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The College Tour Experience: Things Parents and Teens See Differently

On a gorgeous fall day, my husband and I strolled down the sidewalk on a college tour experience. We took in the college campus surroundings, noticing the bucolic setting, historic buildings, and undergraduates studying on grassy lawns.

“This is beautiful, right?” I queried our 17-year-old son. He was walking alongside us during the campus tour.

“Yes,” he replied, with a bit more enthusiasm than I expected.

That’s when I noticed he wasn’t looking around at the buildings or noticing the landscaping. Rather, he was looking at a cute coed coming our way. And, as I learned over the course of the rest of our visit, this was just the first of several different ways that parents and teens see the college experience.

One College Tour Experience, Two Different Views

The iconic buildings

What parents see: This is it! The historic building named after the illustrious founder where my child will spend the next four years pursuing his passion. Look at that architectural detail! I can just picture my son going to classes here!

What teens see: A building.

The dining halls

What parents see: Gorgeous, deluxe dining halls reminiscent of upscale food courts at a designer mall. We aren’t in our college cafeterias from the 90s anymore, that’s for sure! All of these options look pricey, but it’s a blessing that our teen will have so many choices and the opportunity to be so well-nourished.

What teens see: Cool! They have Panda Express and Starbucks.

The mascot statue

What parents see: This is a work of art, probably endowed by some renowned alumni. It is prominently displayed in the center of campus and makes the perfect photo opp. Let’s take a picture during this visit so we can compare how much our son changes from this day until (gulp) the day he graduates.

What teens see: My buddies and I will climb on that statue and stick our fingers up its nose. It’ll make a great photo opp after that first college party our parents must never know about.

The campus grounds

What parents see: These are lovely, manicured spaces where students can relax and recharge while plugging into nature. Oh, look at all of the Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers! And how old is that giant oak? The squirrels are so cute.

What teens see: Grass. Trees. Squirrels.

The student parking lot

What parents see: This parking lot doesn’t look close enough to the dorms. Is it well-lit when it’s dark? Is there a shuttle back to the dorms? Is it patrolled by public safety officers? Where are the emergency kiosks? How much does a parking permit cost anyway? 

What teens see: Cool! Freshmen can have cars on-campus.

The campus bookstore

What parents see: Should we get him a shirt or sweatshirt? I can’t believe my baby is going to college! This is where he’ll come to buy all his books next year. I bet they’re still really expensive. That hasn’t changed since the 90s.

What teens see: A store.

The dormitories

What parents see: This doesn’t look like a dorm, it looks like a hotel. Wait, did the tour guide just say there were no more communal bathrooms? Everyone gets a suite with its own bathroom? And each floor has washers and dryers that text you when your laundry is done? Wow… just wow!

What teens see: Dorms. Just… dorms.

“Hey, Mom and Dad,” I heard my son say, interrupting my mental list of all the things that I was seeing differently than he was. “I could see myself going here.”

“Me, too,” I said, my husband nodding in agreement as I looked around the picturesque campus.

Yes, I could see my son, as well as a piece of my heart, on this campus next year. And perhaps that is the biggest difference of all between what parents and teens see on college visits.

Katy M. Clark is a writer who embraces her imperfections as a mom at Experienced Bad Mom. You can follow her on Facebook, TwitterPinterest and Instagram.

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