3 Documents You Must Discuss With Your College Student

College is NOT high school. 

There, I said it. This is one very important nugget of wisdom for parents and students to understand as they prepare for life after high school. 

You see, in college roles change. Responsibilities change. And expectations change. 

For both students AND parents. 

Parenting a college student is different than parenting a high school student. It will not look or feel the same. If you don’t believe me, you will a few months into the school year when you haven’t seen a grade or missing assignment report. Because you won’t. This is college—not high school. 


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects privacy of educational records. Believe it or not, in the eyes of the university (and government), your college student is an adult. I know, it doesn’t seem fair since you’re likely helping foot the bill. And you’ve either birthed or raised this child, which should give you a say, right? While I believe your fading stretch marks and diminishing savings accounts validate your desire to see your child’s report cards, FERPA says otherwise.

You may be paying your child’s college tuition and expenses, and covering them on your health insurance. But in the eyes of the law, your 18 year-old is legally an adult and entitled to the same privacy protections that you are.

This means that even though your student may be relying on you for support, privacy laws prohibit financial institutions and medical providers from disclosing private information concerning your child to you without their authorization.

Under normal circumstances, this may not be a problem. Of course, as parents of college students, we want to encourage our kids to be self-reliant and financially responsible. Being away from home gives them an opportunity experience life as an adult for the first time. And encouraging independence is a good thing.

But what happens in case of an emergency? 

Will you be able to access information about your child’s condition if they are seriously injured while away at school? Will you be able to help them handle their financial affairs if they are incapacitated and are unable to make these decisions on their own?

Here are 3 important documents to understand and discuss with your student

Before we proceed, I want to remind you that I am not an attorney. I don’t pretend to be an attorney. I am not telling you to use—or not use—these documents. I want to make you aware they exist so you can make the best and most educated decision for your family. I do encourage you to discuss these fully with your own family attorney for any clarification. 


  • Durable Power of Attorney: The Durable Power of Attorney will allow your child to authorize you to manage his financial affairs either immediately or in the future should he become mentally or physically unable to do so. This would authorize you to handle tasks such as paying bills, applying for social security or government benefits and opening and closing accounts, if necessary.


  • HIPAA Release: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of patient’s health information. HIPAA was intended to add a layer of protection for individuals so that their medical history or health status could not be wrongfully used against them. However, HIPAA brought with it many more hoops to clear in order to receive medical information. This means that even parents may be prevented from accessing their student’s medical information without an authorization. By signing a HIPPA release, your child can authorize doctors to share diagnoses and treatment options with you.

Personal application example: We didn’t originally ask our daughter to sign a HIPAA release, on the grounds of trying to            have her “adult” and navigate her own healthcare. However, she did sign one several months later—out of convenience—when she was having trouble getting a prescription filled and asked us for help. We did what worked for our family at the time. I encourage you to do what works best for your current family situation.


  • Medical Power of Attorney: The Medical Power of Attorney allows your child to authorize you to make medical decisions if they are incapacitated and unable to do so. An agent acting under a Medical Power of Attorney is authorized to see the principal’s medical records to make informed medical decisions on your student’s behalf.


These documents are easy to prepare and are relatively inexpensive. Research them, understand them and discuss with your student, and possibly your attorney. Remember, they are put in place for emergency situations. Just because you have them, doesn’t mean you’ll need to use them. The goal is still to empower your child to learn the life skills and responsibilities necessary for adulthood. 

Want more real-life information on how you can help your student successfully navigate the college years? (And keep your sanity in the process?)

Order your copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today!

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