College Town Safety

My son has a college list including mostly national universities in the top 1-75 range. I have researched some of the college towns on Neighborhood Scout, and other sites, and I was surprised to see some of the towns are poorly rated for crime. Has anyone considered this aspect of the college search? Have you eliminated any schools for this particular reason? I understand there will be higher incidents of public intoxication, etc. in these towns but some are higher than average for violent crimes.

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But note that residential colleges themselves have crime risks independent of the towns, such as those involving poor judgement under the influence of alcohol and sexual misconduct.


College towns often have larger proportions of young adults than other towns or cities. Those relatively youthful populations then give rise to higher violent crime rates, driven in large part by sexual assault.

It’s likely, then, that risk of such violent crime is fairly similar across colleges and universities. This is an important risk we should be talking about with all our kids, and helping to strategize about means of reduction.

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We have thought about this.

Way back in the 1970’s my wife was choosing from among two universities, and went to the one that was in a safer location.

Also in the 1970’s, I vaguely knew one student at MIT who had come from a rough area. He had black belts in two different martial arts and threw knives for fun. He used to be a bit careless where he walked around Cambridge (back before the biotech industry and other industries moved in a big way into Kendall Square). One day he was attached by two large men who were trying to steal his wallet. He left them both lying semi-conscious on the sidewalk and walked back to his dorm. After that he was however more careful about where he went at night. I was also pick-pocketed one time in Central Square. Someone found my abandoned wallet and mailed it back to me. The $20 that had been in the wallet was missing but everything else was still there (mostly including my student ID – there really wasn’t much else).

And yes, sexual assault on campus can also be an issue. We do need to discuss this with our kids. I do recognize that being an enormous man has made some things safer for me over the years.

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That was one of the reasons my son eliminated USC. In general though, any urban campus will have adjacent higher crime areas. Students learn to do as @DadTwoGirls did, choose where they go at night wisely.

Yes, it was a consideration for my D. We went on a college tour where our guide actually talked about getting his laptop stolen from right next to him on a park bench. He told the story to highlight collaboration and how his fellow classmates helped him study for an exam, but my D struck that school instantly from her list. She was already leaning towards more rural schools by then anyway and that just solidified for her that she didn’t want to be in an urban environment.

That said, crime happens everywhere and we took a self defense class run by our local police department before she went off to college. More than half the class was preventing interactions in the first place - being aware of your surroundings, locking your dorm room, not walking while you are on the phone, never going anywhere alone, etc…

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The Clery Act requires all colleges to make crimes on campus available to anyone who wants them. If you have real concerns, contact the campus police department and inquire about the stats as those will be the most accurate and up-to-date.
The Clery Act (


Sexual assault is the most common campus crime, beyond theft. And universities in less urban areas don’t have a lower risk of violent crime; the Boston area campus with the highest violent crime rate isn’t Northeastern, BU, or Harvard, it’s Boston College (3rd highest rate nationally).

And our big men can do something about it, too, e.g. pay attention to your friends, male and female.


No disputing any of that. That said, “violent crime” is a broad category. If you were to parse it out, there will likely be differences based on the classification. There will also be differences based on size. It goes without saying that crime can be found anywhere.

Of course there are certainly other types of violent crime. However, sexual assault is by far the most common violent crime on campus (43% or reports), and the most common overall. This is much more likely driven by the availability of alcohol in youth populations than by the proximity of urban areas.

Neither my daughter nor I have crime statistics as a point of comparison for college decision-making. With the big risk being campus sexual assault and theft perpetrated by other students, the mitigation methods remain the same.


Again, no disagreement. Just because sexual assault is the most prevalent crime though, does that mean the rest should be ignored? The balance accounts for 57% according to your data. Can’t one consider all facets of crime in their decision?

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I’m sure we do agree in large part. I’m not suggesting ignoring other crime. My main point is that the crime rates in “college towns” are driven by the high proportion of college students, and the types of crime associated with such populations. The proximity of urban areas has little impact on crimes affecting students. I would never presume to suggest that students are not impacted by such other crimes, or that everyone’s methods of personal risk assessment should be the same.

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The effect on students of the level of neighborhood crime around the campus varies. At some residential campuses, students tend to live on campus, and the campus has relatively well defined and secured boundaries, while at others, students commonly live off-campus in the local neighborhood, and/or the campus is somewhat more mixed in with the local neighborhood. In the latter case, the level of neighborhood crime is likely to matter more than in the former case. Students’ tendency to do things in the local neighborhood also affects how much of an effect the level of neighborhood crime matters.

But, regardless of the above, resident students need to be aware of the types of crime that are more associated with the residential college environment than the local neighborhood (e.g. those relating to poor judgement under the influence of alcohol, or those involving sexual misconduct).

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I forbade my kids from applying to Temple University because of the out of control crime. I’m Philly born and raised and graduated from Temple myself, but knew I’d never get a good night’s sleep. It’s just that bad.
A friend’s daughter goes there and he said he gets safety alerts continually. Parent FB pages are a great resource to get the real deal on campus crime.


Eleven Temple students were woken up at gunpoint in their off campus housing and robbed in November. My suspicion is that would be more likely at Temple or USC than at Purdue or Iowa State.

When I was in college, I lived in a pretty wealthy neighborhood in a sorority house that was a stone fortress. Someone broke in and attacked one of the girls in the front room. It was just a few blocks from Chautaugua and other parks, all very expensive houses (now well over $1M) and 2 blocks from the house where JonBenet Ramsay was killed (her house was only about 5 blocks from campus).

The U of Denver is surrounded by expensive homes, not that far from a police station, but someone was murdered in the neighborhood just before Christmas. Not a student, just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Crime can happen at any place and any time. Even in very rural towns, even to non-college students.


The companion problem with small college towns is an unwarranted sense of safety. My DH was constantly walking our niece home after dark bc she didnt think it was unsafe. Campus actually has a service that will accompany any staff or student to their car after dark, you just call and they come walk with you. My oldest (who is a large imposing guy who wouldnt hurt a fly) was often rescuing young women from their drunk pals, or her drunk self. Dorms are routinely propped open, although better technology is making that harder to get away with.

(we are also Philly natives, and also forbid kiddo from applying to Temple or Drexel)


I have removed several otherwise promising schools from my D’s list for safety reasons. Two types of safety issues concern me…safety of the general area where students live off campus, and the number of crimes such as sexual assault happening on campus or in campus-affiliated housing.

Some schools have a truly horrifying number of sexual assaults/1000 students (compared to other schools) and to me indicate an unsafe campus culture that is being tolerated.

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I didn’t let my daughter apply to Marquette because of the surrounding area. And she chose not to apply to Drake in Des Moines because it felt unsafe to her. My friend who went to USC was mugged 5 separate times in his four years there, granted it was 20 years ago.

I think there’s a balance between a few places where crime is a real issue in the area and a typical city where crime is always a possibility.

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Another possibility could be that some institutions are taking sexual assaults MORE seriously, encouraging victims to report them as crimes, and supporting them during the process. This would increase reported sexual assaults above the norm. I do wonder how much this might skew some of the stats.