Here is the situation. We have a website that is for a program that helps high school juniors and seniors, write their college app. The problem we are having is how to handle the user accounts. Should the account be associated with the parent, or the student.

It makes sense for the account to be a parent account because they are the ones paying for the program. But our target audience are high schoolers. So they would be the ones making their own schedules, as well as communicating with their teachers.

One idea was to have some kind of sub-accounts under a main account. But that seems a bit kludgey. You would need someway for either students to sign up and then associate themselves with their parent, but that becomes a problem. How would that be communicated. An alternative would be to have parents create accounts for the child, but that also seems a bit annoying.

Any ideas?


The "features" that I thought each group would need to be able to handle:


  • Ability to pay for programs
  • Ability to see student's essay, but not edit it
  • Be able to communicate with student's teacher
  • Ability to register for programs


  • Communicate with their teachers
  • Collaborate in real time with their teachers on essay material
  • Schedule meetings with their teacher
  • Not be able to view siblings materials
  • Does one of them - parent or student - see or have access to something the other doesn't?
    – peterchen
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 7:45
  • Are there some use cases for parents in your system? Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 16:12
  • @peterchen yes, see updated answer. Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 0:44

3 Answers 3


There are two concepts floating around in your question that you are asking, and the problems come about because you are imagining real people having to reconcile them:

  • User
  • Account

I'd suggest removing the word "Account" entirely. Perhaps under the covers in your system there is still something called "Account", but you can successfully solve this by removing this term from the point of view of users.

So now we are left with one concept:

  • User

The User may be a parent, or may be a student. Either way, it's a straightforward and well known thing to create a login and access a system as a user.

Next, the User creates a new college application. From the point of view of the user, this would be the same process whether it's the parent or the student. All we are doing is creating a new college application. When they create this application, they can enter the student's name, and that name may not match the users' name.

Once the new college application is created, only the person who created it can access it until she invites someone else. This can mimic how Google Documents or other collaboration tools work, basically the call to action would be "Invite others" and then simply prompt for email addresses. If it's relevant, you could prompt for relationship at this point, but if there is a way to avoid having to label any user as parent/student and make it all about users and college applications, it would be a simpler experience.

So my suggestion here is to remove the burden of self- or other-identification entirely if it's possible to do so and still provide the help and value that you are setting out to give.

  • But so how does that work with multiple students? It would seem like suddenly either student is having to ignore half of the interface? Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 4:31
  • 1
    @TimothyBJacobs No-one's mentioned anything about the interface so far. It seems that you already have functionality designed. Given the variety of answers so far, I would advise editing your question with FULL details of what each group can do and how you envisage parents interacting with what their children are doing (and maybe vice-versa). Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 7:07
  • Given the new details about the two roles, there may be some additional ways to infer the roles rather than require up front complex interaction. Maybe let them progress as far as possible as unknown user type, and when they select an option that is meant for exclusively Parent or exclusively Student, then at that time you message to them that this action is for (Parent / Student) and they will need to invite someone for the other role. Again, wait until the moment that the decision is relevant and meaningful before forcing it, if possible.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 20:03
  • That makes sense. Currently, during the program registration process, not the initial account creation, the parent "adds" students to their account. I suppose at that time I could ask for an email address for the student. And then have the student create a password when they login. Then my question becomes should the parent view be "people" focused, as in they would be taken to a screen where they can select a student and then view their associated data, or "data" focused, where they are taken to a screen that would have all essays for example, and next to each essay have a photo of their kid Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 0:43

I think your focus should be the student. After all, that's who the parent is focused on, regardless of whose name is on the check.

Then, on your sign up/log in forms, you could say "Student's Name" instead of "username" or whatever.

  • But what about passwords and such? Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 3:33
  • Well, will there be things that a parent will need to see that a student wouldn't or vice versa? Would it ever be necessary for there to be multiple parents with one student or multiple students with one parent where the information needs to be separated? If there is no need to separate information, I would think it would be best to have a common password shared between them. It may not be the most conventional user auth setup, but it sounds like it may be the most functional based on my perception of your use case. Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 5:33
  • There will be cases where there is more than one student per parent. Each student would have their own essay, and schedule with a tutor. Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 6:00

Based on your situation, I think you should develop the app/website in such a way that both parents and children can have user accounts but parents can have full access whereas their children can have "view only" access.

Using this approach parents can keep track of their dedicated account and at the same time children can view or get notifications about some events just by browsing various sections of the app/website.

Hope this might answered your question.

  • This wouldn't work though because the child is the one who makes their own schedule, so if they only have Read Only access then they wouldn't be able to do this.
    – JonW
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 7:58

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