When you’re a college student, the last thing you want to think about is legal issues. Unfortunately, it’s something you may be forced to think about at some point during your college career.

When you’re in college, it’s probably the first time in your life, you have a real sense of independence. That can be exciting, but sometimes that excitement can take you too far in the wrong direction. As a college student, you need to be aware of legal issues you could face, or that could impact you, and how to avoid them as well as what to do if they do occur.

The following are some of the more common legal issues college students, and sometimes their families face.

Driving Under the Influence

Young drivers tend to have some of the most troubling statistics as far as being in accidents and dying in motor vehicle accidents. By the time you’re college-aged, these risks go down a bit, but they still remain high in your age group.

When you’re in college, a big concern is drunk driving. Driving under the influence or DUI can lead to legal consequences that last for years.

In the short-term, consequences can include suspension of your driver’s license, fines, and fees, increased insurance premiums, court-required participation in drunk driving programs, community service or even jail time.

Even once you fulfill the short-term requirements of a DUI conviction, it can still cause effects on your life for years to come.

For example, most employers will do a criminal background check before hiring you, and a misdemeanor or felony DUI could show up on this. If you’re still in high school and you get a DUI conviction, it could show up on your college applications and financial aid applications. You may even have problems when you apply for housing including apartments if a landlord does a criminal background check.

The legal ramifications of a DUI are sometimes much less devastating than other effects of driving under the influence. For example, DUIs account for 33% of all of the fatal accidents teens are involved in.

Underage Drinking

When you’re in college and under the age of 21, it may seem like no big deal to drink alcohol—after all, isn’t everyone doing it? No, not necessarily, and in reality even if it seems common, underage drinking is still illegal.

If you’re caught drinking underage, you may face mandatory community service and fines.

Along with legal effects of being caught underage drinking, if you’re in college and you’re drinking, particularly binge drinking, you may face mental and physical health risks, problems with academic performance, and you may be more likely to be a victim of sexual or physical assault.

As well as legal issues related to underage drinking, other alcohol-related problems a college student might face or charges they might receive include public intoxication, charges for using a fake ID or having an open container of alcohol.

For example, possessing a false ID or using someone else’s ID as your own can be a first-degree misdemeanor in some states. If the ID is used to buy alcohol or get into a place that serves alcohol, there is a fine, and the person who is using the ID may have their driver’s license suspended for up three years.


You might not consider bullying to be a legal issue, but in reality, it can be. Bullying isn’t something that only occurs in childhood or the middle school years. It’s something that can continue well past high school for some, and there is research coming to light that indicates bullies often continue these behaviors well into college and adulthood.

Cyberbullying is, in particular, on the rise on many college campuses. Cyberbullying on college campuses might be related to gossip, rumors, and also sexual bullying. The use of sexually-related online content used to humiliate another person or seek revenge on them may also occur.

In these situations, there may be state laws in place that seek to protect the person being bullied and possibly take action against the perpetrators of the bullying. For example, there are certain stalking statutes in most states that can apply to electronic communication as well as laws regarding assault and criminal harassment.

Even if a college student doesn’t face legal charges for bullying, their school may take action.

Physical Violence

In college, with close quarters in terms of the living environment and the frequency at which substances are used, physical violence may be more common than it is in other situations. This can include not only fighting but also hazing.

Unfortunately, sexual assault occurs on college campuses at relatively high rates too.

College students have to understand the importance of controlling their use of substances and avoiding violent or unwanted physical contact with other people.

For victims of physical or sexual violence, they often don’t know there are protections available to them. For example, colleges must have Title IX officers on campus. Title IX protects students from sexual harassment on campuses.

HIPAA Privacy Laws

The concept of HIPAA privacy laws is relevant not as much to college students themselves but rather their parents. If you’re the parent of a college student and something comes up where your child goes to the hospital or receives emergency medical care and isn’t able to get in touch with you, you may not know about it for a long time.

Medical providers can’t give information about the health condition of a college student who is an adult unless the parent has a medical release or medical power of attorney.

For that reason, some parents opt to obtain power of attorney before their students go to college.

Whether you’re a college student yourself or you’re the parent of a college student, being aware of the legal ramifications of reckless behavior is important to avoid potential long-term consequences legally and otherwise. Unfortunately, college students can be at risk of thoughtless or destructive behavior in certain situations, but this doesn’t have the be the case.

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