For many students, living in a college dorm is one of the best parts of the college experience. You finally have a space to to call your own and you can decorate it however you want. Your friends can live just doors down from you, or (if you’re lucky enough) they can even be your own roommate. However, it quickly becomes clear to many students that the display dorm room that they are shown on campus tours can vary greatly from the real dorm room that they actually live in…something that I can testify to.
After all, throughout high school (when I participated in residential summer camps) and college, I have lived in six different dorms. When you add that to the numerous others I visited through campus tours, I guess you could say that I got to see quite a few differences in the dorms offered in each college.
After all, when I was on these campus tours, most of the dorm rooms I was shown were “display” rooms: a dorm room that was specifically set aside for college tours, beautifully designed and decorated with the school’s color palette and collegiate merchandise, which just screamed school spirit. Students and parents often clamored over these display rooms, asking plenty of questions, poking their heads in closets and cabinets, already mentally planning the look and layout if they had this room themselves. These rooms were undoubtedly many people’s favorites, and giving them an exciting taste of what college (and dorm) life could be like.
Less often, however, I was shown a dorm room that students were already living in. Although seeing a real dorm room didn’t provide me as much of an opportunity to poke around the room, it did give me insight into what living 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 look 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…
My Experience with Display Dorm Rooms and Real Dorm Rooms
The Display Dorm Room
A few years ago, I went to an open house for a school that I am going to call Eastside College. It was my dream school and had everything on my wish list: an amazing program for my major, plenty of job and internship opportunities, a vibrant campus culture, and so much more.
During this campus tour, we (of course) got to visit the dorms. Although there were several dorms on campus, we were taken to only one, which was in one of the campus’ older dorms. After an elevator ride up to the floor, we were shown a bright, clean 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’s logo on it. Even though the room didn’t look as glamorous as other dorm rooms I had seen (possibly because was an older building), it looked well-kept and clean.
“The only difference between this room and the actual rooms,” the campus guide told us as students and parents alike walked around the dorm room, examining the space “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?
The Real Dorm Room
A few months later, I arrived back on campus for their open house, a larger event with hundreds–if not thousands–of potential students. At the open house, dozens of campus halls were open to be viewed so that students could make their dorm selections, which meant we had the opportunity to see the “real” versions that weren’t shown on the campus tour. Even though I thought of passing up the chance to view the same dorm building that I had seen on the campus tour, since I had been told the only difference was the door placement, I figured I might as well see it again. So when I did enter the building and the door to the “real” version of the display dorm room opened, I just stood there in shock.
The real dorm room was cramped, dim, and full of shadows, which seemed to be the opposite of the display room. Where the display dorm room had clean floors, these looked old and dirty. Where the display dorm room had bright walls, the real dorm room walls were dim, lacking a new coat of paint and bright lighting.
The part the bothered me most was the space. The display dorm room we had been shown on the campus tour was spacious, providing plenty of room for our tour group to move around with ease. Doing that in the real version of that dorm room was a joke. There was barely enough room for a few people, much less an entire tour group. I couldn’t figure out how these two rooms–which were supposedly identical–could have been any more different.
Why You Need to See the Display Dorm Room AND the Real Dorm Room
It was after visiting the real version of the display dorm room that I realized that I, like many other students, had forgotten that display rooms can be an enticing marketing technique. Colleges want potential students to attend their school, which is why campus tours show you the highlights and fun facts of campus, give you free swag, and (of course) show you a well-designed dorm room.
But the thing is, the display room isn’t always going to match the actual version.
Of course, I’m not saying that this is always the case, because I’ve seen plenty of well-designed dorm rooms before. What I am saying is that display rooms don’t show what life is actually like as a college student; I realized this 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, and instead of looking professionally-designed with a matching color scheme, and they are going to be covered with pictures, posters, tapestries, and other personal mementos.
Display dorms, on the other hand, are devoid of personal items. Besides having a few college pendants hanging up, and maybe a marker board, nothing makes the room personable to anyone. Nothing has ever been used before. Meanwhile, 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. Whereas display dorm rooms are minimalist, seeing an actual dorm room gives you the chance to see something real.
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. I’ve even put together a list of 10 Factors You Should Consider Before Choosing Your College Dorm and A Tour of My Freshman Dorm Room and Suite for you all to give you a better idea of how to choose your college dorm and what an actual dorm room may look like.
How did you find display and real dorm rooms different? What surprised you about them? Comment below to let me know!