Admissions Deans: Pray for Rain!

>Times (London) Higher Education reports research showing that bad weather influences student decisions -- positively!

Uri Simonsohn, assistant professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, wanted to examine whether the same "deviations from rationality" apply to high-stakes decisions such as selecting a university.

He analyzed weather patterns and the enrollment decisions of 1,284 prospective students who visited an institution known for its academic strength. He found that an increase in cloud cover of one standard deviation on the day of the visit was associated with an increase in the probability of enrollment of 9 percentage points.

Weather influences thinking in the other direction, too. Simonsohn's work also suggests that jocks should try to schedule interviews on sunny days, while nerds are rated more highly after interviews. (That gives a whole new meaning to cloud computing!)

I wonder if this effect is really universal. When California was building its university system in the 1950s and 1960s, many prominent East Coast professors, and gifted students, were lured partly by the sunshine. On the other hand, the studies suggest why some excellent schools in the Sunbelt, despite high-quality faculties and often lower tuition, have not been as competitive in admissions as one would expect with the often-overcast Northeast. And while the attraction of Silicon Valley climate is evident, perhaps the year-round drizzle of the Pacific Northwest was also part of the success in recruiting talented programmers to Microsoft, Intel, and Amazon.com.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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