If you’re having trouble finding the right match for you, why not turn to online dating? Any stigma online dating had in the past is gone, with dozens of apps to choose from and thousands of couples crediting their love to these apps.
In this article we’ll show you the best free dating apps for young adults (anyone 18 to 25), along with some advice for using them. If you’re older, check out our list of dating sites for mature singles instead.
A Warning on Age Restrictions
Before we continue, it’s important to note that due to laws in the U.S. and elsewhere, there are legal issues with under-18s using dating apps. Therefore, none of the apps below allow users under 18 years old to join, but of course, these measures aren’t foolproof.
While using any dating apps, we advise you to take caution with regards to age. Don’t take anyone’s age at face value, and be careful of predators looking to take advantage of apps aimed at younger people. We’ll share some safety tips after we discuss the apps.
To be clear: We don’t condone anyone under 18 using these apps.
For an all-around free dating app, OKCupid is the gold standard. The site uses powerful algorithms to find you the right matches.
OKCupid asks you to answer a large amount of personality questions when you sign up. As you do, you also select the answers you’d find acceptable in a partner. These questions range from the serious, like the importance of religion in your life, to the silly, like what crime you’d most likely be thrown in jail for.
By browsing others’ public answers, you can get a good idea of whether they’re a good fit for you. Messaging on OKCupid is free for everyone. This is great because you don’t have to pay to talk to someone you like, but it opens the door for unsolicited creepy messages.
The DoubleTake features offers a Tinder-like swiping interface for easy match evaluation, while Discovery highlights matches from variety of criteria. You can upgrade to the paid A-List plan to see who liked you, add more search filters, and more.
Overall, OKCupid is a good fit for people who want to try standard online dating without paying. It’s also less focused on hookups than some other options. Check out how OKCupid compares to some other dating apps if you’re interested.
Download: OKCupid for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)
You can’t have a discussion about dating apps for young adults with talking about Tinder. The app arguably popularized the dating app scene (succeeding past website-only dating services) and is still going strong.
Its interface is simple: swipe right if you like someone, and swipe left if you’re not interested. If two people swipe right on each other, they have the opportunity to exchange messages. But you can’t send messages to anyone without matching first—we’ve covered what to do after you match on Tinder previously.
That’s really all there is to it. The vast majority of Tinder users are under 35, so it’s a great choice for younger people. However, Tinder is heavily geared towards hookup culture. While it’s not impossible to find a long-term partner on Tinder, those looking for a serious relationship should keep that in mind.
Since Tinder matches you locally, there’s less chance that you’ll get matched with people hundreds of miles away like in other apps. The free version of Tinder limits the number of right swipes you get; upgrade to Tinder Plus or Tinder Gold to unlock more features.
Download: Tinder for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)
PlentyOfFish (POF) is another well-known free dating site. Its sheer size makes it a good option for finding a match, though sorting through all the noise can be a bit tough.
POF offers several ways to connect. Like OKCupid, it’s free to message anyone. You can also use the Nearby tab to look through other mobile users who are near you.
Of course, the service also brings you matches based on a chemistry test. Meanwhile, the Meet Me section brings the familiar Tinder-like interface of swiping on profiles.
An upgraded POF membership offers extended profiles, priority in Meet Me, username search, and more. A minor drawback is that PlentyOfFish’s interface is pretty dated and a bit cluttered, especially on the web. But it’s certainly worth a try.
Download: PlentyofFish for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)
Once two people swipe-right on each other, the woman can choose whether or not to start a conversation. If she doesn’t do so within 24 hours, the match disappears. In a same-sex match, either person can initiate the conversation.
To help combat abuse, Bumble has a photo verification feature. This asks you to upload a selfie in a specific pose, which a real person reviews. Doing so adds a check mark to your account, letting others know you’re a legitimate profile.
Bumble offers a paid Bumble Boost service, which adds additional features.
Download: Bumble for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)
5. Coffee Meets Bagel
If you find the onslaught of matches in other apps overwhelming, Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) is for you. The app takes a curated approach: at noon each day, the app sends you a handful of matches (“bagels”). Thus, instead of swiping through tons of people’s profiles, you can check out a few and see if you’re interested in them.
Men receive pre-selected matches, while women only receive bagels that have expressed interest. Once you match, you’ll be able to start a conversation. CMB even provides some starter questions to ease you in.
Upgrading to CMB’s premium plan adds information about how often your matches respond to chats, read receipts, plus more features.
After you connect and chat in an app for a while, you’ll eventually want to meet your potential match in person. This is great, but it’s important to take care when doing so.
You should always meet in a public place, like a restaurant or coffee shop. Having lots of other people around reduces the chance of your date threatening you or something similar.
It’s also wise to drive yourself to the date (don’t let them pick you up). Let some friends or family know where you’re going and how long you expect to be, just in case something happens. You should also avoid drinking alcohol the first few times you meet to avoid that layer of complication.
Avoid Common Scams
Unfortunately, the free nature of many dating apps opens them widely to scams. Always be on the lookout for signs that a profile is looking to rip you off:
Their photos are edited or stolen
They jump all over the place in conversation
They ask you to chat on another app or via email right away
Aside from avoiding scams, you should also take steps to protect your privacy while using dating apps. Don’t use the same profile picture you have set everywhere, which makes it easy to find you online. Avoid linking to your social media accounts, and be careful what photos you include.
Will Online Dating Find Your Match?
Online dating sounds like a magic bullet, but it’s not easy. It’s a tough balance of expressing yourself, chatting with matches, and avoiding the potential dangers that come along with dating apps. Don’t be afraid to block people if they get creepy, and remember that building connections takes time.