Campus safety tips

Campus safety tips

When it comes to personal safety, today’s college students live in a world that requires vigilance and awareness. Colleges and universities work to foster safe environments, but students share responsibility.

By this point in the year, your student has acclimated to their new campus and life. That makes it the perfect time to check in about what they do on a daily basis to keep themselves safe. What is the relationship between their campus and the surrounding area (whether it’s rural or urban)? Are there places they shouldn’t walk, jog or bike? Are they good about using the buddy system?

For your part, you can help by supplying good advice and the best safety tools available.

A basic safety checklist

First things first: your student should always follow this essential safety checklist. Many of these recommendations were shared at orientation and move-in, but it’s good to revisit the list periodically — it may take a while before they check off every box.

  • Always lock your dorm room and secure your valuables.
  • Don’t let anyone who doesn’t have a student ID into the residence hall. Even if they ask nicely. Verify their identity.
  • Sign up for campus emergency alerts. (Parents may be able to sign up for these as well.) Program emergency numbers into your cellphone for easy access.
  • Use the buddy system. It can be tempting to go for a run alone, or make a quick trip to the library by yourself after dark, but it’s not worth the risk. Never be alone at night or in remote areas. Stick with your friends at parties and don’t let a friend leave a party alone or with someone you don’t know. Use the buddy system when taking public transportation, Uber and Lyft, too.
  • Use campus security escorts and safe rides.
  • Take advantage of safety training. Many campuses offer self-defense classes, or you can sign up for one at a local Y or recreation center.
  • Register any valuables with serial numbers (electronics, bikes, etc.) with the campus police department. This makes them easier to track if they’re stolen.
  • Exchange family contact information with your roommate(s). It’s a good idea for parents to have the roommate’s phone number, too, so everyone can connect during an emergency.

Alcohol can make almost any situation more dangerous.

Students who drink excessively are at higher risk of being involved in car accidents, hazing and sexual assault. Keep talking to your student throughout college about alcohol and substance use. Ask questions and listen to what they have to say about social situations they’ve been in or witnessed. Talk through possible scenarios so they can anticipate how they might act, react and help their friends. Learn more:

College Drinking — Facts for Parents
Have “The Talk” about drugs and alcohol with your student
Campus sexual assault — What parents need to know

Tools for staying safe

Safety apps

Your student’s smartphone can be a great self-defense tool. Safety apps give them instant access to authorities, parents and fellow students when they feel they’re in an unsafe situation. Encourage your student to ask their friends for safety app recommendations, and give free apps a test drive. Here are a few to consider.

Watch Over Me – The user activates the app when needed and is tracked until they check in safely at their destination. If they don’t check in, Watch Over Me alerts their emergency contact list immediately with their location. The app also alerts the user when they enter a high crime area.

Circle of 6 – In an uncomfortable or risky situation, the user activates Circle of 6 to send a pre-programmed SMS alert message with their exact location to a chosen circle of six friends. Two taps on a smartphone is all it takes.

Shake 2 Alert – This app includes live GPS tracking and SMS and email alerts to the user’s chosen contacts. When activated with a shake, the user’s smartphone audio and video begin recording.

Panik – Panik sends preconfigured messages to people the user has selected with only one tap on the SMS dialog send button and also lets the user post status updates on social media, with a location and preconfigured message automatically attached.

Self-defense carry items

These items pair well with a self-defense class because, when faced with danger, your student needs to be prepared to use them quickly and with confidence.

  • A whistle or personal safety alarm is the simplest option. Alarms, which are small and can be attached to keys for easy access, emit up to 130 decibels to scare off an attacker plus capture the attention of bystanders who might come to your student’s aid.
  • Pepper spray (which causes severe irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory system) is popular because it’s quick, easy to use and effective. However, pepper spray is illegal in some states. Check the law. If this seems like a good option for your student, you can find top pepper spray recommendations here.

Don’t be afraid to talk about personal safety with your student.

Knowing and practicing safety precautions will lead to them feeling empowered, not scared. Informed students are ready to steer clear of dangerous situations. Prepared students are more likely to emerge unscathed from an attempted crime. Help your student be both.


Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admission process and the importance of early college preparation. Her blog, Parenting for College, offers timely tips for parents and students and provides parents with resources to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. Suzanne is a regular contributor as a college prep expert and parent advocate to TeenLife Online Magazine, College Focus, Noodle Education and CollegiateParent. She is also the Parent College Coach for Smart College Visit.

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  • I've been through the process twice, and you are so right: it is stressful! However, everything works out for the best. My daughter ended up attending a school she didn't even want to see. In fact, the day we went to visit, she decided to leave the tour early, rather than going to the question and answer session. Well, it was the best four years of her life thus far, and she has made lifetime friends and had many wonderful experiences because of her education there. Thanks for sharing. I always love reading your pieces.