NEWS

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January 13, 2006

Collegecuteness.com findings correlate with shirt slogan

The University of Chicago has never been known for the beauty of its student body. But now, thanks to the website CollegeCuteness.com, those who bemoan the lack of eye-candy may find some solid evidence.

In a study of freshman girls from 10 schools nationwide, the U of C ranks last in terms of physical attractiveness, according to a study conducted by Aaron Puri and Jason Scimeca, both second-years in the College. During their first year, the two became aware of the stigma surrounding Chicago students, particularly the women. They noted the common belief that the U of C lacks attractive women, summed up by popular campus T-shirts claiming that “the squirrels are cuter than the girls.”

But unlike most, the pair was unwilling to simply take the word of the disheartened alumni who came before them. For two budding academics, there was only one real way to find out:

“In true U of C fashion, get statistics,” Puri said.

To evaluate the claim that Chicago girls are less attractive than others, he and Scimeca turned to the internet. They chose 10 colleges located across the country, from small, liberal arts schools to massive Big 10 universities. Capitalizing on the popularity of TheFacebook.com, they randomly selected 35 female students from each school’s freshmen class and took the picture from their profile.

With these pictures in hand, they used another popular website to measure the girls’ looks. Each photo was posted on HotOrNot.com, where leering strangers can rank subjects on a scale ranging from 10 (hot) to 1 (not). After receiving 300 votes, each of the 350 total pictures was removed and the average score for each girl calculated.

Remarkably—or not—the squirrel theory appears to have some basis, according to Puri and Scimeca. The U of C scored lower than all other schools, losing to such legendary beauties as the women of Princeton University. In fact, through statistical analysis, Puri and Scimeca determined that only the University of Puget Sound had more than a five percent chance of rating lower than Chicago.

To share their results worldwide, the two launched CollegeCuteness.com last May. The site features an in-depth look into the procedure they used, as well as a thorough review of their findings.

While the U of C data may appear unexceptional, many of their conclusions contradict common beliefs. Of the 10 schools tested, the relatively unknown Albion College ranks highest. University of California at Los Angeles, consistently rated in Playboy Magazine’s top colleges, garnered a lowly 7th place.

As for the significance of their study, Puri and Scimeca prefer to take the safe road and let the data do the talking. While standing by their approach, they note that good looks cannot be measured easily, and that a Facebook photo also reflects one’s interest in personal appearance.

Yet drawing conclusions seems irresistible. “There has to be some reason that the stereotype exists,” Scimeca said.

Unsurprisingly, the website drew a strong reaction from some. The creators found their methods and results criticized on the Internet and around campus. Scimeca even had to face his Chicago girlfriend at the time.

“She didn’t appreciate it,” he said. The two are no longer together.

The typical response, however, has been positive, according to Puri and Scimeca. They point out that most people are intrigued by their attempt to evaluate the stereotype quantitatively. In fact, while teaching a statistics course last summer, graduate student Adam Molnar included their data on the midterm and final exam.

For the future, Puri and Scimeca have tentative plans to expand their research. They are hoping to evaluate rival schools, such as Northwestern and Harvard, as well as some of the colleges most renowned for their girls gone wild. In addition, they hope to compare the current freshmen class at the U of C against that of last year.

Those waiting for a similar study on male students are probably out of luck. The College Cuteness creators have no plans to cross the gender barrier.

“We really just don’t care as much,” Puri said. Besides, he added, “there’s no guy shirt.” (There are, however, shirts that proclaim the U of C is where “the squirrels are more aggressive than the guys.”)

For those who are curious, or simply spiteful, Puri and Scimeca received Hot or Not scores of 6.1 and 8.7, respectively, based on photos posted by the writer.