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Navigating Enrollment: Course Registration, the First Bill and More

Sue Ohrablo, Ed.D.

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The transition to college is a big one for the whole family. As a parent, you will experience many (sometimes conflicting) emotions — pride, happiness, sadness, anxiety and uncertainty. And your student is feeling all that, too, even if they don’t admit it.

Up until now, the focus was on helping your student apply to and choose a college, as well as creating a plan for financing their education. But the process of enrolling in college isn’t over yet, and there’s more for you and your student to do to make sure they get off to a solid start.


Was your student granted provisional or conditional rather than full admission? A number of circumstances can lead to this relating to grades and final transcripts, English language proficiency and other factors. This means that, even if your student accepted their seat and you’ve paid the deposit, there may be other steps to finalize admission.

  • Provisional admission: Your student is admitted “in theory,” but needs documentation to complete the process. Check for deadlines for document submission, as this can lead to holds that prevent registration.
  • Conditional admission: A student is admitted on some condition, for instance, they must earn a specific GPA in their first semester to become eligible for full admission. A registration hold may be placed on the student’s record.

Your student should contact the college/university admission office to make sure everything is in order. You may want to use an admissions checklist to help you keep focused.* I also recommend getting everything in writing. Here are questions for your student to ask:

  1. Is there anything else I need to complete my admissions file?
  2. Is a second (supplemental) application necessary to be admitted to my academic program? If so, how and when do I apply? (Especially important for highly selective programs such as nursing and biology.)


When I was an advising administrator, all summer I received lots of calls and emails from anxious new students and parents asking how to choose and sign up for classes. After all, you’re not really “in” college until you are signed up for classes, right?

Colleges often make this distinction by using the words “admitted” or “accepted” for newly admitted students, and “enrolled” or “registered” for students who have signed up for classes.

There are several things you’ll need to know to get the registration process started. Encourage your student to ask the following questions:

  1. Will I be notified about how and when to register?
  2. When is the registration period for new students?
  3. When is the first day I can register?
  4. Who is my academic advisor and how can I connect with them?

It’s important to know when and how to register. Most colleges will communicate with your student about next steps, so make sure to read all emails and notifications.

Many colleges open registration to new students after seniors, juniors, sophomores and enrolled freshmen have had a chance to register. Don’t be alarmed; this is just so upper division students get the classes they need to graduate. You and your student will appreciate this as they move through their studies.


Remember all that work you did applying for financial aid? Take a deep breath, because it’s not over! You and your student need to understand how to apply their financial aid grants, scholarships and loans to pay their bill. That’s where the bursar’s office comes in.

As soon as your student registers for classes, charges will be generated. Colleges differ as to when they send out invoices or post the charges to the student’s account for you to see.

Some parents have called me, alarmed, when the bill shows “due” the very same day the student registered. Depending on the time of year, that may or may not be the case.

In general, be prepared to pay the bill upon registration. If you’d like to split up payments over time, ask about payment plans. The bursar can help. Some tips for paying:

  1. When is the bill due? How do I pay it?
  2. Are there payment plans available?
  3. Has my financial aid been applied to the bill? If not, what do I need to do?
  4. If I don’t pay my bill on time, what are the consequences? Do you charge late payment fees? If so, how much and when do I need to pay to avoid the charges?

I can not emphasize enough how important it is for students and their families to work together on the process of paying for college, even if the parent is footing the bill entirely. You and your student should both understand the process and timeline for paying tuition bills and also for receiving a refund (full or partial) if your student decides to drop a class or withdraw entirely at some point during the term. Every institution has different policies.

And life is unpredictable, which is why many schools include information about tuition insurance when they send tuition statements. It is worth researching. This is not a bet “against” your student but rather a tool for protecting your investment in their education.

Summer Homework

What can you and your student do right now to prepare for a smooth transition and college enrollment process?

  • Know your student’s admissions status and take appropriate follow-up actions as needed.
  • Make sure your student knows their student ID number and email. Colleges will start communicating via internal email immediately. Include the student ID number in all correspondence.
  • Locate the student portal, which gives your student access to academic and financial records. Here, your student can see their current class schedule, charges and important information.
  • Have your student identify and communicate with their academic advisor.
  • Your student should register for classes at the absolute first opportunity to do so; classes fill up fast. Don’t let vacations or procrastination get in the way of your student getting the best possible schedule. Students can make changes in their schedule, usually up until the end of the first week of classes.

Wishing you and your student much success as you begin this exciting journey!

*Included in my book, The Pocket Advisor: A Family Guide to Navigating College.

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Dr. Sue Ohrablo (she/her) is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author in the areas of academic advising and student services. She has over 35 years’ experience in higher education, holding positions in advising administration, academic advising, career and personal counseling. Dr. Ohrablo holds a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership as well as degrees in counseling and psychology. She is the author of The Pocket Advisor: A Family Guide to Navigating College, and currently supports students and higher education institutions as the founder of My HigherEd Partner. Connect with Sue via or [email protected].
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