Leaving the nest and heading off to college is a thrilling new chapter. However, with all the new social and academic opportunities come opportunities for danger. Most college students are in brand new surroundings, feeling invincible and often naïve about many common safety issues. Mix in 2 a.m. walks home from the library and inebriated nights out with friends and college kids become easy targets. Enjoy all that college has to offer and keep yourself (and your friends) safe with these 10 tips.
Stay in groups.
Yes, everyone and their mother has heard this 100 times, but I can attest firsthand that it often goes out the window just as often. Treat this tip as a RULE, not a suggestion. There is safety in numbers. If the sun has set, or if you’re walking someplace unfamiliar, walk with a friend (or, ideally, several friends). Your only study buddy is leaving the library at midnight but you’ve still got work left? Walk home with them and finish the rest in your dorm. Your friend has a little too much fun and needs to take a cab home from the party early? Sorry, but someone else needs to call it a night and join them. Travel in packs and look out for one another. Be “the mom” or “the dad” of your friend group when necessary.
Carry pepper spray.
There was a pepper spray on my keychain constantly throughout my 20s. Not only did it make me feel more in control of any situation, I believe that having a large, bedazzled pepper spray canister on my keychain deterred anyone from even approaching me. You can find pepper sprays that light up, make noise, and so on – all of which can deter or stop a person with bad intentions. Ideally, you’ll never have to use it… but if you do, you’ll be so glad you have it.
Keep your friends informed of your whereabouts.
Let your roommate, your friends, or your parents know your plans. Share your locations on your iPhones. Share your class schedules. Make sure, at any given time, someone knows where you are and when they should expect you back.
Take off your headphones and look up from your phone.
A person who is clearly oblivious to their surroundings is vulnerable. I know that walks across campus go a lot faster with a podcast, and sometimes it’s hard to pause an extensive texting conversation, but it’s essential that you are aware of everything going on around you. Walk with purpose and make sure you can see and hear everything. If you must use headphones, only use one.
Lock your doors.
Make it a habit to lock your dorm room door or your car doors as soon as you enter or leave. Turn this into muscle memory. This is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and your belongings. This might be common sense to you, but it might not be! I grew up in a town where no one locked anything, so this was a learning curve. Lock. It. Up.
Be smart on social media.
Be careful about what you post. A smiling pic in front of your new dorm room can reveal your precise address to everyone on the internet. A TikTok can show the world where you are going to be for the night. Posting about your schedule or routine – like your course schedule or your favorite weekly workout class – can tell people where to find you and when. It might sound overly paranoid, but there is nothing to be gained by oversharing online and everything to lose.
Learn your way around.
Getting lost or turned around can also make you an easy target. Take some time – in the light of day – to get to know your campus and the surrounding area. If you’re headed somewhere new off campus, make sure you scope out the directions, parking, etc. prior to heading out. Always travel in a group if you’re somewhere brand new. Make a note of which streets are well-lit and more populated than others.
Install safety apps on your phone and make sure you know how to use them.
Thankfully, college students travel with a safety device in their pocket. There are so many great apps that you can download for an extra layer of protection. Different apps can allow your friends to track you as you’re walking home, and others can send an automated SOS text to pre-programmed contacts at the touch of a button. Learn more about some of the best smartphone safety apps here, and make sure to have your friends and roommates download them too!
Take a self-defense class.
Learning how to fight back in the event of a worst-case scenario is incredibly empowering. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use these skills – and there is literally no downside to having them. Find a local self-defense class, invite a few friends, and make a day out of it.
Prioritize your safety over your manners.
Many of us – particularly women – learn to ignore our gut feelings for the sake of being nice. It can be hard to shake this habit. PLEASE: trust your intuition and prioritize being safe over being polite. If someone is giving you the creeps, tell them to leave you alone or leave the situation. Let someone know. If someone asks for help but you feel uneasy, say no. Don’t worry about social niceties or looking rude. You need to look out for you.
This blog post isn’t meant to scare you. (Well, maybe a tiny bit of healthy fear is OK.) This blog post is meant to empower you. Part of gaining independence is learning how to look out for yourself – and these ten tips will help you do just that.