If you end up qualifying for a lot of scholarships and grants, and you attend a selective university that matches 100% of your “need”, you may actually need to shift your focus to strategies that maximize your cost of attendance. COA is a hypothetical figure your university uses to base your financial aid package on each year, which accounts for average rent, meal, and tuition costs borne by an average student. The base COA is the same for all students each year. But you can generally appeal it — and you should — if your scholarship income is in jeopardy.
Colleges generally take the cost of attendance figure and reduce it by your “expected family contribution” (And they don’t care if your family gives you money or not. EFC is a number born from dysfunctional government and not based on any real figures). They assume this is your “need”. Then, they offer you a package of loans and university issued scholarships and grants to meet your need, as calculated by them. Any scholarships you get would typically reduce your loans and then your university grants. That would suck though. Why bother getting scholarships if they’re just going to steal all your money?
The simplest way to hack this awesome situation is to artificially increase your cost of attendance. (I had great success doing this at my alma mater, the University of Southern California.) By reading the rules regulating the University’s dispersal of financial aid, you can get a pretty good idea of the loopholes available for you. Any course fees not covered by general tuition? Appeal it. Are certain textbooks “required” for your course? Appeal for more money! The $500 allowance they give you is ridiculous. Do you have an internship and need to pay for transportation? Appeal. Plane tickets back home for Christmas and Easter (when freshmen halls typically close)? Appeal. Rent above the given amount or maybe you need a new computer to do your coursework? You get the idea. By increasing the cost estimate, you can increase the amount of scholarship money that can be refunded to you before your university grants are rescinded.
One example: You may file a form to get additional loan money to buy a new laptop ($2500) for your media class, but then not take the loan. You still raised your cost of attendance figure by 2500. When you get a scholarship check you know is on the way, $2500 can then be refunded to you (where it would not have been before your appeal).
Long story short, if you get a shit ton of scholarships, you’ll want to raise your stated cost of attendance by nickel & diming everything you pay for school in the form of a budget increase. This strategy can easily save you thousands.