5 Facts About Bullying in College

Sad-looking college student with classmates in background
asiseeit / Getty Images

People often believe that bullying is a childhood issue that kids eventually outgrow. In fact, most people assume that their kids will not have to deal with bullying once they graduate from high school. But, growing research suggests that bullies are growing up and infiltrating college campuses. Even the workforce has more than its fair share of bullies. In fact, bullying is an issue that people of all ages must be prepared to handle.

Facts About Being Bulled in College

If you have a high school student who is about to enter college or a young adult who already in college, here are five facts about bullying that you should know.

Bullying Doesn’t End in High School

While a majority of bullying peaks in middle school and subsides by high school, new research indicates that bullying may never completely go away. In fact, if bullies are not taught to take responsibility for their actions or are not disciplined for bullying others, this will become a pattern of behavior for them especially if it gets them the results they desire.

Consequently, parents of college students need to discuss bullying issues with their kids even as they leave for college. They also should continue to build self-esteem, resiliency, social skills and assertiveness skills so their kids can deal effectively with bullying issues in college and later in the workforce. Being confident and resilient is half the battle when it comes to standing up bullying.

Cyberbullying in College Is on the Rise

Research indicates that cyberbullying is increasing at the college level. And much of the cyberbullying that college kids experience revolves around relationship issues. For example, many times cyberbullying encompasses gossip and rumors, slut-shaming and sexual bullying.

Often mean girls will engage in this behavior as a way to climb to the social ladder or to intimidate other girls. They also may use cyberbullying to stake their claim on boys they are interested in.

Meanwhile, boys may cyberbully other boys as a way of humiliating them and exerting their own dominance. Or, they may use cyberbullying to get revenge after being dumped. In fact, if students engage in sexting this puts them at greater risk for cyberbullying or slut-shaming when a relationship ends. 

Unique Challenges

Unlike bullying in middle school and high school, many college students must face bullying without the support of family and friends nearby. They are living on campus miles from home. What’s more, escaping the bullying climate can be more challenging in college especially if the bully is a roommate or a dorm mate.

College students also must deal with the possibility of hazing, which still occurs on some college campuses. While most people assume only fraternities and sororities participate in hazing, just about any group could have hazing rituals including sports teams and other campus groups. Be sure to talk to your child about the dangers of hazing and how to respond to hazing rituals.

Bullied Students Often Feel Alone

The consequences of bullying are high for anyone who is impacted. But research indicates that college students can feel even more alone and isolated especially if they are underclassmen at the university. Every college student needs a circle of support, but bullied college students are in even greater need of support.

If your child is being bullied at college, take steps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation. For instance, visit your student if you can. Encourage her to get involved in activities that might make her feel more connected to other people.

Talk to campus experts about getting your child a mentor. Just one or two friends can go a long way in easing the sense of isolation that victims of bullying can experience.

Students Often Keep Silent

Many college students who are bullied never tell anyone what they are going through. There are several reasons for their silence. First, many times victims of bullying are embarrassed by what they are experiencing. To talk about the bullying requires them to share the embarrassing details of what other people are saying or doing.

Additionally, college students may feel more pressure than middle school or high school students to respond to bullying on their own. They believe that now that they are becoming adults, they need to learn to handle issues on their own. And while this is true to a certain degree, bullying is a complex issue that often requires a support system and intervention. Parents can provide help and insight especially if the bullying they are experiencing involves actions that are against the law.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a teen headed off to college in the fall or a student already attending college, make sure you are talking about bullying on a regular basis. Listen for cues that things may not be going well and then ask open-ended questions. Keeping an open dialogue with your college student is one of the first steps to dealing with college bullying.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rospenda KM, Richman JA, Wolff JM, Burke LA. Bullying victimization among college students: negative consequences for alcohol use. J Addict Dis. 2013;32(4):325-42. doi:10.1080%2F10550887.2013.849971

  2. Andersen LP, Labriola M, Andersen JH, Lund T, Hansen CD. Bullied at school, bullied at work: a prospective study. BMC Psychol. 2015;3:35. doi:10.1186%2Fs40359-015-0092-1

  3. Allison M. Schenk & William J. Fremouw. Prevalence, Psychological Impact, and Coping of Cyberbully Victims Among College Students. Journal of School Violence. 2012. 11(1):21-37. doi:10.1080/15388220.2011.630310

  4. Zalaquett, Carlos & Chatters, Seriashia. Cyberbullying in College: Frequency, Characteristics, and Practical Implications. SAGE (201):21-37. doi:10.1177/2158244014526721. 

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.