Digest No. 02 - March 2017

Investigating Grit as a Non-Cognitive Predictor of College Success

Akos, P. and J. Kretchmar. 2017. “Investigating Grit as a Non-Cognitive Predictor of College Success.” The Review of Higher Education, 40, 163–186.


In this article, Patrick Akos and Jen Kretchmar center their attention on whether grit, a non-cognitive factor, can improve the predictability of first-year grade point average beyond the influence of high school grades and standardized test scores. These authors point out that admissions officers typically use measures of cognitive ability (standardized test scores) and academic achievement (high school grades) to determine which applicants are most likely to succeed.

Akos and Kretchmar state that existing studies often show that pre-college grades and test scores explain only 25 percent of the variance in first-year grade point averages. These authors also note that standardized test scores are highly related to students’ socioeconomic status. Consequently, interest is rising in supplementing the two cognitive factors with non-cognitive factors to inform admissions decisions.

Akos and Kretchmar posit the construct of grit as a non-cognitive factor, which they define as a “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (p.165). It consists of two distinct dimensions: (1) consistency of interest and (2) perseverance of effort. The authors indicate that research shows that grit predicts a range of achievement outcomes. Hence, they ask the question: Does grit predict first-year GPA and two other measures of college student success: hours earned towards graduation and change in major? With regard to change in major as a marker of student success, Akos and Kretchmar view a student who has not changed their major by the beginning of their fourth semester as successful.

To address this question, Akos and Kretchmar used a sample of 209 first-year students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These students completed an instrument comprised of eight items to measure grit. The authors provide examples of items that measure its two dimensions. For example, the reverse-scored statement “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones” is indicative of consistency of interest. As an example of perseverance of effort, the statement is “I am a hard worker.”

The authors used a series of hierarchical multiple regressions to address whether grit predicts first-year GPA and two measures of college student success: hours earned toward graduation and change in major. In these regressions, Akos and Kretchmar controlled for factors other than grit that also may partially predict first-year GPA and the other two measures of student success. The control factors included standardized test scores, strength of the high school curriculum, high school grades, gender, underrepresented minority status, and first-generation status. The authors included three measures of grit: a total score of grit, consistency of interest, and perseverance of interest.


Akos and Kretchmar found that grit as a total score and perseverance of interest wield statistically significant positive influences on first-year grade point average. The authors illustrate the influence of perseverance of interest on first-year grade point average by noting that a student with a low perseverance of interest score of 2 might be predicted to earn a 2.92 GPA whereas a student with a high perseverance of interest of score 5 could be predicted to earn a 3.51 GPA.

A mixed pattern of results emerged for the other two measures of student success: credit hours earned and change of major. Grit as a total score and neither of its two dimensions (consistency of interest and perseverance of effort) have little or no influence on credit hours earned. Yet the total score of grit and consistency of effort affect change of major in a statistically significant way. Put differently, the lower the consistency of effort score the greater the probability of changing major.

The authors also report that total grit scores and consistency of effort scores do not differ in a statistically significant way by gender, underrepresented minority status, or first-generation status. Minority students, however, scored lower on the perseverance of interest than non-underrepresented minority students in a statistically significant manner.


CIC presidents and chief academic affairs officers may elect to discuss with enrollment management officers at their institutions whether to consider the use of grit and its dimensions of consistency of effort and perseverance of interest to inform admission decisions. An applicant’s total grit score and its pertinent dimensions could be used to help make admissions decisions regarding applicants that are marginal for admission because their standardized test scores or their high school grades are either below other applicants in the admissions pool or below stated admissions’ criteria. Such applicants with high total grit scores or high perseverance of interest scores may warrant an offer of admission because of their higher likelihood of earning a satisfactory first-year grade point average.


Patrick Akos is professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jennifer Kretchmar is senior assistant director of admissions for research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The following references are recommended for readers who want to learn more regarding the construct of grit.

Duckworth, A.L., C. Peterson, M.D. Matthews, and D.R. Kelly. 2007. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087–1101.

Duckworth, A.L. and P.D. Quinn. 2009. “Development and Validation of Short Grit Scale (grit-s).” Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 166–174.