Why students who do well in high school bomb in college

From The Washington Post:

The first year of college is a tough transition, and for many students, a disillusioning one.

A study conducted last fall at the University of Toronto found that incoming students arrived with unreasonably optimistic expectations. On average, students predicted they would earn grade-point averages of 3.6. Those dreams were swiftly punctured. By the end of the year, the average freshman had only a 2.3.

What separated the high-achievers from the low-achievers? As any college admissions counselor will tell you, high school grades have always been the single best predictor of college success. But that does not mean that high school grades are good predictors. Research shows that differences in students’ high school GPAs explain only about 20 percent of the differences between students’ college GPAs.

What accounts for the remainder is still something of a debate and a mystery. Standardized test scores factor in, as does socioeconomic status. And increasingly, education experts think that character traits such as grit, perseverance and conscientiousness play a role.

The University of Toronto study, a draft of which was recently released by the National Bureau for Economic Research, sought to understand why there were such wide discrepancies in college performance among students with similar high school records. The researchers, Graham Beattie of the University of Pittsburgh, and Jean-William Laliberté and Philip Oreopoulos of the University of Toronto, gave students personality quizzes to determine which traits were correlated with college success.

They focused on two kinds of students. The “thrivers” were those who did much better in college than their high school grades would have predicted. The “divers” were those who did much worse. Mostly, these students were neither superstars in high school nor delinquents — they all got fairly good, respectable grades. But upon arriving at college, the thrivers averaged A’s, while the divers averaged F’s.

What the divers had in common was a tendency toward rashness …

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