It Takes Grit to Be Successful in College

Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, says that college students need "grit" in order to succeed in college. Duckworth defines grit as "the ability to stick with things over the long term." Duckworth is right: in order to be successful in college, a student must persevere.

Duckworth explains that, in general, people are interested in the novel and new-when things are exciting. But as the newness wears off, that interest/hobby/project becomes routine and requires practice, effort, and dedication to continue. Those without grit lose their staying power, effectively derailing themselves from mastering whatever the new interest was-tennis, piano, a foreign language. If that new and novel interest was college, the student without tenacity may quit trying, may let social activities overtake studies, or may just stop showing up for class. It takes a gritty college student to successfully stick-it-out through those boring required classes, and to successfully figure out time and priorities.

Just how does a college student "get grit?" It should come from his or her living and learning environment, both school and home. Of course, not all environments promote tenacity, not even some well-meaning school environments. Duckworth studied some high-performing charter schools that are successful at raising their students' achievement levels, but she found that high performance did not necessarily transfer to college success. Many of these charter schools hold a "no fail" policy, which means teachers and administrators provide a scaffolding to keep their students from any failure while under the school's care. Teachers may tell students to call them at home, at any hour, if they are struggling with an assignment, or teachers may meet with students outside of school hours, at the student's convenience, to work through math problems or a writing assignment. When these same students get to college, they often collapse, unable to figure out how to succeed academically on their own, unable to figure out the college bureaucratic requirements, or unable to deal with roommate conflicts.