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What does a chili pepper mean on Rate My Professor?

Rate My Professor is a popular website where students can rate and review their college professors. On Rate My Professor, professors are given an overall “Quality” rating on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating. Professors are also rated on specific criteria like “Helpfulness” and “Clarity.” In addition to these ratings, professors may be given one or more chili pepper icons next to their name. These chili pepper icons indicate the professor’s perceived physical attractiveness or sex appeal. So what exactly does a chili pepper mean on Rate My Professor? Keep reading for a deeper look at the history of the chili pepper rating and what it signifies.

Background on Rate My Professor

Rate My Professor was created in 1999 by John Swapceinski, a business student at San Jose State University in California. Swapceinski got the idea after complaining about his teachers with his college roommates. He decided it would be helpful for students everywhere to have a platform for rating and reviewing their professors. The website was launched to allow students to see professor ratings and reviews from other students in an open forum.

Rate My Professor proved extremely popular, expanding to include millions of ratings for professors at thousands of colleges across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The chili pepper rating was added in 2002 as a way for students to evaluate professors on more personal criteria in addition to their professional teaching abilities.

What Does a Chili Pepper Mean?

On Rate My Professor, the chili pepper indicates how “hot” students find a professor to be in terms of physical attractiveness and sex appeal. A professor can receive between 0 and 4 chili peppers based on student feedback:

  • 0 chili peppers – Not hot or physically attractive according to student ratings
  • 1 chili pepper – Mildly hot or somewhat physically attractive
  • 2 chili peppers – Hot or very physically attractive
  • 3 chili peppers – Very hot or extremely physically attractive
  • 4 chili peppers – Smokin’ hot, the hottest of the hot

So in short, the more chili peppers a professor has, the more desirable students find them to be physically. The chili pepper rating is meant to be a fun way for students to express opinions on professors’ appearance and charisma. However, it is subjective and sometimes controversial.

Controversy Around the Chili Pepper Rating

While many take the chili pepper rating lightheartedly, it has generated some controversy over the years. Some argue it promotes objectification of professors and is irrelevant to teaching skills. Others believe it reinforces an unnecessary focus on physical appearance.

Critics of the chili pepper say it:

  • Reduces professors to sex objects rather than evaluating intellect or abilities
  • Perpetuates stereotypes about physical beauty and professional competence
  • Creates uncomfortable situations for professors who are judged on attractiveness
  • Encourages students to overly critique professors’ looks

Some professors have reported feeling disturbed or threatened by sexualized comments they’ve received from students related to their chili pepper ratings. On the other hand, supporters of the chili pepper argue it’s a lighthearted indicator that doesn’t need to be taken so seriously. They say it can boost professors’ confidence to know students find them appealing.

Studies on Chili Pepper Ratings

A few studies have analyzed whether professor attractiveness measured by chili peppers is associated with higher teaching ratings:

Effect on Teaching Ratings

A 2016 study published in School Psychology of Education examined over 19,000 Rate My Professor ratings for professors at a large southern university. Key findings:

  • Male professors were far more likely to receive chili pepper ratings than female professors (33% vs. 13%).
  • Professors with chili pepper ratings had higher overall quality ratings, on average, than professors without chili peppers.
  • The association between chili peppers and higher ratings was significant for male professors but negligible for female professors.

This suggests students may subconsciously rate more attractive male professors as better teachers overall. Attractiveness did not impact ratings received by female professors.

Student Motivations

A 2018 study published in College Student Journal surveyed 230 students on their motivations for giving chili pepper ratings on Rate My Professor. Key findings:

  • 44% of students said chili pepper ratings can raise a professor’s overall ratings.
  • 61% acknowledged chili pepper ratings are mainly for fun and lack educational value.
  • 36% used chili peppers to reward professors they found personally appealing.
  • Only 3% said chili peppers helped them pick courses to take.

This implies students understand chili peppers are primarily for entertainment. Few use them seriously in course selection.

Professors’ Reactions

A 2019 study in Gender and Education interviewed professors about their reactions to being rated with chili peppers. Key themes:

  • Female professors felt objectified, outraged, or threatened by chili peppers.
  • Male professors found them flattering but awkward or trivial.
  • All professors resented focus on appearance over intellect and skills.
  • Chili peppers reduced professors’ sense of professional integrity.

This highlights how chili pepper ratings can negatively impact professors across genders despite seeming lighthearted.

Recent Changes to Chili Peppers on Rate My Professor

In June 2020, Rate My Professor removed the chili pepper rating, replacing it with a “Badge” system for professors considered outstanding across specific categories:

Badge Meaning
Caring Demonstrates care for students
Clear Explains course material well
Tough Grader Grades rigorously
Get Ready To Read Assigns heavy reading workload
Challenging Has difficult exams and assignments

Rate My Professor said this change would help students focus on professors’ skills and teaching style rather than appearance. While chili peppers are no longer an official rating, students can still mention a professor’s attractiveness or appeal in written comments. So references to professor hotness live on, just in a different form.


The chili pepper rating on Rate My Professor signified how physically attractive students found a professor to be. It was controversial, with critics arguing it objectified professors and reinforced focus on appearance over abilities. Studies found chili peppers may boost male professors’ ratings but made many professors uncomfortable. In 2020, Rate My Professor retired chili peppers in favor of new Badges highlighting outstanding teaching qualities. While superficial “hotness” ratings are no longer official, discussion of professor appeal lives on in site comments. The chili pepper aimed to be a fun novelty, but ultimately proved more questionable than harmless.