Shortly being accepted to Yale, Jay Wong ’16 joined the Yale College Class of 2016 Facebook group, a page that provides a platform for online discussion among all admitted freshmen. Wong commented on several posts regarding Yale-related topics, totaling 37 posts in the week after he joined the group. He also commented on posts that had sparked political debate on national issues, such as a thread about fast-food chain Chick-fil-A’s stance against same-sex marriage, which garnered a total of 263 comments as of Sept. 4.
Eventually, Wong said he began to correspond directly with other incoming freshmen: Wong “friended” students with whom he had interacted on the Facebook group, posting on their personal Facebook walls and video-chatting with them via Skype and Tiny Chat, a live video chatroom, all before finally meeting on campus.
“I felt like I had a circle of friends once I already got here,” Wong said.
This year’s freshman class Facebook page was the first to be created and administered directly by the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Last spring, the Admissions Office also launched a Twitter account and Tumblr page, setting the stage for an unprecedented use of social media to facilitate connections between prospective students and the University as well as among the students themselves.
When high school seniors received their online admissions decisions from Yale, they were given a link to an admitted students website hosted on the University’s server. The site allows students to message one another and create viewable profiles, but it also provides a link to join the Class of 2016 Facebook group as well.
“We wanted to try out a Facebook page to provide another space for admitted students to connect,” said Mark Dunn ’07, director of outreach and recruitment for the Admissions Office, “and have their questions answered by current students.”
All current and incoming Yale students were admitted to the group upon request. As of Sept. 4, there were 1,622 members.
The page, which Dunn said his office intended to serve as a platform for admitted students to contact one another as well as older students, proved “very successful.”
In the past, the Admissions Office oversaw only the admitted students website. Incoming freshmen would independently create and administer Facebook groups for their class, which sometimes resulted in multiple competing groups. Students in previous years also could not ensure that only other admitted Yale students were members of the group, while administrators of the 2016 page are employed by the Admissions office and cross-reference all membership requests with Yale’s database of admitted students.
The Admissions Office wanted to be involved with the Facebook page because “so much communication happens over Facebook,” Dunn said.
While the Yale Admissions Office has embraced social media, not all universities have fostered online communication amongst incoming freshmen. At Stanford University, students are not given rooming assignments until they arrive on campus.
“[W]e have found that roommate relationships are more positive and successful when they start out with face-to-face interaction, rather than on preconceived notions based on fragments of information or online communications,” according to Stanford’s housing website.
Incoming Stanford freshman Meaghan Carley said she would have liked to know a few characteristics of her new roommate before arriving at Stanford, but she understands the need to develop a deeper relationship with her future roommate.
“Because online media is so shallow, judgments can be made that aren’t necessarily true,” she said. “I kind of respect the idea of allowing that relationship to develop itself naturally when we’re together.”
All students interviewed said Facebook is a convenient tool for exchanging information with peers, but not all students believed the relationships they formed online were meaningful.
Thirteen of 15 freshmen interviewed said they joined the Class of 2016 Facebook group, citing motivations such as curiosity about their peers and a desire to post questions about Yale.
All interviewed said they corresponded with their suitemates over Facebook before arriving.
One such freshman, Katie Galbraith ’16, said that while she “friended” all of her suitemates over the summer she did not become close friends with them until arriving on campus.
“We did a little bit of introducing,” she said, “but it’s hard to get a sense of someone over Facebook.”
Charlotte Wang ’16 said she sometimes recognizes freshmen on campus because they are her Facebook friends, but that meeting them for the first time can be “awkward.”
Two students interviewed who actively used social networking tools to communicate over the summer said they gained reputations as active users of the page but still felt they had an advantage upon arriving to campus with a ready circle of friends.
Helder Toste ’16 said he regularly corresponded with a total of 20 students, who he met on Facebook, over a variety of social media platforms during the summer. Toste said he became a so-called Facebook celebrity because of his frequent posting on the Class of 2016 Facebook page, adding that some students have even called him the “Facebook guy.”
Toste said that he sometimes felt his peers thought negatively of him because of his large online activity, but he explained that many people have told him they perceived him differently on Facebook than in person.
“Some people judged me, but I made some really good friends,” Toste said.
Freshmen interviewed who did not use the Facebook page or other social media tools to forge early friendships said they did not feel left out in any way.
Lillian Crabb ’16 said she was not a member of the Class of 2016 Facebook group and did not know the group existed. She considers herself somebody who would rather make friends in person, rather than over the Internet, she said.
“I wasn’t even aware of the idea of getting to know people on Facebook,” Crabb said.
Ariel Hernandez-Leyva ’16 also said he did not join the Class of 2016 Facebook group because he rarely uses his account. His mother joined instead.
“She was more into it than I was,” he said. “I’m a face-to-face meeting person.”