Stressful Superlative: Is There a ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ Curse?

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Students cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama attends the 2010 Kalamazoo Central High School graduation at Western Michigan University in Michigan, June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION)

It’s the time of year when thousands of high school students around the U.S. will be voted “most likely to succeed.” But is such an accolade actually a curse?

Nearly one-third of those voted “most likely” in high school think so, according to a recent poll of 1,369 members of, which links users to high-school classmates, yearbooks and nostalgic material. Apparently, being an all-around awesome dude or beloved beauty queen can eventually become a burden if an individual sets his or her life expectations too high.

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But you shouldn’t pity the popular too much: a study of over 7,000 high-school sophomores, published in 2008 in the journal Social Science Researcher, found that students with superior social skills and work habits went on to earn 12% more money than their peers 10 years later. And according to, 40% of most-likely-to-succeed winners regard the label as an inspiration.

Whether a cause for ill or good, the superlatives poll may soon become a thing of the past. Kelly Furnas, executive director of the Journalism Education Association at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., told the Wall Street Journal that about 25% of high-school yearbooks still name one or more students “most likely to succeed,” down from about 75% two decades ago. One reason, according to the Journal, is that some labels, such as “worst reputation” or “most likely to have a conversation with himself,” can raise legal concerns about damaging students’ future prospects.

Those predicted to go on to great things, however, often cite the superlative in job interviews, dates and even mortgage applications. This NewsFeed writer—most likely to succeed from the American School in London’s class of 1998, baby!—has certainly dropped the award into casual conversation. But that feels modest when compared to Sakita Holley of New York City, who, according to the Journal, had “success” tattooed on her back after winning the award, changed her middle name to “success” on Facebook, and named the public-relations company she founded after college “House of Success.” She obviously didn’t mind the title.

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