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The Right Road

Fit + Grit = Success

Recent research suggests that "grit," defined as the firmness of character to pursue a goal through to completion, may be a better predictor of success than test scores, IQ, and other traditional measures of academic potential. Understanding this theory gives parents a powerful lens for evaluating and selecting schools, even if your children have not yet found their inner grit.

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is a leading voice on the topic of grit. In her years as a math teacher, Duckworth observed that the highest achieving students were not necessarily the most intelligent, but rather were the most hard-working. They were students whose industriousness did not flag even when success required sustained effort. Now a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth has developed a tool for measuring a person's willingness to persevere. The "Grit Scale" asks individuals to rate themselves based on statements like, "I finish whatever I begin," or, "Setbacks don't discourage me." Duckworth's research has shown the scale to be a good predictor of academic success in a variety of environments ranging from inner-city public schools to highly selective institutions.

At The Bertram Group, we focus on helping families find the best fit between students and schools—and there is an important correlation between fit and grit. When students are in a productive learning environment, they feel confident and challenged. This situation nurtures grit because students feel that success is attainable, but only if they strive for it. This scenario also encourages students to take academic risks because even if they encounter an obstacle, they have a well of optimism from which to draw and try again.

No singular model of education exists that can address the needs of every student. Some students thrive in highly competitive environments while others need a lower-stress atmosphere. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters about a school is what your child is able to achieve while there. This brings us back full circle: Finding the right fit enables your child to discover and develop his or her grit.

Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at