Scott Jaschik writes at Inside Higher Education that although most faculty members would deny that physical appearance is a legitimate criterion in grading, a study finds that among similarly qualified female students, those who are physically attractive earn better grades than less attractive female students. For male students, there is no significant relationship between attractiveness and grades. The results hold true whether the faculty member is a man or a woman. The researchers obtained student identification photographs for students at at Metropolitan State University of Denver and had the attractiveness rated, on a scale of 1-10, of all the students. Then they examined 168,092 course grades awarded to the students, using factors such as ACT scores to control for student academic ability. For female students, an increase of one standard deviation in attractiveness was associated with a 0.024 increase in grade (on a 4.0 scale).
The results mirror a similar study that found that those who are attractive in high school are more likely to go on to earn a four-year college degree. Hernandez-Julian says that he found the results of the Metro State study “troubling” and says that there are two possible explanations: “Is it that professors invest more time and energy into the better-looking students, helping them learn more and earn the higher grades? Or do professors simply reward the appearance with higher grades given identical performance? The likely answer, given our growing understanding of the prevalence of implicit biases, is that professors make small adjustments on both of these margins."