Research Paper


Grit and First Year College Students

Gin Hua Yang

Word count: 1435

University of California Davis


The paper discuss how grit influences first-year college students’ success. More specifically, it focuses on how grit allows first-year students to continue into their second year when they faces difficulties. My hypothesis is that first-year students who have higher grit can overcome the difficulties more easily and are able to persist in school. The three difficulties in this paper is: academic difficulties, financial difficulties, and social difficulties. In addition to analyzing three difficulties, I analyses a grit Duckworth (2007) grit survey and interview a second-year student to test my hypothesis whether first-year students with higher grit are more successful.


According to Angela L. Duckworth (2007), grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” However, why is grit important? Duckworth mentions that grit is the main factor influencing student academic success. Since first-year students are not familiar with college education, they easily lose grit when facing difficulties. All first-year students has to face new difficulties, how do they overcome the difficulties, moving toward their second year of college, and then go on to successfully graduate? Duckworth’s research also indicates that “a person’s grit score is highly predictive of achievement under challenging circumstances” (Handford, 2012). First-year students need much grit to overcome academic, financial and social difficulties.

Academic Difficulties

 Grades are always big concerns for first-year students. They must spend time adapting to different study environments. Materials in college are harder than that in high school. Duckworth et al (2007) mention that performance in high school (including GPA and SAT scores) does not necessary to performance in college (p.1095). A great high school GPA do not predict great college GPA. College materials is a now beginning of learning for first year students. College classes require more analysis and application and students are expected to learn materials on their own in college. Competition of grades is also difficult to first-year students. Students compete with others with diverge ability in high school, students who have high talent can out complete other students with lower passion and talent with grades. On the contrary, since students in same college have similar ability and passion in learning, grit is important to students to complete with other students. Self-control and persistence become important to first-year college students. Duckworth (2007) also says that in elite universities, students with higher grit tend to have higher GPA (1093). First-year students with much grit can be more successful in academic performance.

Economic Difficulties

 Many first-year students cannot afford expensive tuition in the UC system. Worse, the tuition of UC keeps increasing, “For undergraduates who are California residents, tuition next year could rise to $12,804, not including room, board and books. By the 2019-20 school year, that could increase to $15,564” (Gordon, 2014, para. 2). This situation can make more first-year college students, who cannot afford the tuition, drop out of the college before second year. It also means that students face more financial pressure to study in the UC system, this way, financial aid and scholarship becomes important for first-year students. Once they cannot receive enough financial support, they tend to withdraw from college. “… 18 percent of full-time freshmen who were not eligible for Pell Grants withdrew from college by the next year” (Bettinger, 2004, p.208). The data show that colleges are short of financial aid support for every college students to complete their first year, which also causes students’ lack of persistence to continue their second year.

Social Difficulties

First-year students face difficulties with social relationship. Harke (2010) describes, “The Freshmen Myth” that first-year student left college because “they are not prepared for their new social environment,” which includes peer pressure. In addition to financial problems, social environment is also a problem for first year student. How a student interacted with his social relationship with others could decide how the student prepared for the college. Students tend to follow their peers’ behaviors. When the students approach to social group with higher grit, their grit also increases. “Students are more likely to become aware of and ready for college when parents, schoolteachers and administrators, peers, and the community itself work together with the students” (Cabrera at el, 2001). When students started their first year of college, they are unfamiliar with the environment. Peer pressure is another factor which distracted first-year students from their persistence. College provides more social abidities that has not been seen in high school. And thus first-year students are curious about these activities and they become unconscious about continuing their college. First year college students have to learn new life styles in college. In this way, the social environment they shapes their behavior. Students with less social ability tend to have lower grit.

Survey and Analysis

I administered the grit survey by Professor Angela Duckworth (2007) with my designed question to ten second-year students. The result some that grit scores are positively related to student academic performance and peer pressure but financial difficulties in their first year (Figure 1).新增圖像

Figure 1

I consider grit scores more than 3.5 have high grit and grit scores less than 3 has low grit. The analysis conclude comparison between the survey questions and grit scores.

In the first question “Were you think you have high academic performance in your first year?”, four students who has high grit scores answers “Yes” while only two students with lower grit score answer “Yes “with their grades in first college years. The data confirms that students with higher grit also have high academic performance.

In the second question “Do you think tuition was too expensive that affecting your desire to enroll classes in your first year?” Three students who has high grit scores and three students with lower scores answers “Yes.” The result shows that grit may not be necessary to overcome financial difficulties. To describe why the result does not fit my hypothesis that higher grit can overcome financial difficulties,  financial condition can be caused by family backgrounds which a first-year students may not solve that problem even if he or she has high grit.

In the third question “Do you think you had too many activities with friends in your first year so you did not have enough time completely other things?” Two students with high grit scores answers “Yes” while three students answered “Yes.” The students who has high grit tend to have better skill balancing their time between activities with friends and other things they have to do.

Interviewing with a second-year college student

        The interview with a second-year college student, Anny Hsu (2014), who scored a high grit scale of 4.5, shows that how grit works for a first year college year student. She also had a high first year GPA of 3.9.She states that she often stay up all night for studying and homework. She mentions that she has to make sure she understand all the materials before exams. She says tuition expensive in UC Davis compared to where he came from, Taiwan. However, she does not think tuition prevent her continuing her second year. In fact, she believes expensive tuition can force her to work harder. Finally, she mentions that time arrangement is important. She did not involve in many school activities in her first year. However, she thinks that students with better time arrangement skills and keep following their plan can prevent running out of time to finish other plans. The interview shows that first students’ grit has positive effects in overcoming academic and economic, and social difficulties.


Due to limitation of time, I only have limited samples. The limitation may cause the measurement lacks of accuracy. For the interview, some part of the survey matches the analyses factors and some do not match. It is true that people should deal with students case by case since every student is different. However, the result of the survey and the interview do provide a direction lead of beginning of the research as an initiation force. The result may be not correct but provide audience a direction to continue on further researches.

Conclusion and Future Discussion

In conclusion, first-year students’ grit tend to affects three different perspectives, academic difficulties, financial difficulties and social difficulties. In this way, first-year college students need to higher grit in order in success and continue their second year. For future discussion, people can focus on how these predicted method effects students’ grit. The question is, can people find effective way to improve first year student persistence? Evaluation the three perspectives, what people can do for first-year students? The correct method has not yet clear. Further discussion about enhancing first year student grit using different methods is necessary.







Bettinger, E. (2004, September 1). How Financial Aid Affects Persistence. Retrieved from

Cabrera, A., Deil-Amen, R., Prabhu, R., & Terenzini, P. (2006, April 1). INCREASING THE COLLEGE PREPAREDNESS OF AT-RISK STUDENTS. Retrieved from

Cabrera, A. F., & La Nasa, S. M. (2001). On the path to college: Three critical tasks facing

America’s disadvantaged. Research in Higher Education, 42, 119-150.

Duckworth , A. (2007). 12- Item Grit Scale. Retrieved from

Duckwoth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D. and Kelly, D.R. (January 10, 2007), Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Retrieved from:

Handford, E. ,(Oct 2,2012), How important is grit for Student Achievement, Retrieved from:

Harke, B. (2010, June 22). High School to College Transition, Part 1: The Freshman Myth. Retrieved From:

Larry, G. (2014, November 19). University of California poised to hike tuition as regents, Gov. Brown battle. Retrieved from

Perrino, R., & Perrino, J. (2012, January 1). Where will Your Child Be Their Sophomore Year in College? Retrieved from








Appendix 1


Were you think you have high academic performance in your first year?

(Yes/No/I don’t know)

Do you think tuition was too expensive that affecting your desire to enroll classes in your first year?

(Yes/No/I am not sure)

Do you think you had too many activities with friends in your first year so you didn’t have enough time completely other things?

(Yes/No/ I am not sure)


Appendix 2


Personal Interview

Interview based on how a second-year students think about their difficulties in first college year

Name of interviewee: Anny Hsu

Affiliation: Schoolmate

Education: second-year student in UC Davis

Major: Computer science

Related question: Based on the survey, how do you think you have a high academic performance in your first year?

Retrieved Answer: I have GPA 3.9 in my first year

Related question: How did you study for classes to get high scores?

Retrieved Answer: I usually study late.

Related question: Do you have any study tips or what do you think is important for studying?

Retrieved Answer: I think understanding all the practice questions and class materials is important. Sometime I spend a lot of time in one question until I get the answer.


Related question: What do you think about tuition in the college?

Retrieved Answer: It is expensive.

Related question: so do you think expensive tuition will affect student persistence?

Retrieved Answer: No. Because the tuition is expensive, I think I should study harder do that I do not waste any money.


Q: Do you join any clubs in your first year or do you always go out with friends?

I did not join any clubs but I do go out with friends.

Q; You said you don’t have time to do other things because you have too many activities with friends. Can you explain it more?

A: That why I always stay up all night for studying. I think if I can arrange my time better, I can have more time for studying, or other things.