As you prepare to move into your dorm or apartment for the new school year, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself about staying safe on campus. Although universities do a wonderful job of implementing security procedures, your safety is also your personal responsibility. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you’re in the best position possible to handle whatever unexpected situations may come your way. Whether you are starting college as a freshman or returning to campus for the last time, here are 25 tips for staying safe, compiled through research and a little bit of personal experience.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Stay alert and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Don’t be distracted by your phone. Avoid wearing headphones if you’re walking alone, especially at night.

  • Get to know your campus and the surrounding areas. Learn what safety resources unique to your campus are available – such as campus escort services and blue light emergency phone stations. Do some research before moving in to your new dorm or apartment. Familiarize yourself with the location, especially if you’ve never lived there before. Research crime statistics and be aware of areas to avoid. If you’re moving to a new city, talk to someone who has lived there for a while. A new city may “feel” safe to you as an outsider, but someone more familiar with the area could tell you the inside scoop about safety.

  • Add the campus police and local police numbers to your phone. Make them easily accessible, just in case.

  • Download a campus safety app. There are numerous apps for smartphones specifically designed to keep you safe and allow you to alert others if you are in a dangerous situation. Some examples include CampusSafe, bSafe, Circle of 6, Guardly, and LifeLine Response.

  • Share your schedule with your roommate. Let your roommate know your class/work/activity schedule. If you live alone, you can still do this with a few friends or neighbors. Share your class schedule with your parents, too.

  • Let someone know where you’re going. If you’re planning to leave campus for the night, or if you’re going somewhere out of the ordinary, check in with a roommate, RA, or friend before you leave. Let them know when to expect you back – it definitely provides peace of mind to know that if you don’t show up when you’re supposed to, someone will know to come looking for you.

  • Get to know your roommates, neighbors, and RA. Be friendly; get to know the names and faces of those who live nearby. Having a community of people who look out for each other could make all the difference in deterring crime or someone who means harm.

  • Lock your doors at night and when you’re not at home. This seems like it would be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many college students don’t do this. When I lived in an apartment on campus, there were several break-ins on my block. It turned out that the residents of those apartments into had left either their back door or a downstairs window unlocked. Make an agreement with your roommates to always check behind each other when you go out or go to bed to make sure all the entrances are secure. Even if you’re just going for a run or walking down the hall of your dorm, it’s still a smart idea to lock your door and bring your key with you. All it takes is leaving your room unattended for a few minutes for someone uninvited to walk in.

  • Walk with purpose and keep moving. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to respond to a text. Take your keys out of your bag before you walk up to your building, so you can go right inside and not have to stop and fumble through your bag. Especially after dark, spend as little time as possible hesitating outside your front door before heading inside.

  • Invest in a security system for your dorm or apartment. This Dorm/Apartment Alarm Kit includes a door/window alarm, door stop alarm, and personal alarm for a total of only $24.99. The personal alarm helps call for assistance in an emergency and can attach to a backpack, purse, or set of keys. The door/window alarm has adjustable settings with no wiring needed. The door stop alarm prevents a door from opening as well as setting off a loud alarm when door pressure is applied. I own one of these and also use it sometimes when staying in a hotel.

  • Invest in pepper spray and/or a whistle. Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states – but check your state laws for any size restrictions and paperwork requirements at the time of purchase. Pepper spray is available in compact sizes that you can easily keep with you. A whistle is also always a great tool to have on your key chain.

  • Learn some basic self-defense. Take a self-defense class or simply watch some videos online for tips about how to escape an attacker. There are countless resources out there, and every woman should have a repertoire of memorized self-defense maneuvers.

  • Be aware of cyber-security threats. Always remember to log out of your accounts after using a public computer in the library or a classroom. Don’t share personal information via a public computer. Don’t give your Social Security number out over the phone. Don’t ever share your passwords or log-in info with anyone – even your best friend or significant other.

  • Be smart with social media. Think twice before posting about where you are or where you’re going. This probably goes without saying, but never share your address or phone number on social media either.

  • Sign up for your campus security alert system. If your college has the option to opt in to an alert system to get text or email notifications about incidents on campus, definitely do so.

  • Carry emergency cash. Whenever you go out, bring cash with you just in case. You never know when you might need it to help get yourself or a friend out of an unsafe situation.

  • Make sure your phone is charged before leaving home. The last thing you want is to realize your phone is dead when you need to make an emergency call.

  • Walk in a group. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the best ways to stay safe and feel safe on campus. Whether you’re walking to class, headed to the library after dark, or going to the gym, there is always safety in numbers.

  • Look out for your friends at parties. And ask your friends to look out for you too. Plan to arrive and leave the party at the same time as a friend. Keep an eye out and check in with each other throughout the night. If you feel that one of your friends may be in danger, speak up – it could save her life.

  • Be watchful and check your surroundings before getting in a car. Before you open your car door, look into the backseat. If it’s nighttime, use a flashlight to illuminate underneath the car and in the backseat. Be wary of people asking for directions or approaching you in a parking lot. If you’re planning to sit for a while in your car to make a phone call, lock your doors.

  • Take precautions when using Uber. Before you get in an Uber, always ask the driver, “Who are you here to pick up?” rather than “Are you here to pick up *insert name*?” Make the driver prove that he or she is there to pick up you specifically. If they can’t tell you your name, don’t get in the car. Always cross-reference the license plate number on the app with the one on the car – even if you’re in a hurry!

  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, or if you feel unsafe for any reason, don’t disregard the feeling. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. No one should ever fault you or make you feel silly for being cautious about your safety.

  • If you see something, say something. You can play an important role in campus safety by paying attention and being proactive. Whether you see a suspicious person, overhear a threat, or believe someone you know could be in danger, don’t assume the problem will go away or that someone else will take care of it – be the one to say something.

  • Plan how you would escape if needed. If you live in a dorm, know all the exits. Learn the layout of your class buildings, too. Have a route in mind that you could use to get to safety, if needed.

  • Have plans in place for worst-case scenarios. Of course, none of us ever like to think about bad things that could happen, but the reality is that the world is often scary and unsafe, even on your beautiful college campus. Talk with a parent or trusted adult about formulating plans of action in case you ever need them. Some examples of things to consider include: What would you do if you’re home alone and you hear someone breaking in? What if your car breaks down in a strange part of town? What if you find yourself as a bystander to a crime like sexual assault? Although we can never predict exactly what will happen, talking through possible scenarios beforehand could help you stay calm and more confident about what to do should you ever find yourself in that situation.

RELATED READ: 5 Best Self Defense Products For Women

College is a time to learn, have fun, and experience new things – but don’t forget to prioritize your personal safety. With a little preparation, you can start the year feeling confident and ready to tackle any situation.

Anna K
FFL Contributor
Anna is a former political staffer turned paralegal who also owns a small business creating and selling hand-lettered signs. In her free time, you can find her hiking in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, drinking coffee, shooting guns, planning her next adventure, and taking too many photos of her cat.

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