Skip to main content

Attractive Students Get Higher Grades

New research finds the well-established beauty benefit applies to college courses.

Want to earn better grades in college? Well, you could party less and study more. Or complete extra-credit assignments.

Or you could opt for plastic surgery.

A radical step, to be sure, but newly published research suggests it could be surprisingly effective.

In the latest attempt to tease out the benefits of being beautiful, two researchers examined the academic records of students at a large American university. They compared the grades they received in online courses—ones in which the teachers never saw their faces—with those conducted in person.

"More attractive students earn higher grades when they are seen than when they are not seen," report economists Rey Hernandez-Julian and Christina Peters of the Metropolitan State University of Denver. This result, they add, was "driven mainly by courses taught by male instructors."

Hey, your paper may be a C-minus, but your cheekbones are A-plus.

As we have ruefully noted over the years, researchers have consistently found good-looking people are treated better than the rest of us. They tend to have higher incomes; if they're on the wait staff of a restaurant, they get bigger tips.

But as Hernandez-Julian and Peters note, it's possible (if unlikely) that this is explained not by pro-beauty bias, but rather because attractive people, for some reason, do superior work. To investigate this possibility, they studied the academic records of 4,543 students at their own school, which they describe as "a large, public, open-admission institution."

First, they had 28 people ("both males and females of many ages and races") rate student ID photos on a scale of one (very unattractive) to 10 (very attractive). The students were then broken up into three categories according to their looks: below-average, average, and above-average.

The researchers then compared the grades they received in courses taught in a traditional classroom vs. those they took online. They note that, for online classes, students and teachers "communicate mostly via e-mail," which means the instructor typically has no idea what the student looks like.

"We find that students of above-average appearance earn significantly lower grades in online courses than those in traditional courses," the researchers write in the Journal of Human Capital. This dynamic applies to both male and female students, but "appears to be concentrated among male professors," they add.

The precise source of this bias is not clear. It's possible that good-looking students are more confident and thus are more likely to participate in class discussions, impressing the instructor. Or perhaps some teachers "pay less attention and offer less support to less-attractive students," who earn poorer grades as a result.

Whatever the cause, attractive students clearly have an advantage. It may be unfair, but it appears being DDG can boost your GPA.