Throughout my life, I have lived in six different dorms and have visited numerous others through campus tours or friends. When on these tours, most of the dorm rooms that I was shown were “display” rooms: a room that was specifically set aside for college tours, beautifully designed and decorated with the school’s color palette collegiate merchandise, which just screamed of school spirit. Students and parents often clamored over these display rooms, asking plenty of questions, poking their heads in closets and cabinets, and asking tons of questions. These rooms were undoubtedly many people’s favorites, and gave off an air of what dorm life could be.
On other campus tours, however, I was shown a dorm room that students were currently living in. Although seeing a real dorm room didn’t provide me as much of an opportunity to poke around the room, it did provide me insight into what an actual dorm room was like. After all, very few dorm rooms actually look like those on Pinterest and Tumbler. (However, if you want to see what my Freshman Dorm Room did end up looking like, you can click here to take the tour!)
Of course, the real dorm rooms never looked as glamorous as the display rooms, but as a high school student, I didn’t give much thought to it. After all, the tour guides claimed that the display rooms were identical to the actual dorm rooms, so I figured how a dorm room looked could just be a matter of organization and decoration.
What I didn’t yet realize was how off the mark that assumption was…
A few years ago, I went to an open house for a school that I am going to call College A. I had previously toured the college a few months prior, and during the tour was shown a clean, bright, spacious dorm room…a display dorm room. Just like the display rooms I had seen on other campus tours, it was decked out with the school colors, pendants, and other items with the school logo on it. Even the room didn’t look as glamorous as other rooms had, since it was in an older building, it looked well-kept and nice.
“The only difference between this room and the actual rooms,” the campus guide told us as we walked around the dorm room, “is that the door is actually on the other wall.”
I did my best to picture it, and it didn’t seem to change much about the room. After that, I didn’t give it a second thought. Why would I? After all, the only difference was (supposedly) the door placement; what else was there to think about?
So when I arrived back at the college for the open house and had the opportunity to see one of the “real” versions, I figured I might as well, even though I didn’t expect to see much of a difference. The campus tour guide’s words echoed in my head, telling me the only difference was in the door placement. So when the door to the real dorm room opened, I just stood there, experiencing a bit of a shock.
The room was cramped, dim, and full of shadows, which all seemed to be the opposite of what the display room was. I kept trying to figure out what the difference between the two was. Older flooring tiles? Lack of a new coat of paint? A lack of sunshine through the window? I couldn’t figure it out. The part the bothered me most was the space. Whereas the display dorm room was spacious, providing enough room for our tour group to move around the room at ease, doing that in the real dorm room was a joke. I couldn’t figure out how these two rooms–which were supposedly identical–could have been any more different.
It was then that I realized that I, like many other students, had forgotten that display rooms can be an enticing marketing technique; the magazine-style display room isn’t always going to match the actual version.
Of course, I’m not saying that this is always the case. What I am saying is that display rooms don’t show what life is actually like as a college student, which is what I discovered the day that I walked into to the “real” version of the display room. Actual college dorm rooms are going to be a bit messy, usually not professionally designed with a matching color scheme, and are covered with pictures, posters, tapestries, and other personal mementos. Display dorms, on the other hand, are devoid of personal items. They might just have a few college pendants hanging up, everything matches perfectly, and nothing looks as if it has ever been used before. Actual dorm rooms are going to have desks piled with textbooks, homework, and papers, with extra storage bins tucked under the bed or next to the desk filled with living essentials. The only stuff a display room might have on its desks are a few notebooks and pens with the university logo, and the only “living essential” is a mini fridge with bottles of water to give to the campus visitors.
While I don’t mean to make it sound as if display rooms are misleading, it can be easy for prospective college students and their parents to forget that the picture-perfect, never-lived-in display room is going to be very different from what they actually have during their college years. This means that–if at all possible–I encourage you to try to look an actual dorm room while on your college tour to get an understanding of what the residential life actually looks like.
How did you find display and real dorm rooms different? What surprised you about them? Comment below to let me know!