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5 secrets behind the League, the Harvard of dating apps


It’s so notoriously difficult to get into the League, the Harvard of dating apps, that fictional characters complain about it on television.

On the first season of HBO’s “Insecure,” even hard-charging lawyer Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji) has to wait three months to be accepted. “Now I can finally date dudes on my level,” Molly tells her best friend Issa. The League has real people vetting its applicants via their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles in an attempt to create a selective community of educated, relationship-minded singles.

It’s like getting into college all over again. And having to wait for admission is exactly what the app’s founder Amanda Bradford wants. Her theory is that, the longer someone waits, the more eager they’ll be to use the app once they’re on it.

That’s right: The League is playing hard to get. And it seems to be working. People still want in.

The app is now live in 30 cities across the country; it’s been in D.C. for about a year. In an interview this week, Bradford explained what people can do to get off the wait list, and other secrets behind the selective dating app.

Don’t leave your “About Me” blank. Would you apply to college without writing an entrance essay? Of course not. Well, it’s smart to treat your League profile the same way. Bradford says she modeled the app’s acceptance practices after Harvard and Stanford’s admissions criteria.

No, there’s no dating SAT to take. But just like college admissions, Bradford says that standout performance in a certain category — a hilarious or quirky About Me section, for example, or a cool job without graduating from college, or a huge social media network — can make the difference between getting in or remaining on the wait list.

You don’t absolutely need a college degree to get into the League, Bradford says, though the majority of the app’s users do have some higher education. The admissions process sounds a bit like screening for a brainier version of “The Bachelor”: “We try to let in the people who we think want to be there and are there for the right reasons,” Bradford says.

There are no fake profiles. Some dating apps have had problems with bots or spam accounts, which can make it hard to tell if you’re chatting with a real human or a machine. But on the League, real people are vetting everyone who’s accepted onto the app — hence the long wait list — to make sure that all the users are real themselves. “Everyone is who they say they are,” Bradford says. “You’re using Facebook and LinkedIn so you don’t have a lot of the issues that surround unmonitored social networks where you have spammy users or trolls.”

Once you’re in, here’s how you get more matches. Clear, crisp photos showing a well-rounded life is key. “High-quality, professional photos are going to be the biggest bang for your buck,” Bradford says. The reasons are twofold. First, having a professional photo says that you’re taking your career seriously enough that you want a good work profile, Bradford says. And second: A quality photo provides an accurate view of the person you’re swiping left or right on. “It’s all about transparency,” Bradford says. “I want to arm people with as much information as possible.”

She also recommends including photos of several parts of your life. “You don’t want all your photos to be party pics; you don’t want all your photos to be skiing. You want to look like you have a pretty well-balanced life,” Bradford says.

Lastly, she suggests including multiple interests in your profile because as soon as there’s an overlapping one that hits home for someone who comes upon it, that increases your potential for a match. “I just learned how to surf,” Bradford says. “So when I see a guy with surfing on his profile, I actually swipe right on him even if I wouldn’t have before, because worst case, we can go surfing and he’ll be an activity partner.”

There’s a real person you can ask for help. I’ve been on the League for months, and I never knew there was a real person behind “the Concierge” who’s listed among my matches, but there is. Bradford says there’s a team of about 10 League employees powering these profiles. The Concierge can, depending on availability, dispense dating tips to users, and offer suggestions such as: “David would be a good match for you. David just applied today,” Bradford says. The Concierge might also recommend changing the order of your photos or provide information about which of your matches are most active on the app, as in most likely to write you back.

Everyone thinks their city is the worst. Atlanta is actually the worst. Bradford says she hasn’t seen any “crazy gender ratios thrown off or one city where no one’s educated on one side and not the other.” But Atlanta is probably “the most unbalanced community,” she says, because there are a lot more educated women than men.

“All these other cities, they’re not as bad as people think,” Bradford says. “In San Francisco, guys love to complain that there are no women there, and I’m like: ‘I have the numbers. The ratio is not quite New York City,'” she says, where single women more starkly outnumber single men. But it’s still pretty balanced. In fact, at a Tuesday night talk about technology and dating in Washington, Bradford said that D.C.’s League community actually has more male users than female ones. Swipe right on that, ladies.

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