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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

Documents You Need to Support Your College-Bound Student

18 Candles

Many parents don’t realize that once their teen turns 18 they are no longer kept in the parental loop about grades or really anything that happens while their student is at college -- from disciplinary measures to health care decisions. Parents lose the legal authority to make decisions on their child’s behalf, even if considered necessary to their health, safety, and success. Fortunately, with the right documents and proactive actions, parents can still support their adult college students should the need arise.

Give yourself a sense of security by proactively addressing these issues now. Here are the critical documents, why you will want them, where you can get them, and what to do once you have them.

Get Your Papers In Order

The FERPA Release:

FERPA (Family Educational and Rights to Privacy Act) affects colleges students 18 and over in two notable ways:

  • It stipulates that parents cannot access their child’s academic records, transcript, grade reports or speak with an academic advisor.

  • It designates the student with full authority and privacy over their financial accounts at college.

FERPA Financial Restrictions

These privacy rules mean that parents do not automatically have access to their child's college financial account, even though they pay the tuition. Of course, colleges want to get paid, so to facilitate payment under FERPA rules, most have an online authorization process through which students officially grant their parents access to tuition and fee statements and allow for payment processes. Alternatively, some parents simply log into their student’s account to pay the bills.

FERPA Academic Restrictions

Some parents may find it a relief to no longer receive the “missing assignment” emails provided by many high schools. FERPA’s reach is a bit broader, however, preventing colleges from providing parents with any academic information at all, without an official release by the student.

Each family approaches this differently. Some parents may feel that because they pay some or all of a student’s college tuition and expenses that they have a right to monitor their child’s progress (especially if a student has a GPA dependent scholarship) or to make sure they aren’t on academic probation. Some families may have agreements about maintaining certain grades and taking specific courses toward a field of study.

The Discussion

Many students share their academic progress with their parents voluntarily and parents may not even be aware that technically they do not have access to their student’s grades. If concerned, parents may want to broach the issue now, before it becomes an issue. You can simply ask your child to be transparent and upfront with you about grades. Or, if you want to be absolutely certain you have access to this information, as well as the authority to speak with an academic advisor, you can ask them to sign the college’s FERPA waiver. The college will speak to a family only if this release form is signed and kept in the student’s academic file. Even if filed, parents still need to request the is not sent automatically.

Where to get the document: Colleges often have their own FERPA waiver form, so ask your student’s college.


Health Care Proxy (aka Health Care Durable Power of Attorney)

This document is particularly critical right now. It authorizes you to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf, provides access to their medical records, and allows you to speak with their medical health care provider.

Each state has different laws, such as whether the medical proxy must be notarized; so make sure you have the correct form for both the state where your child will be attending school as well as your home state.

Where to get the document: Available online.


Health Care Directive (aka Living Will)

Often the Health Care Proxy will include a Living Will. If not, you can create a separate document for your student in which they can describe what health care decisions they would like to be made on their behalf if unable to express health care choices.

Where to get the document: Available online or in consultation with legal aid.


HIPPA Authorization

This document alone will allow you to get information from the health care institution treating your college student and is often a component within the Health Care Proxy. At a minimum, ask your teen to fill out the HIPPA release form (which does not need to be notarized or witnessed) so that health care providers can share health information with you. Often the college will ask students to complete this form in case they choose to use the college’s health and wellness resources.

Where to get the document: Available online, the college provides or may be part of the Health Care Proxy.


Psychiatric Advance Directive

If your child is receiving psychiatric care or counseling while attending college, it’s recommended that you get a directive in case they have a mental health crisis while at college. This directive will allow a designated person to make health care decisions on your child’s behalf in case they need support.

Where to get the document: Available online


Durable Power of Attorney (POA)

The POA enables the designated individual to, among other things, file tax returns, access bank accounts, credit cards, pay bills, make changes to your child’s financial aid package or to figure out tuition problems. Durable POA forms vary by state. In some states, the medical POA (I called it the health care proxy) can be included in the Durable POA. These documents are especially important if your child studies abroad while at college.

Where to get the document: Available online or in consultation with legal aid.


Documents - Done! Now What?

Once you have the signed documents, make sure you follow these steps so they actually do the job intended.

Make them accessible:

Scan and save the forms so that they are readily available online and on a mobile device, or to be printed out on a home computer.

For Health Care

If you haven’t already done so, transition your child from your family’s pediatrician to an adult health care provider -- such as a family medicine practice or an internal medicine doctor. Then file a copy of the Health Care Proxy with the new health care provider’s office.

Many providers use MyChart or other digital health care accounts. Ask your child to allow proxy access to you (or to whomever they have designated as their health care agent)

Check with the college’s health clinic and inquire:

  • Do they have their own health care power of attorney form to sign?

  • Is it consistent with your health care power of attorney document?

  • File a copy of the completed form with the college health clinic.

Locate a local urgent care clinic near the college for after-hours care (note, some colleges offer 24-hour services, but not all do).

File a copy of the Health Care Proxy document with the clinic.

If your child is covered by your health insurance, be sure they have a copy of their health insurance card.

Pro tip:

To enable the clinic to have access to prior medical history, check if the MyChart or digital health care account will sync with the urgent care clinic. Or make a list of your child’s allergies and past conditions a doctor should know about, take a photo of the list and have your teen store it on their phone or Google Drive for easy access.

For Finances

Check with your child’s financial institution to be sure they do not require their own power of attorney form. If they do, make sure it is consistent with the durable power of attorney form.

Consider using a password manager, so you (your child’s designated agent) can access the digital accounts if necessary.

For Your Own Peace of Mind

Get contact info for three people in your child’s residence:

  • Roommate (and roommate's parents)

  • Resident Assistant or Hall director

  • One other friend

Ask your child to give these people your emergency contact info, in case they need to reach you.


Start the paperwork now, so you are able to act later. Whether you are dealing with a case of appendicitis or COVID-19 complications, you will be prepared and legally authorized to support your child.

Looking for a one-stop source to gather the legal documents? Check out this one.

I hope this info helps you successfully launch your senior with some peace of mind. Feel free to reach out with questions about the transition to college or about college planning for younger students as well.


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