A Caution for When Your Kids Go to College

Having two daughters who recently graduated from college, I have a couple of suggestions for parents of college freshmen. After the first couple of semesters, my wife and I learned that we needed to be named as authorized representatives to speak to the college bureaucracy and as joint tenants on our daughters’ bank accounts. We had too many conversations like this:

Parent: My daughter just received a notice that her tuition was not fully paid.

College Functionary: Unless Form 31E, Confusing and Redundant Appointment of Person for Occasional Liaison with Administration has been signed by the student, we can only speak to her.

Parent: But I fully paid the tuition bill you sent me. Why do you now want an additional $250 for Nuclear Physics Laboratory Fees? My daughter is a music major and doesn’t take Nuclear Physics.

College Functionary: Did your daughter sign the CRAPOLA?

Parent: No, but I pay her tuition and it says that if the $250 is not paid by three weeks ago there is an additional $250 late fee.

College Functionary: We can’t talk to you with no CRAPOLA.

Parent: How do I get a CRAPOLA?

College Functionary: If you don’t have a CRAPOLA, we cannot send you a CRAPOLA.

Or this:

Parent: I want to deposit $200 in my daughter’s account, but I do not have the account number.

Bank Teller: Are you on the account?

Parent: No, but I just want to make a deposit.

Bank Teller: We cannot give you any information about the account if you are not on it.

Parent: I do not want any information, I just want to make a deposit. I can give you her name, her address, her Social Security Number, her date of birth, and the fact that she has a birthmark shaped like the state of California on her left butt cheek. It’s an emergency.

Bank Teller: I’m sorry you are having an emergency, but it is not the bank’s emergency and I cannot give you any information, including the account number if you are not on the account.

College students are generally clueless about how to deal with a bureaucracy. Without parental assistance they are likely to take unnecessary classes, miss registration deadlines, sign up for classes at conflicting times, and generally make mistakes. There is much to be said for learning by experience, but if the parents are footing the bill, they are the ones who get the painful lessons.

We also make sure that our daughters’ bank accounts have branches both where they go to school and where we live.

I also advise parents to have their sons and daughters sign powers of attorney. This can be extremely important if there is an accident and the parent has to deal with doctors, hospitals, police, and other third parties.

College students want to be independent and they may not want their parents to have access to their school records. However, this is one time when parents know better and must “parent up.” If your college student is in a hospital 400 miles from home and there are no close relatives near by, what are you going to do if you have no authority to talk to the hospital and school administrators.

Making friends is an important part of college life, but college friends do not pay attention when someone does not show up for class or come out of the dorm room. Furthermore, college friends have no authority to intercede on another student’s behalf with the authorities.

You do not stop being a parent when your son or daughter is at school. Make sure that you have the tools you need to act the part.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2011 John B. Payne, Attorney

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  • When I was a resident adviser in the dormitories, we couldn’t even tell a parent “which hospital” his or her child was going to even when he or she knew that an ambulance just picked up the child from other sources. I didn’t realize this and was “written up” for doing it.


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