Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Myth of Grit

By Patrick O'Connor

“Excuse me, Dr. O’Connor?  It’s Meredith’s mother, Mrs. Hart?”

“Of course.  How are you?”

“I’m fine.  I had just a quick question about our college plans.”

“OK, I can set up a meeting with you and Meredith.  How does tomorrow at 1 sound?”

“Actually, I’m hoping I can ask this now.  It’s kind of urgent.”

“I see.  OK.”

“Well, when we met with you in August, we reviewed our college list, and you mentioned we couldn’t get in to East Coast U.”

“Actually, Mrs. Hart, I believe I said that, given Meredith’s profile of grades, strength of schedule, extra curricular participation, achievements, and test scores, students with similar profiles would have a very modest chance of being admitted—“

“—unless she had some significant additional factor.”

“It seems you remember exactly what I said.”

“Yes I do, and I’m here to tell you she has one.”

“One what?”

“Significant additional factor.”

“I see.  Is this something you would mind sharing with me?”

“It’s grit.”


“Yes.  Grit.”

“I didn’t even realize Meredith was taking wood shop.”

“Oh no, it’s not about that.  This is a new intellectual trend, so I can understand why you wouldn’t know about it.  It was covered in this week’s New York Times.  It’s all about how the students who really go on to be happy and successful people are those individuals who learned how to learn from failure, and developed character traits like persistence, curiosity, and self-control.  It’s based on the work of.--“

“Angela Duckworth at Penn?”

“Why, yes!  I read the article and thought ‘Why, this is my Meredith!’”

“Meredith has grit?”

“Of course she does.  And that’s what’s going to get her into East Coast U.”

“It is?”

“Absolutely.  You just tell them in your letter about how gritty my Meredith is, and we’ll be in like Flynn.”

“Mrs. Hart, there’s certainly no doubt Meredith has learned a great deal about herself and the world around her in high school, through both her successes and her failures.”

“Oh, I know that, Dr. O’Connor, but her successes aren’t going to be the thing colleges are going to hook onto.  It’s going to be her failures, so we have to highlight those instead.”

“You want me to write about—“

“Her failures.”

“To show—“

“Her grittiness.  She’ll be one of the first students admitted to college on grit.  Daddy will be so pleased!”

“Mrs. Hart, have you looked at the supplemental essays for the application to East Coast U?”

“No, but I hear they haven’t changed in the last five years.”

“That’s true—they haven’t.  I have them here on my computer screen—can you read #1?”

“’Describe an experience where you had to overcome adversity.  Explain how you handled this situation, and what you learned from it.’  Why, Dr. O’Connor, that question measures—“


“And it’s been doing that for—“

“Five years.”

“Which means the campus of East Coast U has—“


“But that’s not possible.  How could students with grades that high have any grit?  They’ve been winners since the day they were born.”

“Maybe some of them.  The rest of them have only known persistence since the day they were born, success or no.”

“So you don’t have to be a flop to know about persistence?”

“It’s one way, but not the only way.”

“Well, how else could you learn it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. By leading a humble life, maybe.”

“Hmm.  Do you know of any essay coaches that specialize in humility?”

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