As I write this, I am emerging from a self-imposed and much needed hiatus from the Internet after two solid weeks of new student orientation. Between commuter student life sessions, a transfer meet and greet, several involvement sessions, and a structured conversation I co-led about student assessment, I needed a few days to myself. But I had some time to think about social media overall, and yet another way to apply it to my work.

As I mentioned, a major part of my role in orientation was the amassing of information for, and delivery of, a presentation for the Office of Student Activities and Multicultural Programs espousing the many offerings and benefits of getting involved on campus. The other staff members of my office and I labored to catalog our many features, state them all in our 45 minute time allotment, and present it while keeping it engaging. I’d like to think that transformation of last year’s presentation (from a bland PowerPoint to a more dynamic Prezi, and giveaways to get the audience involved and moving) would help us overcome the coma of presenting after lunch. But we still faltered at times.

Meanwhile, in my own world, I joined the world of the dating app Tinder in the greater Boston area. For those unfamiliar with the idea: (1) good for you, it’s addicting! and (2) here’s how it works. You create an account, the information for which is largely populated by Facebook, and can browse the accounts of those near you. It tells you how far away these other potential love interests are, what interests you share (if any), and what friends you have in common (again, if any). Based on that, you can either choose to “like” the person, or say “nope”. If the “likes” are mutual, it connects you so you can communicate!

The further I delved into the rabbit hole of this surprisingly time consuming app, and the more the reality of the college journey set in for me as orientation wore on, I started drawing parallels between my use of Tinder, and my own process of picking schools way back when.

As I was inundated with postcards from schools across the country after the PSAT, I had to make some quick decisions to rapidly reduce the growing piles of mail that were arriving each day. In retrospect, I probably treated that process as I do my Tinder account. At first, I tried to do it based on visuals. Tinder lends itself tremendously to the superficial, and I have discounted some potential suitors based on what I saw in their photos (kegstands, lacrosse action shots, and middle fingers to the camera aren’t doing it for me!). I remember doing the same with many of the college postcards that I received.

Next, I started looking at common interests. I knew what I wanted to major in (communications or business), and started gravitating toward schools that seemed like they could fulfill my needs in that arena. Similarly, I gave special consideration to those that my friends were considering. After all, if my friends liked them, I could probably have a good match there, right?

But I also had to acknowledge my own biases. I didn’t want to go to school in Florida, and I wanted a school with a Northern feel, like Brown and Harvard had when I had visited them the summer prior. So although appearance, mutual interest, and the opinions of friends counted, I had a few things I was looking for too. Years later, I find that all to be true as I swipe through photos on Tinder in search of…what, I’m still not entirely sure!!

Now, my question: how can we apply the lessons of Tinder to how we present our offices, departments, divisions, and institutions to students who are growing up in an era where Tinder is an acceptable way to date?

(So you know, I am not at ALL advocating for offices to use Tinder, only considering how to adopt such a mentality. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever saw an institution pop up on Tinder, offering itself as a “match” for potential students. Eek.)

One of our major struggles as we continued to refine our orientation was how much information we should share about our office. Each staff member presented briefly on his/her responsibilities for the office, some more briefly than others. I can’t speak for the rest of my staff, but I will say this: orientation is not the time for exhaustive treatises on the many initiatives our office can provide. Especially if your presentation falls in that 3 o’clock time period. Rather, it should give an overview of what you can offer students, some ideas of how you approach your work, and how to get in touch with you for longer, or more specific, questions.

In a session designed to draw excitement, as presentations at orientation are, I’d rather “Tinder-ize” my part- show them what we look like, get a feel for our common interests, show them who else is involved (orientation leaders that are involved in our programs have proven to be quite the asset for this!), and try to appeal to the mindset they already hold.

How do you decide what to cover in your orientation information sessions? How do you make them fun? And who do you know that I’d like, so I can get off Tinder once and for all? 😉

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