Background: Transitioning to college life in young adulthood can represent a challenging developmental period and college students are at heightened risk for engaging in suicidality. Aims: We aimed to investigate the roles dispositional optimism and coping strategies play in suicide risk (viz., suicidality) and suicide protection (viz., reasons for living) in college students. Method: A sample of 252 American college students were surveyed using anonymous questionnaires and hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to analyze the data. Results: Coping strategies, as a set, played an important role in both suicidality and reasons for living, after controlling for demographic factors (age and sex). When dispositional optimism was entered into the model, it was found to account for a significant amount of additional unique variance in both suicidality and reasons for living, even after accounting for coping. Limitations: It is unknown whether optimism remains meaningful in its association with suicide risk and protection beyond coping in other populations. Conclusion: Effective coping and optimism are associated with decreased suicide risk and increased suicide protection. Our findings point to the consistent role of dispositional optimism, over coping, in both suicide risk and protection.