Background Adolescence and young adulthood is a time of risky health behaviour initiation and experimentation. Smoking, risky drinking, poor nutrition and physical activity, and a lack of sun protection behaviour, often become established in early adulthood. Levels of health risk behaviours occurring amongst tertiary education and training students and their preferences for types of on-campus health promotion programs were examined. Method A cross-sectional pen-and-paper classroom survey was conducted at one Sydney-based TAFE New South Wales Institute campus in May 2010. The survey assessed demographics, smoking, alcohol use, sun protection, nutrition, physical activity and health promotion program preferences. Results: Two hundred and twenty-four students participated (97% consent); the majority were aged 16-24 years (59%) and female (51%). Current smoking (35%), risky drinking (49%) and inadequate physical activity (88%) rates were high. Adequate vegetable intake (3.6%) and sun protection behaviours (5.4%) were low and 33% of students were overweight or obese. Popular health promotion programs included food and activity subsidies, practical skills classes and social outings. Conclusion Participation in health risk behaviours among this sample was high. The setting of tertiary education and workplace training represents an opportunity for early intervention into risky health behaviours among young people. So what? This study is the first to provide information on the prevalence of health risk behaviours and preferences for types of health promoting programs among students of an Australian community college. The results show that young adults regularly participate in multiple health risk behaviours, such as smoking, drinking, poor nutrition, physical activity and lack of sun protection.