BY ANDREW BLOM // NOV. 15, 2012 //

When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from his dorm room in 2004, he did so to help his fellow Harvard students better connect with one another. Eight years later, the site has become so much more, with nearly a billion users worldwide.

As of Nov. 14, the Curry College Class of 2016 Facebook group had 611 members. // COURTESY PHOTO //

But Facebook remains an almost indispensible tool for making collegiate connections—sometimes months before students actually enter college.

At Curry, first-year students are encouraged to use the social media site to meet and get to know their assigned roommates. According to the college, the goal is to help incoming freshmen become more comfortable with their new environments and, as a result, help bolster first-year retention rates. Approximately 35 percent of first-year students don’t return to Curry for a second year, the college reports, although it isn’t entirely clear why.

“We highly encourage students to reach out to one another prior to move in,” said Stephanie Alliette, assistant director of housing operations at Curry. “It provides an opportunity for students to interact and begin to build relationships and community over the summer.”

In most cases, students hardly need the encouragement. Alliette said today’s students almost instinctively use social media to research people they don’t really know. In some cases, first-year students call Curry’s Residence Life department in frustration because they can’t find their roommate online.

“Using all the social media networks is a good way to connect because that’s where students are at,” said Dean of Students Maryellen Kiley.

Curry has embraced social media in recent years, setting up various class pages. As of late October, the Curry College Class of 2016 Facebook group had 603 members, for example. In addition, the college has sought to reach out to alumni, parents, prospective students and others through Twitter,
Storify, Flickr, Pinterest and LinkedIn. But when it comes to helping first-year students get acclimated to college life, Facebook is the clear fan favorite.

“I thought that having Facebook as a resource to connect with my roommate was a great thing to have,” said
Elaina Druid, a first-year criminal justice major. “You got to kind of get an idea as to who your roommate was and what some of their likes and dislikes are.”

However, other students are quick to point out that initial familiarity is just that. True bonding and comfort can only develop with time and face-to-face interactions.

“Even though I reached out to my roommate with Facebook, it was my first weeks here with her that I really started to get to know my roommate,” said Alexandra Rothman, a first-year communication major. “People tend to over-exaggerate on Facebook about who they are. Once you meet them, they might be different from who you expected to meet.”

According to Alliette, it’s one of the unintended side effects of social media: first impressions are often over-inflated.

“Students will find their roommate on Facebook and immediately decide that it is not going to work out, for whatever reason,” said Alliette. “We pride ourselves on being a diverse and inclusive community within the residence halls and ask for students not to judge a book by its cover.”

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