So you’ve finally arrived at college and settled in, and campus likely feels like a safe village to you. But just like anywhere else, students need to use common sense and have safety strategies on hand while living on their own for the first time. College presents unique situations, like large parties involving alcohol, that can be risky if you don’t take precautions. Plus, most campuses aren’t closed off to the outside community. Here’s a guide for what you should know to stay safe and live your best life in college.
General safety tips
Now that you’re on your own and living independently, it’s important to know how to take care of yourself. And that includes knowing the resources you have access to as well as your rights.
Clock the campus safety systems
Colleges have multiple systems in place to keep students safe on campus. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the available tools and offices that can help you handle any dangerous situation. Here are a few things to look for:
- Campus alerts and apps: Most campuses have emergency notification systems to alert students quickly about campus incidents, including active shooter situations. Always opt in to receive alerts through text, to your email, or from an app. Families can usually sign up too.
- Emergency phone numbers: Enter your campus’s emergency and non-emergency phone numbers into your phone. You can likely find these numbers on your school’s campus safety website. Your college will also list numbers for other situations, and there may be a number you can call anonymously to discuss safety concerns.
- Safety escorts: Campuses usually provide free safety escorts you can call if you feel unsafe walking across campus, often available 24 hours a day.
- Safe rides: Your campus may also offer free transportation to places near campus or a late-night shuttle service.
- Blue-light phones: Many colleges still have emergency phones around campus, identified by their blue light, for calling the safety dispatch office.
Mind your property
College campuses and surrounding off-campus student neighborhoods can be notorious for property theft, with bicycles being a frequent target. Be sure to take the following precautions:
- Lock your dorm when you leave, and make sure your roommate agrees to do the same.
- If you have a car on campus, don’t leave belongings in it and always lock it. Smash-and-grab theft happens all the time.
- Register your bike on campus, always lock it up, and bring it into your dorm at night.
Take personal precautions
Just like when you lived at home and went out to meet friends, it’s important to follow common sense safety rules. Walk in a group at night, skip the earbuds to pay attention to your surroundings, stick to well-lit pathways, and let your friends know where you’re going. These days, many college friends even track each other’s phones for safety. Just make sure it’s a friend you really trust.
Get to know your campus community
It helps to have people to call on if you need to. Get to know your roommate, dormmates, classmates, or surrounding off-campus community if you live in a house or apartment near campus. This also means you’ll likely have a friend nearby on short notice if you need someone during an emergency. Get to know your surroundings as well; it will help you navigate more easily at night and avoid dark or sketchy areas.
Pay attention to traffic
Believe it or not, pedestrian accidents are a common cause of student injuries. Lack of familiarity with roads near or through campus and not paying attention to cars and bicycles can be hazardous—sometimes even deadly. Get to know your surroundings and local street patterns and pay attention wherever you go.
Discrimination and hate crimes
The harsh reality is that many students experience harassment and discrimination simply because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and other prejudice reasons. If you feel you’ve been targeted on your campus or you witness someone else be victimized, it’s important to know where you can turn for help, from campus police stations and health centers to equal opportunity offices and student support groups (more on specific resources below).
Hazing and bullying
Another safety issue that unfortunately still happens on college campuses is hazing, which is defined as humiliating or degrading activities required to participate in a group. This is most often associated with athletics and Greek life. Look for your college’s hazing policies on its website and the record for a particular organization before joining.
Safety tips for partying
Unfortunately, sexual violence on college campuses is one of the most prevalent crimes and a top safety concern for universities. According to RAINN, one in four female college students will experience some kind of sexual assault; transgender and gender-nonconforming students also experience elevated risk, as do some male students in comparison to non-college peers. “We've seen increased national dialogue around the incidences of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking,” says Abigail Boyer, Associate Executive Director of the Clery Center—a nonprofit dedicated to promoting campus safety. Because these incidents remain so under-reported, campuses continue to explore ways of creating environments in which victims feel comfortable reporting, she says. Here are a few things you can do to feel safer and stay in control at college parties:
- Learn about high-risk periods: More than 50% of sexual assaults occur during the first semester, between August and Thanksgiving. Also known as the Red Zone, this is a period of greater socializing, parties, and Greek rush events. First-years and some sophomores are more vulnerable because they’re still making friends and getting accustomed to new surroundings, independence, and alcohol exposure.
- Take a training course: Your campus may offer—or require—online or in-person training on consent, inclusion, dating violence, hazing, and bystander intervention (how to safely intervene in a situation to protect someone).
- Party with people you trust: Choose reliable friends to team up with and agree on a group plan. Keep an eye on each other at the venue and have a plan for leaving. Don’t leave anyone behind! Accept only sealed containers or make sure you watch your drink being made—and never leave it unattended or with anyone but trusted friends.
- Limit your alcohol: Sure, drinking happens at college, but it’s only legal for students who are 21 and older. If you’re in a party setting, keeping your wits is important to staying safe. Track how much you’ve had to drink and pay attention to how you feel. If someone pressures you to drink more or at all, don’t be afraid to exit the situation. Extreme fatigue or feeling unusually drunk when you haven’t had much to drink are signs you could have been drugged.
Where to find support
College campuses offer many resources and list them on their website. Take a look at what’s offered at your school and the associated contact information. The offices that students can contact on their own behalf or to report a situation often include:
- Campus police department
- Title IX Coordinator (sex discrimination or sexual harassment)
- Student conduct office
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion office
- LGTBQ+ office
- Counseling center
You can also reach out to off-campus resources like a local domestic violence shelter, the community police department, or national organizations such as:
- Clery Center
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE )
- Know Your IX (sexual discrimination, including sexual violence)
- It’s on Us (college sexual assault prevention and survivor support)
- Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment (Shattering the Red Zone)
- College Drinking: Changing the Culture
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
Try not to let statistics get you down. Yes, they’re serious, but they don’t mean you’re going to become one of them. Also, remember that every statistic has a person behind it, so learn from others’ experiences. Common sense and a good game plan will help you stay safe on campus while still having the best time. Don’t skip the fun of your college years; just carry yourself through them with care.
Want a comprehensive list to be prepared in any situation in college? Check out Who Can Help: The Ultimate Directory of Important Resources on Campus to cover all your bases.