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

Yes, it happened in the blink of an eye. Your baby has morphed overnight into an adult.

In reality, the parents spend years preparing for this big moment. The door shuts on childhood and swings open the door to adulthood.

And when your child goes to college, some important things change.

Everything that happens when your student 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.

When a student signs the FERPA statement, they acknowledge their right to review their academic record, control disclosure, and request changes.

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.

Stoller notes some schools have systems to help parents 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 is necessary to make this happen, especially since it involves access to a student’s record.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

When it comes to student safety, the Dean of Students Office becomes the point of contact for parents, especially for emergencies. “It is important for families to connect with campus offices that are authorized to act as student advocates,” 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 tax filing, etc.”

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. They can vote, drive, pay taxes, serve on a jury, own/buy property or firearms, and have consensual sex.

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


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