Sending a son or daughter off to college marks a major milestone for parents—a time to loosen the reins of child rearing as your student moves to a new, more independent environment.
For international parents, the send-off can be an even bigger transition. Unlike parents living in the United States, international parents will likely have a harder time dropping by, checking in, and ultimately knowing their children are safe and sound at school.
"I have a young son, and the thought of sending him to another country for four years is daunting," notes Rob Hardin, assistant director of admissions and international student recruitment at the University of Oregon. "I would let him go, and even encourage it, but man—who would I talk to? Where would I go? If I didn't speak the language, it would be that much harder."
[Learn about studying in the United States.]
U.S. college officials generally go to great lengths to make their campuses safe. Still, here are a few steps parents can take before and during their student's college experience to help ensure safety.
1. Check into safety stats: A school's website is a good first start to investigating campus safety statistics. Beginning the search is simple, Hardin notes: In the search bar on a college's website, "Type in safety; hit enter; see what comes up," he says.
By federal law, all U.S. colleges must disclose campus crime statistics, including counts of rape, murder, robbery, and arson. You may be able to find this information posted somewhere on the school's website, or through the Department of Education's online Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.
Beyond statistics, look for precautionary steps colleges take, including late-night escort services that will deliver your child back to their dorm room and designated safe spots on campus to call for help during emergencies. Check to make sure the schools your child is considering are transparent about safety, Hardin recommends.
2. Research the surrounding area: There are more than 1,600 colleges and universities in the United States, and many are located in vastly different geographic settings. Going to college in New York City versus a small-town school in the Midwest will be a much different experience in many ways, including safety.
[Find out how U.S. geography can take international students by surprise.]
Do some Internet research to find out if the schools your child is considering are located in major cities, rural towns, or suburban areas. Then, investigate the surrounding areas' security offerings. If finances allow, investigating both the college campus and the surrounding area in person is ideal, notes Katherine Cohen, founder of college admissions consulting firm IvyWise.
3. Seek out sources: Talking to the admissions and international student counselors at the schools your family is considering is a good way to get your safety questions answered, notes Natalie Koster, assistant director of undergraduate international admissions at the University of Colorado—Boulder.
For an unbiased take, bring your questions to the nearest EducationUSA office, the University of Oregon's Hardin recommends. Operated by the U.S. Department of State, the organization provides a variety of information about studying in the United States.
4. Have a pre-college discussion: Before your student departs, talk to them about safety precautions and new experiences they may face.
"Sit down and say, 'Hey, you're going to a new place; you don't know the culture; you're not familiar with everything there,'" Hardin from the University of Oregon recommends. "'You want to learn the culture and get a feel for everything before you stand out.'"
But students can be cautious while still integrating into their new campus, UC—Boulder's Koster notes.
"It does not have to be scary," she says. "In fact, I would encourage parents to encourage their students to try to get to know people outside of what they're used to. Definitely have [your] students branch out, but not enter an unsafe situation."