Personality Predicts Academic Performance

Topic(s): selection
Publication: Psychology in the Schools (2011)
Article: Successful graduate students: The roles of personality traits and emotional intelligence
Authors: P.M. Grehan, R. Flanagan, R.G. Malgady
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin, M.A.

Typically, in graduate school settings, the students have a history of strong academic performance and are regarded as having lots of potential for success in both academic and professional setting. Given that graduate schools are like all-star teams of students, what separates the great students from the good students? In exploring the predictors of academic performance in graduate school settings, researchers (Grehan, Flanagan, & Malgad, 2011) studied the emotional intelligence, personality, and academic performance of 63 graduate students from the field of psychology.

Emotional intelligence, which includes a person’s capacity to read the emotions of another and be aware of his or her own emotions, was assessed through various measures, and for personality, the investigators focused on the big five personality traits: extraversion, which relates to how outgoing someone is; openness, which relates to the level of curiosity; agreeableness, which is similar to levels of compassion and warmth; conscientiousness, which refers to the drive to succeed; and neuroticism, which relates to how secure someone feels.


The indicators of academic performance were graduate school grade point average (GSGPA) and ratings by supervisors from the students’ internships. Both emotional intelligence and the personality trait of conscientiousness were found to be related to academic performance. Specifically, emotional intelligence was significantly correlated with both GSGPA and supervisor ratings, and conscientious was significantly correlated with only supervisor ratings. In summary, higher levels of emotional intelligence and conscientiousness were related to higher levels of academic performance among graduate school students.


In many settings, it becomes challenging to differentiate the great from the good. For example, in a financial firm, how does a manager determine which of his analysts will generate the most revenue, given that they all have exceptional academic backgrounds and glowing letters of recommendations? Based on the results of the study above, the applicant’s personality – and their emotional intelligence and levels of conscientiousness – may be a good place to start, and the results will hopefully provide further bits of information that can be considered when deciding whom to hire.


Grehan, P.M, Flanagan, R., & Malgady, R.G. (2011). Successful graduate students: The roles of personality traits and emotional intelligence. Psychology in the Schools, 48(4), 317-331.