Tips for Staying Safe at College

college student checking phone waiting on cab


Nearly 20 million students head off to college each fall, many of which are not aware of the risks and dangers they could face if they are not prepared or vigilant. In fact, most students, and even some parents, assume that their college campus is a safe little community insulated from the rest of the world. But, that is a far cry from the truth.

Crime happens every day on college campuses. Even some of America's safest cities and university campuses experience some level of crime including everything from theft, bullying, and stalking to burglaries and assaults. So, when it comes to safety concerns, no one is immune.

For this reason, it is vital that students, especially freshmen, know how to stay safe while away attending college. From safely using Uber after a night out, to keeping their belongings safe, and using a buddy system when going out, parents need to talk with their college students about how to be aware of their surroundings and stay safe. Here are some essential safety skills that parents need to instill in their college students before they leave home.

Campus Safety

Aside from classes and the library, their dorm room or apartment is where they will likely spend a great deal of their time. It also is where most of their valuables will be stored including computers, televisions, cash, jewelry, and more. For this reason, it is very important that your student knows not only the importance of dorm safety but puts it into practice as well. Here are a few essentials about being safe in the dorms and on campus.

Lock Your Room

Always. It is not uncommon for students to leave their door unlocked if they are expecting a visitor or if they are running down to the laundry room for just a minute. But many thefts occur in just a few minutes. What's more, leaving your room unlocked could put you at risk for an assault if someone enters your room without permission.

Do Not Loan Out Your Key or ID

Even if the person is a best friend, they should never loan out your key or student ID. With their key, they can enter your child's room anytime they want and with your child's student ID, they have access to their residential building as well as their meal plans and other private information. This is your student's property and they need to take steps to protect it.

Keep Belongings Secure

Consider investing in locks for your student's laptop and phone. These items are some of the easiest targets for theft. Likewise, your student should not leave money, credit cards, jewelry, and other valuables lying around. There are inexpensive lockboxes that attach to a permanent structure in the room where they can store their valuables. This is especially important if their dorm has community showers. Discuss with your student the best way to keep their belongings secure.

Do Not Prop Open Doors

The doors of residence halls lock for a reason. Encourage your student to never prop open doors for friends or visitors. If they have a guest visiting, the best way to handle the situation is to follow the campus's guidelines for signing in visitors. Yes, it might be a pain to get up and go down to the front desk to sign them in, but this way they are keeping themselves and everyone else in the dorm safe.

Use Extra Caution at Night

Obviously, it is best if your student does not walk across campus alone at night, especially on a regular basis. Instead, they should plan to study with other people and leave together. If they do have to walk across campus alone, consider investing in some safety equipment they can have on their backpack like pepper spray or a high voltage flashlight.

Another form of protection is the personal safety app, Noonlight, which was specifically designed for students. When they are walking alone, students launch the app and hold their thumb down on the safe button. Once they are home or in a safe location, they release their thumb and enter a pin.

If they need help or are in danger and they release their thumb without entering a pin, the app will notify local police of their location. There is also a quick-tap help button if immediate assistance is needed.

Know the Lay of the Land

Be sure your student never leaves the dorm or campus without knowing exactly where they are going and how they are going to get there. Trying to wing it, rarely works out well. Instead, they should download their campus map, use a GPS, and travel in well-trafficked areas. It doesn't hurt to practice getting to and from classes before the first day.

Also, be sure your student knows how to use campus security phones and is familiar with the campus safety office. Some colleges provide a shuttle service within a one-mile radius of campus. Your student should take advantage of these services.

Be Confident

Encourage walking with confidence and avoiding looking confused. Likewise, they should refrain from using their phone or headphones while walking. These types of distractions make them an easy target for crime.

Maintain Privacy on Social Media

It is important that your student not share personal details on social media including what dorm they live in, their class schedule and other information that could let a criminal know either where to find them or when they may not be home. The same safety rules that applied in high school also apply in college.

Going Out

One thing almost every college student enjoys doing is hanging out with other people. Whether that is at a party, a local restaurant, a college sporting event, or a museum, there are certain precautions your student should take in order to stay safe. Here are just a few of the top things college students should keep in mind.

Use the Buddy System

Whether going out or studying late, it is important for college students to use the buddy system whenever they can. Walking across campus or around a city alone is never a good idea, especially for someone who does not know the area well.

When it comes to parties or nightlife, going with a group is much safer. The key is to stick together and not split up. And, when it comes time to leave, you all leave together.

Trust Your Gut

Talk to your student about the importance of trusting their gut in unfamiliar situations. Most of the time is something feels wrong or off, it usually is. When they get these feelings, they should remove themselves from the situation as soon as possible. It is never a good idea just to ignore their intuition.

Get Your Own Drinks

Whether they are in a bar or at a party, it is best if they get their own drinks. Even a bottle of water could be laced with something that will harm or impair them in some way. What's more, even if they get their own bottled water at a party, if the seal is broken they should not drink it. Likewise, they should never leave their drinks unattended nor should they share drinks with anyone.

Use ATMs That Are Located Inside

If your student needs to get cash after banking hours, encourage them to use the ATMs located inside on their campus. Using an ATM outside or at an off-campus location puts them at risk for theft. What's more, having a lot of cash on hand is usually not a good idea. If at all possible they should use a credit card or debit card. This practice helps them learn how to be financially responsible.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

Urge your teen to communicate with you and their friends often, especially if they are going somewhere alone or out on a date for the first time. They should let someone know where they are going, who they are with, and when they will be home. This way, if they are not back when they said they would be, people can check out the situation and get them help if they need it. Additionally, encourage your student to arrive separately for first-time dates in case they need to end it early.

Using Uber Safely

There have been mounting concerns about college students using Uber and other similar ride-sharing programs, especially after a night out. Aside from the traditional dangers of getting into a car with someone you do not know, there also have been reports of students getting into the wrong vehicles or worse yet, getting into a fake Uber driver's car.

These situations have focused attention on the importance of safety for those using ride-sharing apps. To protect your student from these dangers, share the following tips on how to use Uber safely.

Match the License Plate With the App

Be sure your student knows to look at the picture of the car on the app and match the license plate with the one the app provides you. Always double check before getting in or try to memorize the number when the app books their ride.

Ask "Who Are You Waiting For?"

Instead of asking, "Are you my ride?" your student should stand next to the driver's window and ask "Who are you waiting for?" By doing so, the driver must give you a name. It should match your students. Another way to confirm the car is, in fact, their ride, is to ask "Where are you going?"

If the driver cannot successfully answer these questions, they are not the driver assigned to you through the app and your student should not get in the car. Instead, they should go to a safe place and wait for the correct car to arrive. If they feel threatened, they should call 911 right away. It also is a good idea to inform Uber when it is safe to do so.

Match the Driver to the Photo in the App

Remind your student that once they are in the car, there is no turning back. So, they should make every effort to ensure they are getting into the correct car.

Wait for the Ride Indoors

If at all possible, it is best if your student waits for Uber inside. The key is that they spend as little time as possible waiting outside with their phone in their hand. This simply makes them more of a target for people who are up to no good.

Never Reveal Personal Details

Remind your student that there is no reason to share their cell phone number with the driver. They can communicate with the driver through the app, which makes the numbers of both the rider and driver anonymous.

Ride in the Backseat

Not only is it safer in the back, but escaping from the car is easier if your student is in the backseat. Riding in the backseat also gives the driver some personal space.

Share Ride Details With Family or Friends

Remind your student that they can and should tap the "share status" button in the app. By doing so, the app will share the driver's name, photo, license plate, and location. This feature enables a friend or family member to track your student's trip including their estimated arrival time without downloading the app.

Rate the Driver

If your student does come in contact with a rude or unsafe driver, they should definitely rate the driver. This allows the company to weed out anyone who is potentially dangerous. Also, remind your student to be polite, respectful, and courteous because the driver also gets an opportunity to rate the rider and they do not want to develop a reputation as a difficult passenger.

A Word From Verywell

Going off to college is an exciting time and does not have to be a scary experience. But that also does not mean that students should assume that they do not need to take precautions. Learning to make wise choices and taking steps to protect themselves are important life skills that will carry over into adulthood. Have that all-important conversation with your kids. After you do, you can rest assured that you did everything you can to prepare them for the potential pitfalls of college.

3 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. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Back to School Statistics.

  2. College Stats. Safe and Sound: Does Your University Ace Campus Safety?.

  3. Associated Press. She thought it was her Uber. Student got into wrong car and was killed, police say. Los Angeles Times.

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