Got Grit?

by Randall Bedwell, M.A., M.A.T.

I know students like you. I’ve seen plenty of them in my 25-plus years as a college professor. You’re struggling to juggle all of the demands on your time; constantly shuttling between class and work, you can’t even get a good night’s sleep much less focus on that History paper. Even worse, you may be questioning why you are in college in the first place.  Are you just here because of the “free tuition,” or is college really worth the hassle?

Based on my years working with these students — those just like you — I have some news for you. It’s students like you who often see the most success in college.  The truth is that academic knowledge will only get you so far.

In my history classes, I’ve had to flunk brilliant young students—many of whom graduated from prestigious private high schools and boast top ACT scores. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing students overcome obstacle after obstacle to earn an A in my courses. What’s the difference between students who have the knowledge but won’t work for the grade and those who struggle for every point but succeed? Grit.

Having grit means you have the perseverance to accomplish long-term goals despite challenges and setbacks. This often requires using all of your personal resources to stick to it and achieve your goals, regardless of your situation or circumstances.  Excuse the rhyme, but those with grit don’t quit. Instead, grit is about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and doing what needs to be done.

This isn’t just based on my observations of students, either. Leading educational experts now believe that “grit” is a greater determining factor in college success than any TCAP or ACT test. Since you began kindergarten, you have been evaluated based on how your “book smarts” compared to other students. The modern education system is designed to instill facts and knowledge. What your grade point average or test scores don’t take into account is your determination, tenacity or desire to be successful in life.  Your belief in your own ability to overcome any obstacle to success is far more important than any standardized test score.


College offers students not only a fresh academic start, but also a place to develop new life skills. To learn more about how this applies to you, ask yourself these questions:

Do I belong at this college?

Understanding that you “measure up” to your peers and “fit in” at your school is an important step in developing the kind of confidence and autonomy necessary in the college classroom. You’ve earned the Tennessee Promise scholarship, and been accepted into the college you’re attending. You’ve earned the right to be there, just like every other student.

What do I see as the purpose of my life?

While such a philosophical question could take a lifetime to answer, it is important make and keep goals without knowing where you want life to take you. Whether we’re setting long-term career goals or short-term goals for a particular class, achieving them first requires defining them.  Only then can you begin to work toward them.

Do I have the GRIT to see things through, and to achieve my greatest dream?

In most cases, people are either born with grit or they aren’t. Some brains are wired to bounce back from tragedy, face risks, and deal with stress. However, overcoming adversity is key in developing this trait to its full potential. The more times you bounce back, the greater the chances you can build the resilience necessary to reach your goals.

What am I willing to give up to get where I want to be?

Disciplining yourself to change your old habits — which may include missing out on social opportunities — may lead to greater academic study time and academic success.

What inspires me and why?

Knowing what drives your passion is paramount in keeping yourself motivated both in college and throughout life. Whether it is chasing a career goal or wanting a better life for your family, finding your inspiration can help you manage the everyday bumps in the road and steer past the struggles and challenges.

Am I the driver or passenger in my own life?

Drivers have control of their own lives and set their own goals. No matter what your friends or classmates are doing, you have to follow your own path. Just because someone from your high school went to a big name college (and probably borrowed a lot of money) doesn’t mean that was the best thing for you. You have your own life to lead, and this requires knowing how to manage your emotions and thoughts, and altering your habits so they support your goals.


How can I develop Grit?

Every time you face a new challenge, and overcome it by taking a step — even a small step — toward your goals, your grit increases. Part of developing grit is learning that obstacles are inevitable, and not an indication of personal failure. Setbacks are simply opportunities for learning, and for further building your resilience and grit.
The grittiest students I have ever taught have remained engaged over the long haul and were constantly coming up with new strategies for moving forward. What set these students apart from those who flunked out was their grit; they had a sense of stick-to-itiveness that is crucial to both a successful college career and to any life goal.


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