If 2015 numbers are any indication, more than 20 million students in the U.S. will head to college this fall. Unfortunately, with so many students, dorm rooms, and valuables, even America’s safest college towns experience some forms of crime, including burglaries, thefts, or assaults.
While safety is a priority for most colleges, there are several additional ways you can improve your own safety and keep your belongings secure. Before heading off to college, review these nine safety tips.
1. Familiarize yourself with your school’s Campus Safety office.
Every school has a Campus Safety or security office, and part of your tuition funds it. Make the most of this resource by utilizing its services. Your college’s website likely provides information like office hours and phone number, but you can also visit in person when you arrive on campus.
Next Step: Call or visit the Campus Safety office and request information about their programs. Find out if your campus has the following services and how you can take advantage of them:
On average, sexual assaults and other crimes are more likely to occur at night. And while you shouldn’t scare yourself into assuming danger is around every corner, you also shouldn’t take unnecessary risks, such as walking alone at night. Instead, use the buddy system or call campus security for a ride.
Next Step: Can’t avoid walking alone or heading to an unfamiliar location? Download a personal safety app, such as SafeTrek, which was developed for college students. When you walk alone, launch the app and hold your thumb down on the safe button. Once you’re safe, release your thumb and enter your pin. If you need help or are in danger, releasing the button without entering your pin will notify local police of your location.
3. Always lock up.
Just as you wouldn’t leave your house without locking the front door, don’t leave your dorm or apartment without locking up — even if you’re planning on only being gone a few minutes. If you live on the first floor, close your windows and either shut the blinds or hide your valuables in drawers any time you leave.
Next Step: Purchase a small safe or dedicate a drawer for storing your laptop, iPad, and other valuables when you’re away from your room. If you use a safe, keep it hidden in a closet. If you live on the first floor of a building, make sure your windows lock. If they don’t, you can purchase a sliding window lock (Amazon) or security bar (Amazon).
4. Maintain privacy on social media.
Social media is a great platform for connecting with friends and family worldwide or sharing updates about your life. However, with everything you post, stay aware of who else could be viewing your profile. Avoid geotagging your photos, as it reveals your location to strangers, and don’t publicly announce when you’re home alone or are leaving your home unattended.
Next Step: Review the settings on each of your social media profiles. Disable location services, make your accounts private, and think twice before sharing anything. Remember: once something gets posted on the Internet, it’s tough to remove it entirely.
Most people don’t think to look in their backseat or under the car before getting behind the wheel. A predator could potentially be hiding in one of those locations, however, especially if you tend to leave your car unlocked or keep your windows rolled down. When walking to your car, approach at an angle that allows you to see around the vehicle, and check the back seat before opening the door.
Next Step: Lock your car doors and engage your car alarm every time you leave your car, even if you’re running just a quick errand. If your car doesn’t have an alarm feature, our Aftermarket Car Alarm Comparison can help you find a reliable alarm option.
6. Know where you’re going.
Whenever you set out to town or class, make sure you know where you’re heading and how to get there. Walk with confidence and avoid looking confused, even when you’re trying to navigate a new location. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, don’t use headphones or let your phone distract you, and focus on finding your destination.
Next Step: Download your campus map onto your phone and use your GPS to find popular, highly trafficked routes to get to your destination. Apps like Campus Maps can also help you find your way around your school campus. Always try to avoid walking along deserted paths, and when in doubt, stick to the routes with which you’re most familiar — even if they take a little longer.
7. Understand your campus’s and city’s crime.
The more you know about the crime in your local area, the better you can prevent similar incidents from happening to you. Most colleges and universities provide on-campus crime statistics, and several websites offer a thorough overview of a city’s crime rates, including the type of offense and specific locations where the crime occurred.
Next Step: Research your college’s reported on-campus crime by visiting the U.S. Department of Education. If you have specific concerns or questions not addressed by the site, contact your school’s Campus Safety office for more information. Use a site like City-Data.com to learn more about the crime within a particular city.
8. Learn how to defend yourself.
There’s nothing more empowering than knowing how to protect yourself physically. You’ll feel safer and more confident, especially if you live or travel alone. You don’t need a black belt in karate to master self-defense; all you need are a few classes and tips from a professional instructor. There are several types and styles of classes from which to choose, depending on your interests.
Next Step: Sign up for a self-defense class in your area, such as Krav Maga or jiujitsu. These classes are often available at colleges and gyms. If you’re feeling shy or nervous, ask a few friends to take the class with you.
9. Have safety and security supplies readily accessible.
Keeping a few safety supplies on hand can help you feel more protected. While stun guns aren’t legal in all states, less drastic self-defense products like pepper spray and mace are easier to obtain and can be just as useful. Many colleges also provide new students with whistles, which you can use to alert those nearby when you require assistance or are in danger.
Next Step: Pack your chosen safety supplies into a small kit, and fasten the kit on a key ring, lanyard, or backpack. These items should be easy to grab at any time, as they won’t do you much good if they’re buried at the bottom of your bag.
College is an incredible and rewarding experience. But as busy as you’ll be with adjusting to independence, new classes, and new friends, don’t forget to stay safe and maintain awareness. Following these nine simple steps can significantly increase your chances of having a safe and successful school year.
*SafeWise has conducted impartial research to recommend products. This is not a guarantee. Each individual’s unique needs should be considered when deciding on chosen products.
Written by Melissa Darcey
Melissa Darcey is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in a number of technology, lifestyle, and business publications. Learn more