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Oregon Family Magazine

The College Tour Experience

04/29/2024 ● By Katy M. Clark
This Summer parents of high schoolers will be taking their teens on college campus tours for decision day later this Fall. They'll see iconic buildings, lush green spaces, dorms resembling hotels, and bookstores packed with swag. All of this as they consider where their kids might land after high school graduation. But what will their teens see?

… On a gorgeous fall day, my husband and I strolled down the sidewalk. We took in our surroundings, noticing the historic buildings, a bucolic setting, and undergraduates relaxing in hammocks and studying on grassy lawns. 

“This is beautiful, right?” I queried our teenage son, 17. 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 co-ed coming our way.

Aha! This was just the first example of things that parents and teens see differently on college visits. As I learned throughout the rest of our visit, there are lots of funny but true mismatches between what parents and their teens see. Let me share the ways.

Iconic Buildings

What parents see: This is it! The iconic 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, getting brighter by the minute! Oh, the learning that will go on 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 gourmet choices look pricey, but it’s a blessing that our teens 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: 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. Son, how about a picture during this visit so we can compare how much you change from this day until (gulp) the day you graduate? 

What teens see: Something me and my buddies will climb on and stick our fingers up its nose. It’ll make a great photo off after the first college party our parents must never know about.

The Grounds

What parents see: Lovely, manicured spaces where students can relax and recharge while plugging into nature. Oh, look at all 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 Bookstore

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

What teens see: A store. 

The Dorms

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.

“Hey, Mom and Dad,” I heard my son say, interrupting my mental list of all the things that parents and teens see differently on college tours. “I could see myself going here.”

“Me, too,” I said, looking around and picturing him on campus. My husband nodded in agreement.

Yes, I could see him walking past the historic buildings, grabbing a bite to eat at the dining halls, and living in the dorms. There was one more thing I saw, though. 

I saw my heart on this campus next year. And perhaps that’s the biggest difference of all between what parents and teens see on college visits.