As you know, college admission season isn’t just a stressful time for your seniors, it’s also a stressful time for their parents.

Parents share their child’s acceptance letter nerves and they’re likely also nervously anticipating the financial aid award letters.

If a family receives an award letter that’s less generous than they expected, the parents may turn to you for help. Here, counselors weigh in with practical advice for navigating these difficult conversations.

Suggest an Appeal or Negotiation

If there has been a change in a family’s financial circumstances since they filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), then it may make sense for them to file a formal appeal.  If there hasn’t been a change in a family’s finances but they are disappointed in their award letter, then there are steps parents can take to ask for more aid. Leanne Hust, the head counselor at Seattle Washington’s Ingraham High School, says that one of the first things she tells parents is to “call the university’s financial aid office and see if they’ll negotiate.”   

Danielle Manzo, a teen studio support coordinator and former academic adviser at Community Montessori in New Albany, Indiana, has seen success with parents negotiating their financial aid offers. Although, she does caution that “this involves steady communication in the form of visits, thank you notes and follow-up emails.” You should prepare the parent and student for the level of work and effort needed to execute a successful negotiation. You can also provide tips on how to word their request when speaking with the school, including the advice to avoid using the word negotiate.

Emphasize the Value of Scholarships

One opportunity for filling the financial aid gap is scholarships. Point parents to a scholarship bulletin published by your school, free scholarship-resource websites and online search tools. Hust recommends reminding parents and students that this is a game of time and numbers. “The folks who spend more time looking, researching and applying for scholarships are usually the ones who receive the money,” she says. Manzo suggests communicating that while scholarship applications can be a lot of work, students don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. Often the résumé of activities and personal statements students use for their college applications can be reused in their scholarship applications.

Remind Them of Their Options

Sometimes the best solution for figuring out how to cover college costs is to think outside the box. Manzo explains, “Over the past few years, I’ve really warmed up to the idea of teens starting in two-year community college programs or local branches of larger universities. These options help students explore their interests and usually offer more cost-effective transfer programs.” Students can also defer their enrollment and take a gap year. They can use the year to earn money to put toward tuition and apply for scholarships. Also, parents may need help seeing that their student’s top college choice may not be the best financial choice for their family. Encourage parents to see the wide range of post–high school educational paths available to their children.

Armed with this advice, you’ll be prepared to partner with stressed parents to help them realize the options they have. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the family to figure out how to pay for their student’s education, and you’re one of many resources they may turn to for help. If conversations get too involved, suggest they speak to a financial specialist about what they can and can’t afford.

FAFSA® is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.