Editor's Note: Catch Fox Business Anchor Gerri Willis's special User’s Guide To Paying For College during her Fox Business Show "The Willis Report" all week (March 2 - 6) at 5 pm. ET.

This month, tens of thousands of high school seniors will find out whether they have been granted admission to the college of their choice. Those letters will be followed in short order by financial aid offers – and it’s that information that parents will be following most closely. That’s because, these days, getting into school isn’t the tough part, it’s paying for college. College administrators know this too well.  

College debt is one of the biggest financial threats to American families.

Patrick T. Harker, who will lead the Philadelphia Federal Reserve after running the University of Delaware, wrote in an op-ed last month that universities face extinction if they continue to price themselves out of reach of the middle class. 

College debt is one of the biggest financial threats to American families.

Already, college students are graduating with an average of $33,000 in debt, an extraordinary sum that could have financed a car or provided a down payment for a home, but instead will saddle former students for years to come. In short, college debt is one of the biggest financial threats to American families.

That’s why it’s so important for parents to take control of the process and negotiate lower education prices. It can be done. 

The truth is that enrollments are down. Some 4,500 degree-granting institutions are competing mightily for 500,000 fewer entrants, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This gives you leverage.  Already, the average discount on tuition offered incoming freshmen was 45 percent, an all-time high.

Here’s what you do: Keep all options on the table. Best case scenario is that you have more than one offer and play one against the other. And, don’t be shy to ask for more aid. 

At Princeton Review, college experts say as many as 30 to 50 percent of the families that ask for additional money for private schools and universities  get it. 

Ask for the school’s guidelines for appealing the aid package. If you think you deserve more, make your case. You can strengthen your hand by making a detailed plea with third party documentation. And, your case is most easily made if you’ve had a major change in financial circumstances. Did dad get laid off? Is mom receiving medical care? Maybe the size of your parents’ household has expanded in the year since you filled out financial aid forms. 

Finally, don’t ask for a “negotiation” or a “bargain.” You’re better off requesting a reconsideration of the aid that was offered.

One thing to keep in mind as you work to reduce your college bill: The student aid officer isn’t your friend. In fact, their job is to get your son or daughter to enroll with the smallest financial aid package possible. So, get ready to haggle. And, don’t miss that May 1 deadline for making the big decision where your child will attend college.

Gerri Willis joined Fox Business Network (FBN) in March of 2010. Willis is an anchor and personal finance reporter for the network.