New students on campus may remember recently submitting an optional photograph along with their application to Georgetown. In their first days on the Hilltop, they may also have noticed the general attractiveness of our student body. Georgetown students are generally perceived as good-looking by their peers, and this may be no accident.
There are many explanations given for why the Georgetown admissions office solicits photographs from its applicants – “We like to put a face to the application,”It helps verify self-reported personal facts,” et cetera. But still, it makes the economists among us wonder: If you had one more spot and two seemingly identically qualified applicants – one attractive (Brad Pitt) and one not (Quasimodo) – whom would you choose?
There are three considerations at play when making this decision: potential for future success of Georgetown alums, the diversity of the student body, and past achievements. Past achievements look exactly the same (“equally qualified”), so to which of the others do we turn first?
If it’s the diversity of our generally attractive student body then we clearly choose Quasimodo. But if we were concerned with the ability of applicants to bring luster to Georgetown in the future, should we choose Brad?
The Economist (“To Those Who Have, Shall Be Given,” Beauty and Success, Dec. 19, 2007) reported that ugly people often get the short end of the stick. According to the article, attractive people make on average 14 percent higher salaries and are promoted more readily than unattractive people. So it is reasonable to assume that if Brad and Quasimodo are equally able and intelligent, Brad would be a smarter pick.
But this assumption implies that Brad and Quasimodo are on an equal playing field. On the contrary, they may have had similar achievements but Brad has an unequal advantage. Quasimodo must be more talented – on average – than Brad in order for him to have recorded identical accomplishments during high school, according to these findings.
If current trends continue, both Brad and Quasimodo will bring exactly the same amount of luster to Georgetown over the course of their lives. Mr. Pitt will do it with a combination of his beauty and his slightly inferior skill; Quasimodo will do it with his skill alone, but the end result will be the same. How do we choose? A coin toss?
We could call both Quasimodo and Brad into a room to let them battle it out. After we lay down the gauntlet, we open the floor. Brad would argue that because both applicants got a 2100 on the SAT, he has the same ability as Quasimodo. He is not inferior in any way, and therefore, he will have more success because of the added value of his good looks. Quasimodo retorts that anyone can score a 2100 if given enough chances.
Now it’s Quasimodo’s turn. He points out that though he can’t really get much less attractive, Brad will likely lose his attractiveness at some point before he is done living. Quasimodo argues that later in life, Brad will not be able to rely on his good looks as much as he used to, and eventually Quasimodo will surpass him in accomplishments due to his innate intellectual abilities and contribute more to Georgetown’s reputation. The committee agrees.
An unbiased admissions committee would find in favor of Quasimodo, and the Georgetown community would become a little bit uglier. But whether or not the admissions committee has trudged through this thought experiment, there is no stated policy to remind admissions officials to consider the whole applicant and not the photo.
This is not necessarily a huge problem – not bound to drastically change the makeup of the class. But consider if the student leaders of Georgetown in charge of appointing their successors are unknowingly falling victim to the same bias.
Race, gender, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, among other factors, are thought of as important when constructing a balanced freshman class. It is no coincidence that these are some of the important characteristics current student leaders consider when selecting the next year’s executives.
But when does Quasimodo get his day in court? Who is looking out for the ugly among us? I will not blame the admissions office if they decide to stay out of this quagmire, but students can and should aim to be above the attractive influence. If you’re down to a coin toss, ask yourself if Quasimodo may, in fact, be better than Brad Pitt. Give him a chance.
Cura personalis: Care for the entire person, not just the outside.
Yonatan Moskowitz is a senior in the College.
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