When Your Child Turns 18 and Goes to College: What Parents Need to Know

When your child goes to college, legalities change. Make sure you discuss these important changes.

Things to know when your child goes to college

For some parents, it seems all that all they did was blink and their babies morphed overnight into young adults. In reality, the parents probably spent years preparing for that moment when their offspring would step through that opening that slams the door shut on childhood and swings open the door to adulthood. When your child goes to college, some important things change.

So, what happens now that your baby is 18, a legal adult, and headed to college? 

For starters, parents (and their student) need to talk about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The first exposure to FERPA will likely come during the college admissions application process. Students will be presented with a FERPA statement when applying to, or accepting an offer of admission from, any school that receives federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education — which they will be required to sign.

Signing the FERPA statement is an acknowledgement by the student that he/she understands his/her right to review their academic record, control disclosure (grant who has permission to review the record), and request changes if an error is detected.

According to Eric StollerStudent Affairs and Technology blogger for Inside Higher Ed, FERPA can be the basis for some amazing conversations between students and their parents. “The biggest thing about FERPA is that most schools have clearly defined policies that are available for parents/families. The education about FERPA starts during the Admissions process and really takes hold during Orientation. Most people are okay with FERPA once they realize that it was designed to protect a student’s privacy.”

Getting the bill vs. footing the tuition bill

Another change that takes place when your child goes to college: once your child accepts an offer of admission, communication from the school with the parents pretty much disappears — if it has not already done so. Your child will receive the tuition bill and any information related to financial aid and/or scholarships. Many schools have moved to online payment of tuition and fees.

Regardless of who is actually paying for college, it’s the student who gets the bill online, not the parent. Students who, as high schoolers, rarely checked their email now must do so in order to keep up with deadlines and notifications related to entering college.

Stoller points out that some schools have systems in place that help parents out when it comes to keeping abreast of information available only online. “There have actually been some developments on the part of student online services providers to create access points for parents/families to be able to access tuition/billing information (with their student’s permission) for the purposes of account payments,” says Stoller. He stresses that communication between the student and the parent(s) is necessary to make this happen, especially since it involves access to a portion of the student’s account/record.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

When it comes to logistics and issues that involve student safety, it’s the Dean of Students Office that usually becomes the point of contact for parents, especially if there is an emergency. “I think it is important for parents/families to connect with offices on campuses that are authorized to act as advocates for students,” says Stoller. “Technically, once they are 18, a student is in control of their lives. Realistically speaking, most traditionally aged students are going to be on their parent/family insurance, be part of a family tax filing, etc…their rights are largely connected to the resources that they need in order to remain at college.”

Other 18-year milestones

If your child is male, he must register with the federal Selective Service when he turns 18, or within 30 days of that birthday.

An 18 year-old is a legal adult and is held accountable to the laws governing adults including voting, driving, paying taxes, serving jury duty, owning/buying property or firearms, and what constitutes consensual sex.

Some laws pertaining to when your child goes to college may vary by state, so check with the state government for the specifics related to where he/she is attending college — not where you, the parent, live. Continue to have those all-important conversations with your young adult!

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