Student Life

Better Looking? Better Grades

Elizabeth Hoyt

December 14, 2016

Better Looking? Better Grades
Being a supermodel doesn't impact grade point average. Phew. Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief.
Please don’t shoot the messenger – we don’t create the news, we just report it. In this particular case, the sensitive subject is one’s looks help in the success of a college career. A recent national study, released within a study, found that physically attractive high school students are more likely to complete college than those who are considered to have average or below average looks.
According to the study, the statistics hold true across gender, ethnic and racial groups as well. Being a supermodel doesn't, however, impact grade point average. Phew. Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief. Now for the bad news: those deemed attractive or above, do have an advantage when it comes to their GPA.
“The attractive do have a GPA advantage over the average,” says sociologist Rachel Gordon of the University of Illinois - Chicago within the book’s study from the Society for Research in Child Development, which she also co-authored. The study originated on the basis of past research within elementary schools which found that many educators seem to favor more attractive students, whether they’re aware of the bias or not. The goal of the study was to examine whether or not this bias extends to high school and college levels and, apparently (according to this study, at least), it extends to all levels of education.
“We did want to highlight the importance of looking at physical attractiveness in high school and adolescents, given that it’s been look at so little in academic literature,” said Gordon. The study tracked nearly 9,000 (8,918, to be exact) high school students of similar intelligence from randomly selected high schools and ranked them on a five-point scale in terms of physical appearance. In order to rate attractiveness without personal bias, researchers rated based on guidelines and characteristics given that were specified by societal factors (such as symmetry of the face). Various socioeconomic control factors were used to control results within the study, such as parents’ educational background, parents’ marital status, which can both be key indicators of a student’s success, difficulty of high school courses taken, age, race/ethnicity, gender, measure of student’s vocabulary family income, so as not to skew the results. The only measure that could not be controlled or accounted for? Whether a student’s teachers gave higher grades to more attractive students. 15 percent of the students studied were rated as “very attractive,” 35 percent as “attractive,” 44 percent as “average,” and 6 percent as “unattractive” or “very unattractive.” The students were then tracked for a specific period of time - from high school to post-college years. Interestingly enough, according to one of the book’s author’s Rachel Gordon, those deemed “attractive” and “very attractive” had the same gains in college completion rates, which lead to the conclusion that above average attractiveness was what mattered – not being at the very peak of attractiveness. Out of all of the students tracked, about one-third finished a four-year degree. However, the students that were rated “attractive” or above had a three percent higher rate of a college success rate. Gordon only attributed about one-third of the difference to higher grades in high school so, it seems that, attractiveness, indeed, played a factor in the college success rate amongst the students. Interviews with the students conducted through college careers found that, generally speaking, the attractive students engaged more in behaviors such as drinking and sex, which should have negatively decreased academic performance and the unattractive student engaged in the behaviors less. Unsurprisingly, the most successful students were those who were attractive but did not engage in such behaviors. Gordon hopes that educators will be able to learn from the results and reflect upon whether or not they have any sort of bias – whether they’re aware of it or not. “We may be able to help teachers and students get past the way looks affects those initial impressions,” said Gordon. Moreover, she stressed that the study just found the correlation between college success and attractiveness not the cause of the correlation. “It’s important that we think about ways to change that,” Gordon said. Additionally, she also stressed that there was no connection found between attractiveness and intelligence, so there technically should be no gaps in academic success present whatsoever. Looks should not be a factor in terms of capability, expectations or motivating factors. For those looking to learn more about the study, you can learn more by reading the entire text. The book, Physical Attractiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adsolescence and Young Adulthood: Assets and Distractions was researched and written by Rachel A. Gordon, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois - Chicago; Robert Crosnoe, the Elsie and Stanley E. (Skinny) Adams Sr. Centennial Professor in Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin; and Xue Wang, who completed her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Illinois - Chicago.

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