Feelin’ Lucky?

Cross your fingers and knock on wood, it might be all you can do 

By Brian Burke


“Most likely to be a millionaire,” “most likely to succeed,” “most talented.” The superlatives we enjoyed in high school may have more in common than we thought, and in an alarming way. There is often an association between wealth and success; however, recent events raise questions about their unsettling codependence. Earlier this spring, William Singer, along with 40 parents of unjustly-admitted college students, was indicted for academic fraud through a myriad of illicit activities, including but not limited to standardized test score modification, bribery, and falsification of student identity. 


From early on, we’re told that life is what we make it. We are the masters of our destiny, the chieftains of our fate. From tutors, practice books, exercise regimes, diets, and countless extracurriculars, we do everything in our power to set ourselves apart from the competition: everyone else. In a merit-based society, proof of our personal superiority is indispensable for winning the game of life. Yet, like all games, some have found a way to cheat. 


Most of us still have clear, yet exceedingly stressful, memories of taking the ACTs, SATs, and other standardized tests. Whether it was with tutors, with that big red book your mom bought you with the practice tests that you didn't take, or on the drive there, we all have stressful memories of studying for those tests. Why? Where one goes next is quite dependent on the score received on these tests. Yes, a retake is possible. But it’ll be just as stressful as the first time, maybe even worse. The essays for college applications can be complicated, and they deplete our time and energy. And for what? On every university website, they list their students’ average GPA and ACT/SAT scores. Colleges claim to perform a holistic review of applicants, but articles such as “Race gaps in SAT scores highlight inequality and hinder upward mobility” by Richard Reeves, director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative, and Dimitrios Halikias, or “Race And College Admissions: Harvard And Chicago” by Richard Veddar, a professor at Ohio University, highlight possible unfair acceptance standards based on race and gender at a variety of big name schools. Some universities list guaranteed ACT/SAT scores and minimum GPAs for admission. The next four years of an individual’s life, and many years after that, are decided by two numbers—two numbers that perpetuate inequality and do not represent one’s true merit. 


A team of Italian researchers comprised of physicists Alessandro Pluchino andt Andrea Rapisarda and economist Alessio Biondo recently simulated the lives of 1,000 people for forty years, analyzing the effects of intelligence, hard work, and luck on one’s success. The results significantly favored luck as the force behind an individual’s prosperity. The results showed that the smartest and most hard working were a small percentage of the most successful people. When it came down to it, lucky events for moderately or slightly less “talented” individuals had a strict correlation with success. 


Even without luck, wealth perpetuates the inequality of success through access to tutors, private test prep coaches, and homework therapists. In the article “Rich kids have all the academic advantages money can buy. But at what cost?” Andrea Guthmann, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, demonstrates the edge wealthier families provide their kids in the scope of education and training within any extracurricular field. They can do this without the scandalous behavior. 


The list of factors out of our control, that decide our futures for us, goes on and on. And the few components under our jurisdiction–work ethic, personal achievement, and ambition–are inaccurately measured by all accounts. This country was built on the principles of equal opportunity, but like every society, we are flawed. The system is biased in countless ways, and it can be observed through the advantages of being born into a higher economic class or through the limitations ofstandardized testing. It soon becomes clear that merithas less and less to do with finding success in this so-called merit-based society. Hopefully one day, you’ll be in the right place at the right time

Wake Mag