Going off to college is one of the most exciting experiences you’ll ever have. Unfortunately, your newfound independence will come with a few unwanted side effects, like the fact that it’s tougher to borrow money from your parents. But not only are Mom and Dad’s wallets tougher to access, Mom and Dad are no longer keeping a close eye on you. That might be a good thing, but your own safety and well-being are in your own hands now.
The absence of curfews is pretty great and the abundance of new people in your life is exhilarating, but don’t forget to pay attention to your surroundings.
Here are 8 suggestions on staying safe at college:
1. Doors have locks. Use them.
Doors have locks for a reason—to help keep unwanted visitors from coming in. Even if you’re only going to run down the hall to grab your laundry out of the dryer, grab your keys and lock the door behind you. You might feel funny at first, but you wouldn’t leave the front door to you your parents’ house unlocked while you went to the mall, would you? College students are tech-savvy individuals with plenty of laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets. Don’t invite thieves to steal yours by leaving your door open.
2. Always travel in pairs after dark.
Kids are advised to use the buddy system and college students should follow suit when trekking around campus, especially after dark. Nightfall is not the time to go sightseeing or exploring areas that you’re not familiar with—walk with confidence, keeping your head held high. Appearing anxious or lost makes you look more vulnerable to potential perpetrators.
3. Drink alcohol safely.
Your parents might be bragging “Not my kid!” to anyone who will listen, but binge drinking and underage drinking is a problem on most college campuses. According to the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, 69.2% of all students and 61.2% of underage students consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. Nearly half of students reported binge drinking within the previous two weeks.
If you’re going to drink, do it responsibly. Limit yourself to one drink per hour, and drink water as well as alcohol. Keep track of the number of drinks you’ve had and stop before things get out of hand. Tragedies can happen because you’re intoxicated. College Drinking statistics show that each year, 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape and 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
4. Never accept open containers from someone you don’t know.
If you go to a party, only drink from a can or bottle that you opened yourself and keep your eyes on your drink at all times. Even if it looks like everyone else is safety chugging that foul-smelling mystery drink out of red Solo cups, you never know who poured what into the punch bowl.
5. Don’t be a distracted driver. Or walker.
Many people who would never drive drunk see no problem whatsoever with texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, anything that takes your attention away from driving is considered a distraction. Texting, talking on the phone, using a smart phone, eating, drinking, and even talking to other people in the car could all be dangerous.
Texting while driving is the most alarming. It takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, and your mind off the task at hand—driving. Sending or receiving a text takes an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
Texting while walking across campus is dangerous, too. If you’re looking down, not only could you could trip and fall easily, you could walk out in front of a moving vehicle.
6. Be prepared.
It’s probably a good idea to take advantage of the fact that most college health centers offer free condoms—it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Think it can’t happen to you? The Centers for Disease Control report that sexually active adolescents and young adults are at higher risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs.) Unintended pregnancies are another threat—the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy statistics show that more than half of all unplanned pregnancies occur to women in their 20s.
7. Only “friend” real-life friends.
Are you guilty of accepting friend requests from people you barely know? Sure, that cute guy might be your roommate’s cousin’s neighbor’s brother, but if you give a stranger access to your photos and whereabouts—AKA check-ins and status updates—you could be setting yourself up for trouble. Just because you’ve been safe in the past, stalkers and other people with ill intentions really are out there.
8. Don’t ever be too embarrassed to call campus security.
If your night class let out late and you don’t have anyone to walk back to the dorm with, contact your school’s safety escort service. Catching a ride in a van or golf cart is much easier than dealing with potential disaster. Campus security is there for more than free rides—any time your sixth sense kicks in and tells you “Something’s just not right” or you see suspicious behavior, don’t hesitate before giving them a call.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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