How does your campus create a supportive, safe environment for first-year students?

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How does your campus create a supportive, safe environment for first-year students?

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The first few weeks on campus are charged with excitement and promise for first-year students.  However, with the loss of familiarity come gains in autonomy. The transition from high school to college can be tumultuous for many students, with the first 4 to 6 weeks being the most critical (Schulenberg & Maggs, 2002).

Many new students engage in high-risk behavior in those first weeks.  In fact, recent studies confirm that more than 60% of college students under the age of 21 consume alcohol (Core Institute, 2013).  High-risk drinking peaks around late adolescence and early adulthood and is even more prevalent among young adults who attend college (Johnston et al., 2013).  Risky drinking can negatively affect students’ academics, health, and social lives (Ross & DeJong, 2008). Even students who are not heavy drinkers or abstain from drinking altogether suffer secondhand effects like interrupted study or sleep, unwanted sexual assault or advances, or property damage (Wechsler & Nelson, 2008). As many as one-third of first-year students do not re-enroll for their sophomore year, in part due to their own or others’ high-risk alcohol use  (ACT, 2013; Upcraft, 2002).

Campuses can help support first-year students as they adjust to their new environments.  First-year students report that many people, including parents, friends, college professors, advisors, residence assistants, and counselors help facilitate their transition to college (Scott-Sheldon et al., 2014; Smith & Zhang, 2008). Availability of substance-free dorms, limiting the availability of alcohol at on-campus events, and providing students with alcohol-free social activities, particularly during freshmen orientation, can help ease the perceived norm that you must drink to fit in (Ross & DeJong, 2008; Zimmerman & DeJong, 2003). Limiting the marketing of alcohol on campus and strengthening enforcement of underage drinking laws can also reduce drinking rates (Saltz et al., 2010; Ross & DeJong, 2008). So while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing high-risk alcohol use or promoting a smooth transition, a multifaceted, proactive approach by campus staff can help to ensure that students feel supported and safe (Hingson & White, 2014; NIH, 2007). 

Related Resources

We encourage you to explore this topic further. Here is a selection of resources that campuses can use to support first-year college students:

ACT, Inc. (2013). National collegiate retention and persistence to degree rates. Retrieved from:

Core Institute. (2013). 2009-2011 national data. Southern Illinois University. Retrieved from:

Hingson, R., & White, A. (2014). New research findings since the 2007 Surgeon General’s call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A review. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(1): 158-169.

Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2012: Volume 2, College students and adults ages 19-50. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

NIH Publication No. 07–5010. (2007). What colleges need to know now: An update on college drinking research. Retrieved from:

Ross, V., & DeJong, W. (2008). Alcohol and other drug abuse among first-year college students. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.

Saltz, R., Paschall, M., McGaffigan, R., & Nygaard, P. (2010). Alcohol risk management in college settings: The safer California universities randomized trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 39(6).

Scott-Sheldon, L.A., Carey, K.B., Elliott, J.C., Carey, M.P. (2014). Efficacy of alcohol interventions for first-year college students: A meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(2): 177-188.

Schulenberg, J.E., & Maggs, J.L. (2002). A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 14: 47-70.

Smith, W.L., & Zhang, P. (2008). Perceived factors facilitating students’ transition from high school to college. Michigan Sociological Review, 22:  19-40.

Upcraft, M.L. (2002). Today’s first-year students and alcohol. Bethesda, MD: Task Force on College Drinking, National Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Wechsler, H., & Nelson, T.F. (2008) What we have learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing attention on college student alcohol consumption and the environmental conditions that promote it. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 69(4). Retrieved from:

Zimmerman, R., & DeJong, W. (2003). Safe lanes on campus: A guide for preventing impaired driving and underage drinking. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.


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