How does college work? Or put another way, how do colleges work and how can you and your student learn to adjust to their practices and achieve success?

Ultimately, of course, it is up to your student to find his/her way in the world. And his/her first step to a new world usually starts with college.

What do you think your child will be feeling on that first day of school? Probably not too different than you may have felt when you went through the same experience many years ago. However, if that is too far back to remember, then maybe it’s better to relate to the way you felt when you started your most recent job. A little apprehensive, a bit uncertain, but excited at the same time. And now, as a first-time college parent, it’s OK for you to feel that way again too.

And while your student may understandably be caught up in the moment, it’s your duty to take a step back and assess what needs to be done, and, with proper limits, to coach your son or daughter along the first and critical steps of the college journey.

One important fact for your family to recognize is that a college or university is populated by people who want the best for students, and whose favorite part of their job is actually working directly with students.

Now that claim of ours, of course, is not that different from the way you may have felt about those who worked at your student’s high school. Yet, with rare exceptions, this new institution of higher education will be, as it sounds, a step above high school in terms of number of people, number of separate departments and roles, and number of paths to navigate in order to make it to the finish line.

Some of the differences between high school and college will be stark, while others will be more subtle. And the same will apply to some of the differences between high school and college parenting.

One obvious difference between high school and college will be your access to information.

Throughout your student’s K-12 years, you undoubtedly had access to an incredible amount of information about his/her course of study, assignments and grades. In some school districts, the information spigot is turned on full blast and you can crunch as much data as you would like.

Well, get ready, because college is going to be very different, due to the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act, commonly known as “FERPA.” Ironically, FERPA was passed by Congress and signed into law in the 1970s, when some of us, those who are baby-boomers, were in college ourselves. The main goal of FERPA was to keep information away from Big Brother Government, but as it has been tweaked and applied over the years, and as it has been interpreted by many colleges and universities, the law has come to be seen as a way of protecting student information even from members of an immediate family, namely you.

So if you want to get your student’s grades, and/or health records and/or disciplinary records, then your student should sign a waiver allowing you access to that personal information. Some schools will provide you limited information without such a signed waiver, but most schools will provide you such information only in the case of an emergency. If the waiver is signed and properly filed with the college or university, then such concerns will melt away.

As you are probably reminded every day in your job or in other contexts, it’s one thing to have access to data, but it’s quite another thing to be able to interpret that data in a meaningful manner, and then to act on it in an appropriate way. That’s part of what our membership is all about. We encourage you to review our website,www.collegeparents.org, and to soak in as much information as you can.

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