Online dating for college students


Peter Moens

Byline: Kaitlin Jacobson & Peter Moens
Dating in college can be tricky, especially with classes, activities and the pandemic. Many students who have had no luck finding a significant other turn to dating apps.
One of the most popular dating apps used by students is Tinder. Tinder is a fairly easy app to use. It simply displays a profile and users decide whether they want to swipe left or right. If both users swipe right, they match and are able to message one another. If they want, people can put a bio along with their photos that helps introduce who they are.
Most students admitted they did not take dating apps seriously when first using them. Since the app is virtual, it may not seem like a plausible way to meet people and make connections. Seeing faces on screens seems a lot less personable than seeing faces in person, therefore it is understandable that some may see dating apps as unrealistic at first glance.
Bella Gmitrovic, sophomore, said, “My roommate dared me to sign up. I deleted [Tinder] multiple times while having it, then I would go back.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, dating apps became more carefree. Users would be at ease while utilizing the app, as they most likely could not meet up with the person they spoke to anyways.
“At the height of the pandemic, it was more for fun because I didn’t see the possibility of meeting up with someone because I didn’t feel safe. As the pandemic is starting to ease and people are getting vaccinated it feels a little more serious,” said Sam Exner, a sophomore.
Exner also pointed out that online dating has been used even more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic, as there have been fewer chances for people to meet in public places to find a potential partner.
“Especially during a pandemic, we’re not going to parties, we’re not going out to meet people. In a pandemic there’s no organic way to meet someone. It’s been the best form of meeting people,” Exner said.
There is a stereotype that dating apps are only used for hookups. The fact that people are able to make friendships on dating apps proves that there is a possibility for users to make real, long lasting connections with others.
“I think it’s a good thing to have during a pandemic,” said Gmitrovic. With fewer opportunities to meet their peers, students are lonely during quarantine and want to make connections. “[My friend] would message guys on tinder and make a lot of friends,” said Gmitrovic.
While there is potential to make connections, there is also the downfall of losing them. Since Augustana College is fairly small, students have admitted that it is quite awkward to see matches they know in public, or people they know on dating apps.
“It is a small campus and we can’t avoid people,” said Exner.
Students may try to avoid one another if they have spoken on dating apps, leading to possible friendships and/or relationships being lost before the chance of actually getting to know each other face-to-face.
While this can be upsetting, some students are willing to take the risk for a chance of meeting a partner. More and more students are beginning to have an open mind about dating apps.
According to Exner, Tinder used to seem unrealistic because people thought there were better ways to meet people. “There was a stigma a few years ago, but now so many people are meeting their significant others through dating apps. It’s become more normalized.”
With the normalization of dating apps comes both positive and negative experiences. Students seem to be pleased with the app overall, even if they haven’t had a lot of success.
Recently, Augustana’s ADs team worked on a campaign for Tinder, during which they engaged in research, including social listening (a process by which one looks into what people are saying about something) and a survey of Augustana students to get a further sense for the general perception of the app.
“A lot of Augie students’ perceptions did reflect generally similar themes to the social listening,” says Marina Belshause, a participant in the ADs program. Students’ beliefs are not anomalies; they seem to match up with what the general online public thinks of Tinder.
Other dating apps had similar perceptions to Tinder in the survey. Bumble and Hinge were ranked roughly the same as it, with Bumble having only a slightly more positive reputation.
Some more enlightening ideas were gleaned from this survey, however. Specifically, the team found that there were five “primary motivations” that would lead people to use Tinder.
“The idea that Tinder is a hookup app, that Tinder can be used to meet any kind of person that shares your interests, that you can find anyone from a romantic relationship to a friendship to a hookup, and even use Tinder for fun and entertainment or for validation,” lists Belshause.
The team did not specifically look into “Tinder University,” a recent program which aims to specifically connect college students to each other for their campaign, but pointed out a noteworthy fact about it regardless.
“It kinda plays into this trend of switching from ‘Tinder is a dating app,’ ‘Tinder is a hookup app’ to ‘Tinder is a meeting app,’ It’s not just for those intimate relationships, but relationships in general,” Belshause says.
With the Tinder University program matching students from different colleges, it stands to reason that many matches would be made between students of distant institutions, and that traditional dating may not be an option (with or without the pandemic).
Tinder having advanced beyond the comparatively narrow view of hookups and romance carries implications for the experience of a college user. Online dating is still a major focus, but Tinder could also be used to just find friends and acquaintances in one’s age range with similar current experiences.
However it is used, Tinder and other online dating apps have become integral parts of the college experience for some. Particularly during the pandemic, it has become a reliable tool to find dates or friends with other options closed off.
“I felt safe, I haven’t had any experiences that felt dangerous,” said Exner. “You just have to be clear about what you want and what you’re looking for.”
Additional reporting by Carly Davis
Graphic by Phoenix Agyepong.