3 things that should be on high school seniors' radars

I usually write about campus safety in the spring, before students choose the college they will attend in the fall, but in light of the arrests for sexual assault on the Ramapo College and William Paterson University campuses within the last three weeks, it’s impossible to ignore the issue of campus safety. When we send our sons and daughters to college to get an education, we expect the environment to be a safe one — and for the most part, it is. Unfortunately, arrests for sexual assault and other safety concerns, such as a shooting or a dorm fire, raise the issue of campus safety.

When students apply to college the focus is on finding a good fit for the student, so little or no thought is given to general safety issues such as date rape, stalking, muggings, hate crimes, and alcohol incidences on campus. And although it’s impossible to prevent every crime before it happens, at the very least, students and parents should take the time to find out the crime statistics and the safety measures in place at each school a student applies to.

Under the Clery Act — which was named for Jeanne Clery, a student who was raped and murdered at Lehigh University in 1986 — all post-secondary schools that participate in federal financial aid programs must publish an Annual Security Report (ASR) with crime statistics for the three previous years to all current students and make them available to all prospective students. In most instances, this information is posted on the college’s website.

The Clery Act requires “colleges and universities to disclose their security policies, keep a public crime log, publish an annual crime report and provide timely warnings to students and campus employees about a crime posing an immediate or ongoing threat to students and campus employees. The law also ensures certain basic rights for victims of campus sexual assaults and requires the U.S. Department of Education to collect and disseminates campus crime statistics.” For more information about the Clery Act and school safety issues, visit the Clery Center for Security on Campus website: clerycenter.org.

Next, I want to focus on students who applied to college through an early decision or early action program. Some already know their fate, but just about everyone who applied early should know their fate before the end of the calendar year. For those who get accepted, good for you — the pressure is off. Knowing which college (most likely your first-choice school) is in your future certainly has a calming effect on the entire family.

Remember, when you applied for early decision, you agreed to attend the college; therefore, if you applied to other schools through regular admissions, you must withdraw those applications. But what happens if you don’t get accepted by your early decision school? In most cases, you’ll go into the regular admissions pool, so there is still the chance that you’ll get into your early decision school. If you waited to hear from your early decision school before applying to others — send in any applications that are ready or continue with your college search. The typical deadline for regular admissions is April 1.

Now, if you get accepted through an early action program, you have choices. Since early action is not binding, you might have applied to other early action schools, as well as regular admissions. When you get accepted by an early action school, you can accept immediately or wait until the spring deadline, after you’ve heard from all of the colleges you applied to. Even when you decide to wait until you hear from all of the schools, it’s a relief knowing that college is in your future.

Finally, it’s time to visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form — commonly known as FAFSA website fafsa.ed.gov. FAFSA qualifies students for most federal, state and college aid through grants, loans and work-study jobs, so it collects students’ — as well as their parents’ — financial information to determine the family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount a family can reasonably afford to pay each year for higher education. With this financial information, each school determines a financial aid package based not only on the student’s need for financial help, but also on the college’s resources. That’s why financial aid packages differ from one institution to another. Although you can’t submit your FAFSA before Jan. 1, 2015, for the 2015 fall college semester, students and parents can apply for a pin, become familiar with deadlines, and visit the “Help” page for answers to FAQs. I’ll write more about FAFSA after the New Year.

Let’s hear from you. This column welcomes your comments and questions about the college admissions process, as well as post-secondary education options. Please send email to patrestaino@optonline.net.

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