New students at the University of Maryland may need to think about more than studying this year.
An increase in homicides, carjackings and other crimes in Prince George's County -- home to the College Park campus -- has made residents uneasy and a lot more cautious.
But for freshmen and new undergraduates, many of whom hail from outside the Washington area, the risks may not be obvious.
As a result, campus officials want students to be on guard. But just how does a college protect its students from a problem that comes mostly from outside the campus borders?
"We do the best we can without scaring them," said Heather Conklin, 21, a senior business student who worked as an orientation assistant this summer.
During orientation sessions, new students learn about campus rules during the day. In the evenings, they are briefed by upperclassmen on such topics as how to do well in their courses, how to make the best of dorm life and how to incorporate extracurricular activities.
Then there's safety.
Last month's sessions included orientation assistants acting out scenes to encourage nighttime practices such as walking in large groups, taking the campus shuttle and using the blue emergency phones installed around the campus. Parents met separately with a campus police officer who outlined police services and gave safety advice similar to what the students heard.
But none of the sessions touched much on the overall crime problem in Prince George's County.
Maj. Cathy Atwell, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland Police Department, said she sometimes gets calls from parents and students with concerns about crime beyond campus, and usually refers them to the Prince George's police department.
"I think the majority of people learn it on their own," said Kelaine Conochan, 22, a 2005 graduate who headed student orientation this summer.
Both Conochan, a native of Freehold, N.J., and Conklin, of Corning, N.Y., said they arrived in College Park without a full grasp of the county.
"I come from a small town, and I didn't know anything about Maryland or Prince George's," Conklin said. "We talk a lot about being safe on campus, but in reality, that's not where the bulk of crime happens."
Even with the firm but not overly aggressive message that they should always be aware of their surroundings, most students are focused on other issues, such as figuring out where their classes are.
"Students don't ask about it, so it's the first thing I bring up," said David Fenwick, 20, an economics and sociology student from Laurel.
Fenwick added that he thinks many students, particularly those from out of state, are naive about the campus's proximity to the District, which also has crime problems.
"I don't believe they're fully aware of the fact that we're 10 minutes from D.C.," Fenwick said. "They see College Park as an oasis, but it's not secluded."
In fact, University of Maryland students are not immune from crime, even on campus.
During the first week of August, a woman was robbed at the College Park Metro station. That same week, a 21-year-old Silver Spring man was shot in the buttocks near the campus's southern border on Knox Road. The victim was a student living on campus this summer. Police believe it was the first random shooting on campus since the early 1980s.
University police regularly send out e-mails to the campus community after local incidents are reported. About two dozen robberies, many armed, have been detailed in the e-mails this year.
One particular off-campus crime caught the region's attention in the spring, when a fire at a nearby residence killed one student and seriously injured another. It was ruled to be arson. Michael A. Scrocca, a 22-year-old finance major, died in the blaze.
Many of the students and parents who attended orientation sessions said they were satisfied with the way the university dispensed safety information, even though talk about the overall crime problem in Prince George's was kept to a minimum.
"They didn't touch much on it because this is on campus," said Tia Ranadive, 17, an incoming freshman from Gaithersburg who said she was familiar with the county's crime level before choosing to attend Maryland.
"If they say Prince George's County is the most crime-ridden county in Maryland, it would make them scared," Ranadive said. "But students should find out for themselves."
Frank Thorp, 44, and his wife, Anna, 43, of Elkton attended orientation with their son Kyle. Thorp said he was not very familiar with the county's crime issues. He added that his son will have to rely on common sense to stay safe when he ventures off campus.
"It's the same advice whether you're in Wilmington or Philadelphia or Washington," Thorp said. "Avoid trouble, stay with friends and don't do anything stupid."