strong academic preparation. Most of their students go to college. Yet the students graduate from college at lower rates than would be expected based on their academic preparation” (How Grit is Important in Student Achievement?). Charter schools are institutions that cannot meet certain academic standards that the state sets. Once an institution does not meet these standards then it is taken over by that state. Charter schools are usually located in communities that are not very wealthy. It is thought that the students who usually attend these institutions show signs of grit, but truly do not possess the skills when they manage to arrive to college. Many of the students do not possess grit even though they come from a tough part of their community or have had rough lives. Graduating from a Charter school and attending college does not necessarily make someone gritty because grit is not determined based on how well students are thought to be prepared for college but in how they react when facing obstacles that get in between them and their goals. Many students who come from these areas are shocked when they attend college because it is a new environment and culture, but this does not mean that they cannot be successful. Grit can change this. Schools should spend some time teaching students grit while they prepare them for college.

Furthermore, another study was conducted about low income black males at predominantly white institutions which measured their success and tracked if the possessed the characteristics that they needed in order to be successful. Strayhorn (2014) gives insight to the success of black males when he says that, “Despite where they begin in terms of college readiness, Black males who exert more grit than their peers earn better grades in college” (p. 8). This is the answer to why students at Charter schools usually end up dropping out. They simply do not have grit. Some people learn grit from their life experiences but that is not ultimately true for everyone. Here we see students who may have not been ready for college or maybe spent two years at a community college but managed to be successful because of grit. Community colleges make students develop grit because here they see how competitive it is to get classes or even to be able to transfer into a higher University in two years. This forces them in a way to develop grit. A student’s background does not determine if they have grit or not. Success is determined by how determined someone is in succeeding.
Grit can be taught.

College students need to be successful because too much money and time is sacrificed during the four years that they are in college for them not to be successful. If most students where taught how to be gritty then most students would succeed. Even though they would face many obstacles. In an interview that Professor Voices (2014), a popular website in which a panel of students interviews different professors on different topics, conducted it was determined that grit can be learned. There are many ways in which teachers or parents can teach students grit. Scott Seider, assistant professor of the School of Education at Boston University, knows that grit can be taught in various ways. He believes that “all students possess grit or perseverance.” When Professor Voices asked him “How can students develop grit and what role do educators play in helping?” Seider responded, “[a] step that teachers can take to foster students’ grit is to provide the appropriate amount of scaffolding in a particular assignment so that the student feels he or she is capable of being successful.” This is perfect because Duckworth (2007) defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateausin progress” (p.1087). If a professor can structure assignments and provide students with the resources he or she needs in order to be successful then this would be perfect into helping them develop grit. If a student faces difficulty completing the assignments that would require them to go through a thought process then this would allow them to face challenges that they could solve by working a bit harder and by maintaining their persistence. This would help them develop grit and allow them to be successful.

Grit can be taught at any point in a student’s life, they can learn it at any stage, but the earlier the better. A second year Chemical Engineer major was interviewed because he comes from a rough background but seems not to develop grit until he reaches college. In a personal interview Pablo Cazares, second year Chemical Engineer, told me all about himself and what type of student he was. Mr. Cazares explained to me that he is from a low income neighborhood in Southern California and that his parents taught him how to be gritty. He explains that his parents would push him academically in his childhood until he was able to complete any type of assignment no matter how tough it was. This young man uses grit in order to handle the complex curriculum that comes along with majoring in Chemical Engineering. Pablo definitely has the mentality that is required to be successful in college and he believes that he owes it all to his parents. For Pablo grit was taught to him by his parents at an earlier age but this does not simply need to be the case.

Instructors and school officials can also teach kids and young adults how to be gritty. Tovia Smith (2014), a reporter for the NPR News National Desk in Boston, mentions a study done by Jason Baehr, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University, in which he developed a program in Long Beach, California where he incorporates the idea of grit and focuses on teaching grit to younger students. He explains that “Students get to practice being gritty themselves. When a kid struggles to answer a question, for example, teachers resist the urge to swoop in and offer hints. Instead, they let the students squirm a little” (Does Teaching Kids to Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?). The reason why he is letting kids struggle is to “get kids comfortable with the struggle so they see it as just a normal part of learning” (Does Teaching Kids to Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?). Obviously, teaching kids how to struggle at an early age is preparing them for future obstacles like college. If they develop a strong character and a strong mentality then they will be able to carry these characteristics into college and allow them to be successful. Grit for college students is the most important characteristic that they can utilize in order to pass all their classes, achieve their goals of going to graduate school or succeed in their future careers. Grit does not have to be taught at an earlier age. It would be very beneficial for someone to learn grit at an earlier age but this skill can also be developed during college in order for students’ to be successful.


Intelligence has not been the determinant for success. Grit is the only characteristic that the student at any university should obtained in order to get them through those long nights and weeks in which they have to do extensive studying. Students are getting grittier, intelligent students are getting left behind and are producing below what they should be accomplishing. Grit is the key towards success, picture what would be if an intelligent student develops grit. He or she would be able to accomplish anything that they put their mind too. Grit is the ultimate answer that students need in order to succeed in college. It does not matter what you know or that you have photographic memory, all that matters is that you are able to work hard, be persistent in what you want to accomplish and never give up. This will ultimately lead anyone towards success, it does not matter where they come from or what their grades or test score were in high school. Grit can be learned in any stage of life and help them be successful whenever they feel like they need it. Now imagine if grit was taught all throughout the educational system then once students arrive to college then they would be even more prepared than ever. This would be incredible because with higher education more people are able to improve the world we live in. It does not matter if they are doctors, writers, engineers or mathematicians because they would all contribute to bettering our society someway somehow.


Duckworth, A. L. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92.6, 1087-1101
Hanford E. (2012, October 2). How Important is Grit in Student Achievement?
Retrieved from
Professor Voices (Interviewer) & Seider S. (Interviewee). (2014). Education Gets Gritty: Why
Character Matters for Academic Success. Web site:
Smith T. (2014, March 17). Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?
Retrieved from
Strayhorn L. T. (2013). What Role Does Grit Play in the Academic Success of Black Male Collegians at Predominantly White Institutions?
Journal of African American Studies. 18.1, 1-10


Personal Interview
Pablo Cazares
Chemical Engineer
Pasadena, California
Ethnicity Mexican American
3:55pm at Temescal Apartments

How hard did you work in high school and what grades and test scores did you achieve?
A- High School was too easy for me, I barely worked hard to achieve the grades I did. I can honestly say that I did not work as hard I should have.
Notes – May not have possessed grit in high school or may have just not been challenged enough.
Do you consider yourself a hard working college student? Why or why not?
A- I do consider myself a hard working college student, I do homework and complete all my assignments on time.
Notes – Chemical engineers usually have a huge workload so if this is all completed and turned in on time then he does have some grit.
What kind of background do you come from?
A- I come from a low income family in which education was always key, my parents pushed me to graduate high school and attend a four year university so that I could live a better life than they did.
Notes – Could be used right after I talk about how background can or cannot be related to grit.
Are you the type of person to prepare for an exam in advance or a couple days before?
A- I usually like to prepare for exams in advance because even if I know the material I know that I have a better chance of accomplishing better grades is I study earlier.
Notes – He is motivated and seems to be well prepared for the exam likes preparing before.
What are your current grades in college?
A- In my 4 quarters at Davis, I have maintained my grades to be about a B+ average.
Note – not bad for a gritty student.
Are you satisfied with the grades you are obtaining?
A- I am satisfied with the grades that I currently have but I feel like I can do a lot better if I would put a bit more of work into it
notes – Why is he not putting in more wok, might be because he lack grit or he doesn’t truly possesses all characteristics.
What do you usually do to prepare for a test?
A- I usually go over all the notes, fill out study guides if provided and try to do as many practice problems as possible.
Notes- study skills that a gritty student would have
Do you consider yourself to be an intelligent individual?
A- I consider myself to be average, I know that I am not smart but I also know that I am not dumb.
Notes – he is humble does not consider himself smart but more of an average student.
How hard in your perspective is the workload in college?
A- The workload in college is extremely difficult there are many distractions and social events that can distract you from your academics but the key is to balance all this out and push through.
Notes – hard workload but accomplishes it, this is grit.

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