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Dear Estelle. Considering the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy, are there any steps students can take in evaluating the security measures on campuses. We know it is virtually impossible to ensure our child’s safety completely but is it possible to determine which campuses might be more secure than others? We plan to visit colleges this fall.
Jane R. – Littleton

Good question. The Princeton Review rates schools on safety but let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to identify an errant student who will suddenly go berserk and take out 35 students in a couple of hours. Colleges and universities throughout the country are addressing this issue very diligently and will actually lock down the campus immediately when facing a threat. On a recent visit to Boston University the student tour guide was quick to point out the blue emergency phone boxes located throughout the campus, which provide an instant response from campus police. Most colleges have escort services available all night, which are accessible with a mere phone call. It is virtually impossible to get into a dorm without a special card and a secret code.

During college visitations I counsel my clients and their families to ask admissions officers about the incidence of crime on campus. They should ask students as well as faculty how safe they feel. A colleague of mine recently stated, “ No school has ever climbed to the top of the rankings by claiming to be number one in crime on campus.”

A few brief tips that can serve as starting points when discussing safety and security with your child:

  • Insist they attend the safety sessions during orientation and learn the options available when studying or walking on campus after dark.
  • Discuss how a major city location impacts the college experience. Are New York City or New Orleans less safe than Ann Arbor or Boulder?
  • Teach them to defend their personal boundaries, both physical and emotional.
  • Be smart. Don’t assume that just because a student is on a college campus they are in a totally safe environment. Leaving dorm rooms open or walking alone at night are not good ideas.
  • Encourage them to speak to a resident advisor if they are uncomfortable about something that has occurred on campus.

Empowering your child to understand the multitude of security issues they may encounter will enable them to speak out and act decisively when challenged. The random acts that seldom happen are difficult to predict and prevent, but there’s nothing like good common sense and savvy to keep oneself safe on campus.      

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