It’s that time of the year when many young Americans decide where they will be going for college in the fall. This is a big step, especially for those who move away from home to attend college.

You will live by yourself for the first time, meet a ton of new people, explore a new city, and have the opportunity to study a field of your choosing.

But your growing independence also comes with more risks and responsibilities. You are facing an unfamiliar environment, peer pressure, busy schedules, lots of stress, as well as temptations like alcohol and drugs.

While this might sound daunting, you can certainly make your college life easier and safer if you follow some simple guidelines. From on-campus safety suggestions concerning your residence and other school facilities to off-campus security measures regarding your neighborhood and going out, we compiled a list of the most essential tips you need to know to stay safe in college.

Related4 Skills for Surviving Freshman Year

However, these are general guidelines that might not apply to every single university. Thus, always check the safety recommendations provided by your own school.

On-Campus

dorm life

Image: Mackenzie Greer

Lock Your Doors

It’s imperative that you lock your room at all times. Often, students leave their door unlocked because they are expecting someone or are going away for a short while. However, many thefts occur when the student just left his room unlocked for a few minutes.

If you are moving into your dorm, check the exterior doors and windows to make sure they have sturdy locks. If the locks do not appear secure, don’t hesitate to ask for them to be replaced. Don’t loan out your key and replace locks if you lost your key or it was stolen.

Furthermore, also lock your windows at night if you live on the first or second floor.

Watch Your Belongings

It’s very important that you watch your belongings at all times, whether you are in the library or in your room.

  • Don’t leave your student ID, wallets, checkbooks, jewelry, cameras, gadgets or other valuables in open view.
  • Never give away your key, student ID or any passwords/codes. Avoid displaying large amounts of cash, fancy jewelry or expensive clothing.
  • If you stay in a dorm, you often won’t be able to choose your roommate(s), so it’s advisable to be cautious around your new pal(s). You might want to consider running a background check with online tools like Instant Checkmate to make sure they don’t have any skeletons in the closet. Another option is using apps like RoomSync that allow you to match up with a roommate that you deem trustworthy.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

While most campuses are pretty safe, thefts, and assaults are not uncommon, especially at large schools. Examine the campus facilities while classes are in session and after dark to see that buildings, walkways, squares, and parking lots are adequately secured, lit and patrolled.

If you take evening classes, make sure you stay on well lit and well-traveled pathways after you leave class. It’s also recommendable to find out which buildings are open late and where to go if you need help. Remove ear buds or headphones so you can hear someone approaching.

If possible, plan to walk across campus or to late-night classes with a friend or a campus security escort. Moreover, if you are walking to a car, carry your keys in your hand. Before entering the car, check that no one is inside or lingering nearby.

Familiarize Yourself with Campus Security

See what kind of services the university police department offers. Do they provide late night rides or volunteers who accompany you to your car or dorm? Save all pertinent phone numbers in your cellphone.

If a crime does occur, immediately notify the police. Any delay in reporting an incident may decrease the chances of catching the suspect. University police departments typically maintain a close working relationship with local police districts and will assist you if you become the victim of a crime.

Also, familiarize yourself with the locations of campus emergency blue-light telephones, which auto-dial to university police.

Off-Campus

college bar crawl

Know Your Neighborhood

If you venture off-campus, make sure you familiarize yourself with the neighborhood surrounding your school. While some universities are located in relatively safe areas (e.g., in small college towns), others might be in or near a sketchy neighborhood  (e.g. in big urban cities). It’s suggested to:

  • Check the profiles of area communities by using online tools like SpotCrime and/or ask the crime prevention unit of the local police department for a crime report.
  • Know where you are going and be aware of anyone who might be following you (if you think you are being followed, quickly go to areas where you see light and people). Walk confidently and at a steady pace.
  • Stay in well-lit, well-traveled areas and avoid shortcuts.
  • Stay near the curb and avoid bushes, alleys, and dark entryways.
  • At night, have somebody pick you up or call a taxi.

Limit Your Alcohol (and Drug) Consumption

The vast majority of college students drink alcohol, especially after they have turned 21, and many also try recreational drugs. However, excessive drinking, (having four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men over a short period of time) is a risk factor for sexual behavior that could lead to unintended pregnancies, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Not to mention the increased risk of car crashes, violence, and alcohol poisoning.

You need to learn when enough is enough. If your speech is slurred, and you can’t see straight, you ought to stop drinking. If you’re feeling sick, ask your friends to leave with you. If they refuse, call a campus ride service or a taxi. Also, always pour your own drink or watch the person who does.

Reach Out for Help

Using the buddy system is always highly advisable, whether on or off-campus. If you are leaving class late at night or are heading to a local bar, take a friend with you and don’t leave his or her side.

Watch out for each other and make sure that the other makes it safely back to their room. This is particularly important if you are in an unfamiliar area. If someone harasses you or your friend in a bar or club, tell the bartender, server, or security personnel immediately.

Generally speaking, if you feel unsafe, stressed, or simply overwhelmed, reach out to people around you. Take advantage of campus services like residence hall advisers, health professionals, counselors and campus police officers.

Use Common Sense

Trust your instincts and rely on your common sense. If something or someone makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave. If a car appears to be following you, turn and walk in the opposite direction or walk on the other side of the street.

Furthermore, carry as little cash as possible, especially if you are off-campus. If you have a handbag, hold it tightly to your body, wearing the strap across your chest if possible. If you have a backpack, make sure all the zippers are closed and consider wearing it on the front. If you only carry a wallet, keep it in a front pocket.

If you feel you’re in danger, don’t be afraid to scream and run. Consider carrying a whistle or other noisemaker and use it if you feel you are in trouble.