This is going to sound snotty... but it's not meant to be.
For the student AND the parent... the college decision should be the number 1 priority, and accordingly, the preparation may well be the most important part of the next four years... monetarily as well as for future well being.
Unfortunately the selection process does not always reach to that level. Too often it is influenced by preconceived notions ... "We can only afford community college", "The guidance counselor suggested 'XYZ' or, "Your cousin Joey went there".
I'd like to cite as example that I know of (My Daughter in Law's work with her three children to work with and select the optimal school, and cost.) For each of the two sons and one daughter, she spent many.. many hours... researching, writing, visiting and seeking out the best combination of aid and future potential. This involved much work on the part of the kids, too.. as now, many schools not only look at grades, SAT scores or records of achievement outside of school... but also require the writing of essays.
In each case, submission of admission requests to as many as seven or eight colleges. I thought "crazy" at the time, but here's what happened. (I should add that all three kids are somewhat above average, so that helped.)
#1. Four year renewable scholarship for the first four years, and now in the second year of post graduate for which he also received a large subsidy.
#2. Received a Stamps
for four years... 100% Tuition, room and board, books, and $10,000 for an international trip during the last years of school. (he now has offers for postgraduate scholarships for his doctorate.
#3. Full tuition scholarship @ U of F in Tampa, and now a paid Associate in the Advanced Psychology Program pursuing PG degree.
Along the way dozens of rejections or failure to receive scholarship offers. Never talked about it this way, but I would guess many hundreds of hours in research and prep.
At this point, in today's dollars, I would guess between $700K and $1M... and maybe more.
More discipline than I could muster, but a wonderful payoff, allowing my Son and DIL to retire @ 60, with no debt.