Grit in college

Can students be more successful in college if they are gritty?


College students never stop looking for ways to achieve academic success. “Can smart students always succeed in academics?”, “Can other students be successful in high education and how?” are always the more discussed questions on campus. The characteristic of “grit” seems to be the key to academic success in college. Research amongst college students shows that students who are gritty typically have higher GPA than those who are not gritty. Gritty students are more likely to succeed in their long-term goals in college. Why does this happen and how can grit help college students? This research paper is about telling college students the importance to develop grit and how can they develop grit. Before looking for the answer, let’s talk about the study environment in college.

Why is Grit Needed?

Most freshmen find it difficult for them to adapt college classes because college education requires an enormous amount of grit from students. Different from high school education, college is the place that requires students to comprehend huge amounts of knowledge in professional area and in a short span of four years. Everyday, students learn new things in college. Most time, college study is like a race of seeing who can learn the most at a faster pace. College education is competitive. In universities in California, students are supposed to take roughly 15 units each quarter and each unit requires a 3-hour study time and a 1-hour lecture time. Overall, students need to spend 60 hours studying per week. Imagine that each student sleeps 8 hours every day, then learning time accounts for more than half of the 112-hour waking time. College is full of challenges, which makes grit essential for students’ success. In the academic counseling study tips of Cornel College, which is a private liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa founded in 1853, it says that, college students may have spent 8 hours in classes and done homework for an hour or two everyday. In college, students learn independently with the help of professors knowledgeable in the course material. As a result, students are expected to spend 2-4 hours for both in class and outside of class to comprehend the content of the course. Thus, to fully understand the knowledge from the lecture, students should grit daily for to help them succeed.
What is grit?

Now that grit is essential for college education, it is time to define grit. Does having grit mean only spending time studying? In Emily Hanford’s article, “How Important is Grit in Student Achievement”, she writes that “Grit is a particularly helpful trait when it comes to challenging experiences, and for the charter school students, college tends to be a challenging experience”. Hanford discusses the work of Psychologist Angela Duckworth who argues that grit is a characteristic that can help students face difficulties, remain persistent and overcome challenges. In her article, she illustrates that most charter college students come from family without college-educated backgrounds. Studying in college may be more difficult and confusing for those students. The reason for this is because students without college education background of their family are not familiar with the college environment. They may take several weeks to find a workshop and the office hours. They are not familiar with the utilities so they have to discover where to lend the book, how to use the library search tool online and the policy of the college by themselves. They do not know how stressful they will undertake so they may also waste time on preparing for studying plan or have too many activities. In these situations, students are likely to feel frustrated and feel helpless because they knew nothing about college before. In “Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals”, authors, Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., and Kelly, D., indicate, “We define 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 plateaus in progress.” Achieving academic success in college for 4 years long is a long-time goal that is like a marathon. Belief is another important trait of grit to students to continuously struggling with college study. Gritty students have passion for their major, their lifelong dream and their responsibility of family can all lead them to access the long-term academic success. Handford argues that students in charter schools usually take more responsibility of their family, so that they pay more attention on their performance in college, which can influence their paying of jobs in the future. This reason motivates students in the charter college to be the grittiest ones than other college students. In other words, even they are not the smartest students in college, but they are not easily yield to the frustration. Once they face challenges, their responsibility of family, their dream jobs and their whole life achievements can all support them overcome difficulties. This motivation and effort are called “grit”. Often, these gritty students are the ones who achieve the highest academic success according to the research of Hanford in her article.

How to develop Grit?

Many college students want to know how to be gritty. As we all know, everyone born with different intelligence, but, fortunately, everyone is born with different levels of grit. Although both intelligence and grit take significant roles of achieving academic success and sometime grit is more crucial, is grit the same as intelligence that it is inherent and stable? The answer is no and grit is changeable as well as accessible by everyone. In “Grit” and the New Character Education, the author indicates that the main reason leading students to give up is that “when students struggle they may believe they lack ability and give up” and “feelings of confusion”. On contrast, if students can get rid of frustrated feelings, they will develop grit. In this way, teachers can help a lot. Instructors change students’ attitude to challenge tasks by letting them treat challenges as “the hallmark of learning”. Students think difficulties in studying as a normal part of learning that every scholar will undertake, and they are not easily to give up by infinitely enlarging one single failure. Mistakes are the ordinary fare in exams. Students need to face them with positive attitudes. Instructors should never stop praising on students’ effort to encourage and motivate them. “Kids are thrilled by the idea that they can grow their brains through their effort and strategy”, Dweck says (in The Difference Between Praise And Feedback). By praising on their grit, students gain confidence to learn from their mistakes, comprehend complicated knowledge and achieve academic success in college by putting in efforts. If a student does not loss his patience and passion of studying in college, he will keep on grit and progress sooner or later. Also, by repeated practicing, students can make up their lack of intelligence then others. Spending more time persisting on solving sample questions can develop students’ exam and homework skills, since practice makes perfect. In the next paragraph I provides a real example of a gritty student who achieves academic success in college.

A real example

In 4-year college study, students possibly read hundreds of pages, write research papers and do practice problems everyday. Being persistent is not enough to prevent giving up. Students may experience the process of failure and resilience many times. A gritty student is both persistent and passionate of what he is learning. I interviewed Sarker Farhana, a senior student in University of California, Davis. She is very gritty, always stays up late studying but never quits. She shows the importance of grit in achieving college academic success. Farhana is in computer science and engineering major. In this major, a student needs to take almost 150 units of professional courses out of 180 units totally to graduate. She studies a lot and her GPA is over 3.5 out of 4 so far. She said “I study often, I guess, like for hours. I don’t ever stop studying until like I feel I understand the problem. If I don’t understand it, then I keep trying until I understand it. I go to office hours. I have fun when I do the codes, cause’ I like coding. It’s like that.” Coding is like a marathon, once a programmer sits in front of the computer and start writing codes, he can hardly stop before solving the problem. Farhana has a motivation to focus on solving one problem for a long time. She likes coding. She never feel tired of writing a function and she always feel happy of solving a problem. More importantly, she faces difficulties directly and never stops comprehending the knowledge. She is gritty. When I asked her “which one do you think is more important grit or intelligence to help students achieve academic success?” She chose grit without any hesitation. Since college study was really challenging and difficult, preparing for homework, project and exams took her plenty of time. Even a smart student would mess up his study, if he did not put in grit. When it went to the upper division of college courses, Farhana thought study became harder and she put more effort in it. Farhana may be a smart student, but she is more a gritty student. She succeeded in college and she agreed that grit helped her more than her intelligence did.

Recently, grit is highly esteemed as an essential trait for college students to achieve academic success by most educators. At the same time, college education can also train students’ grit. In Educational Leadership magazine, Hoerr says at the end of his article, “if we want our students to develop grit, we need to do so, too. We need to take ourselves out of our own comfort zones and learn how to respond to frustration and failure. And just maybe we’ll develop grit, too!” The challenging circumstance of colleges motivates students to be gritty while grit benefits students accessing success. Grit is the thing that students need to learn and develop throughout their whole college life.

Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., and Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1087-1101. Retrieved from

Hanford, E. (2012, October 2). How Important is Grit in Student Achievement? Periodical of KQED. Retrieved from

How Much Time Should You Devote to Studying? Academic Counseling Study tips of Cornel College. Retrieved from

Pappano, L. (2013). ‘Grit’ and the New Character Education. Education Digest, Vol. 78 Issue 9, p4-9, 6p. Retrieved from

Kamenetz, A. (2014, March 28). The Difference Between Praise And Feedback. Journal of KQED. Retrieved from

Hoerr, T. (2012, March). Principle Connection / Got Grit? Journal of Big Ideas Math. Retrieved from


I interviewed Sarker Farhana after math22B class on November the 24th in 2014. She is a senior student in University of California, Davis. She is my classmate and I find she is very gritty when study. Thus, I interviewed her about the topic “grit”.

Hi Farhana, what’s your major?

Hi, my major is computer science and engineering.

Do you know about “grit”?

No, I don’t know anything about grit.

Well, grit is both effort and passion. You have grit of college study, which means you study hard as well as you are passionate about the study. So do you think you are gritty?

Yah, I think so. I mean, in terms of effort, at least I try to put a lot of effort.

And how do you put in like efforts?

I study often, I guess, like for hours. I don’t ever stop studying until like I feel I understand the problem. If I don’t understand it, then I keep trying until I understand it. I go to office hours. I have fun when I do the codes, cause’ I like coding. It’s like that.

Do you think college study is a challenge or do you feel it is hard?

Uh…. I think it’s a challenge and it’s hard, especially like classes get harder. Like upper divisions, at the beginning it’s ok, but it definitely get much harder.

Do you think students can achieve academic success in college with grit or without it?

I think they have to grit, definitely.

Which one do you think is more important grit or intelligence to help students achieve academic success?

I think grit is more import. Because you can be intelligent, but if you don’t put in effort, you probably would do just badly.



We Need Oral English Classes

Problem: Students in China rarely have opportunities to speak English and they feel difficulties in communicating with foreigners in English.

Audience: English teachers in High School in Shanghai, China


Dear English teachers in High Schools in Shanghai,

I grew up in Shanghai, China and began learning English in elementary school. In classes, my tasks included copying new words, listening to tapes and reciting texts. I, as well as all other students in China, read articles and word lists aloud over and over every morning in school to help memorize phrases and sentence structures. When I first attended English classes in first grade, my teacher repeatedly taught me to write down texts by heart, because exams in school were focused on the completion of full sentences. Today, even the simplest conversations such as, “How are you?” “Fine, thank you. And you?” still resonate with me. An example of how this memorization is meeting the bare minimum of communication in China can be explained through a Chinese joke. The joke talks about a policeman who came to save a Chinese man who fell into the well and asked him “How are you?”, the Chinese man replied “Fine, thank you. And you?” Although this joke is funny, it is also sad. It shows that the main use of language that students learned in school in Shanghai is not for actual communication, but for exams.

In high school, the situation became worse. My English teachers focused more on training students exam skills, since people thought that high school students’ all three-year effort was to achieve high scores in their college entrance examination. The policy was strict that each high school student could only take this exam once a year and no more than three times. Moreover, English listening, reading and writing tests were all mandatory in this exam but there was no oral English exam. Everyone felt nervous. Both teachers and parents wanted students to spend their time on reviewing the examination. This exam is thought as the only gate accessing to success in China. A high score in this exam is like a raffle ticket. Students’ whole lives are thought to depend on their performance in this exam. They thought that every minute was a waste when students were doing other things. Scores was the most important thing that students should work for. If something did not influence scores, parents and teachers expected children to ignore it. This was the reason that no schools in Shanghai paid attention to having oral English classes. The only chance that I would speak English was to answer my teacher’s questions but they were also about reciting texts. I never communicated with classmates in English in high school. I did not realize how important and useful the oral part to English was, until I came to the United States. I hoped that English teachers in high school in Shanghai could encourage students to speak a second language, English. If teachers in China could add at least one oral English class every week because language was for communication, not for exams, students would benefit a lot in the future.

When I first came to the University of California, Davis in the United States, I found that it was a big problem for me to express myself to others in English. Although I had already learned English for more than ten years, I still felt a struggle with saying complete sentences in English because conversations were really fast. I usually had to translate Chinese sentences in my mind to English instead of saying them in English directly. Because I was so used to the phrases and unchangeable sentence structures in Chinese schools, I always worried about my word choice and grammar before I said something. I felt extremely nervous when speaking to a native speaker. I was afraid that any oral mistakes could lower my GPA, since I experienced it in China. This problem made me respond slowly and it was a big language barrier of my communication with my peers. When I was thinking during the conversation, I could not help saying “uh” or “an”, which were like “well” in English. It was really hard for my classmates and roommates to understand me. They had to rehearse my words to ensure that they understood me correctly. I felt hard to communicate an idea that I in fact wanted to communicate. I was embarrassed when my friends asked that, “Can you say that again?” “Do you mean that…?” or “What’s your point?” I thought more than once that if I would have more opportunities to speak English in high school in Shanghai, this situation would be better. It was ridiculous that I spent more than ten years in learning a second language that was useless when I needed it to communicate. I still spent a long time to adapt the English language environment.

Not only I but also my friends, who study and work in Shanghai now, also feel the English they learned in school is useless. My friends meet more and more English speaking students in College in Shanghai and most of my friends dare not to speak in English in public. Since they rarely communicate in English, they all worry about being idiots by making stupid grammar mistakes and choosing wrong word during conversations. My friends feel depressive that as adults they cannot even express themselves clearly. Thus, most of my friends keep silence in front of English speaking students in College and never go out of the circle of Chinese people. Many of my friends also work in companies in Shanghai. They usually complain that it is hard for them to find jobs because of their poor oral English. Although they are very competitive in the academic field, employers also prefer employees who are good at communicating in English. Especially in companies in Shanghai, my friends find that it is inevitable to work with English speaking cooperators. The better a worker’s oral English is, the more efficiently he will work with others. Therefore, they all think that high schools in Shanghai are lack of oral English classes.

I suggest that English teachers in high school in Shanghai give an oral language instruction in English once a week. Students go to high school for education and it is the last station for students to get ready for a wider society. The college entrance examination is just a door through school to the outside world. When students go to colleges and companies in Shanghai, they will meet people from all over the world. Students do not learn second language just for exams. Learning English in school aims at helping Chinese students communicate with foreigners. Chinese students need more chances to practice their oral part to English, which can benefit their future life after high school.

Yiru Sun.


Cover page

Portfolio Cover Letter

Dear portfolio readers,

Before taking UWP1, I thought “good writing” was to write down normalized words and complex sentences. I used professional words and uncommon phrases in my arguments to show my readers that I was talking about a profound topic. I also wanted to show my knowledge in my papers, so I usually gave out a stack of examples and I thought these examples were enough to analyze my statements. However, I realized I was totally wrong when I start taking UWP1.

At the beginning of this quarter, I was asked to read one of the essays I wrote before. I rummaged through my shelf and found some hard copy of my essays I wrote last quarter. It was no more than one year after I wrote them. I read my first assignment for WKL57 aloud. I was shocked when reading it. Long sentences were everywhere in this paper. Examples and arguments had less connection. I had to repeatedly look back at the center sentence to ensure where I was in each paragraph. This paper was like a shitty first draft without enough analysis and clear organization. I did not remember what I wanted to write in it. At that moment, I realized that “good writing” was to write down my ideas clearly. It was to let every reader easily understand what I wanted to say in my essay. If my audiences were lost and confused when reading it, then my article must be terrible. Moreover, long sentences and specialized words just made the situation worse. Since my audiences were my peers and instructors, casual but critical words were more precise and powerful to show my thoughts.

I choose to include assignment2 in my portfolio because this is a totally new essay. Assignment1, on the other hand, is about reflecting the essay I wrote before. I write a new genre, a formal problem letter, in assignment2. Its topic is familiar to me, which is about pointing out a problem on second language education to my high school English teachers. When writing the first draft, I free wrote a lot about this thesis because English was my second language and I said it everyday in college. I made an outline, synthetize my views and experiences. In class, peer review part was helpful. I talked with my partners. They figured out my spelling errors, normalized words and grammar mistakes in my paper. In the office hour, my instructor also let me know where I should specify in my essay. Sometimes, I had thought I explained enough like, “Chinese students thought spending time on speaking English was a waste of time, because high school graduate exam did not include that part.” Nevertheless, my audiences were all Americans. Most of them had never been to China. They did not understand why not spending time on exams was wasting time. When I was explaining further to my classmates and instructor orally, I realized that was what I needed to include in my paper. My audiences knew nothing about me. My article was responsible for showing all I wanted to say and the trajectory of my thinking to my readers. Once I ensured who my audiences were, I should consider what they wanted to know and what they did not know. Then, I could chose proper words and gave out sufficient analysis in my paper, which were easily for my readers to understand and reduced their confusion. In each draft on assignment2, I changed and improved a lot. This time, I revised this paper because I received many comments from my instructor. As a reader, she pointed out several places that I did not analyze enough in the essay. She also suggested that I could have a better organization to make statements clear. In the sentence, “I hoped that English teachers in high school in Shanghai could encourage students to speak a second language, English, and add at least one oral English class every week because language was for communication, not for exams.” Here, a couple of ideas were in one sentence. If I broke my ideas apart and analyze each one, readers would feel easier when reading it. Also, in the second paragraph, the word “English” appeared a lot. Thus, I referenced this paragraph this time. In the portfolio, I improved organization, specified statements and rewrote some sentences to achieve a “good and efficient writing”.

In assignment4, I highlighted my thesis this time. My statements were vague last time that I provided a lot of ideas “the stress of college”, “how to foster grit” but I did not focus on “grit” itself. In this research paper, the sense of audience was also weak. I was like introducing the college and my paper flowed. Therefore, when I was revising it this time, I reduced many meaningless words and analyzed more about “grit”.

This quarter, I learned how to write for audiences, how to show my thinking and how to organize my paper. I hope that these “efficient writing” skills benefits me anytime when I am writing.

Thank you for reading!


Yiru Sun