College is expensive, sometimes really expensive. Fortunately for me, my costs of attending UT for my undergraduate was only about $8k, and most of that I probably could have avoided if I had been smarter with my money and lived frugally. This low cost of college was due to my success in knocking off two years of college while serving in the Air Force, and then using the GI Bill while going to school as a civilian.
Unfortunately, the cost of attending the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school is on a whole other order of magnitude and my remaining GI bill will only cover a fraction. The annual cost of tuition for a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at UPenn is over $43,000 - and the program lasts three years! I was counting on receiving the Yellow Ribbon Program scholarship offered to veterans, which would have covered much more of my tuition. Unfortunately I found out at the last minute that I did not receive it.
It would have been easy to simply lower my head and despair, but instead I took action. With about two weeks remaining until the start of the semester, I contacted the other universities that I had been accepted to and informed them of my situation. I asked if there was any possibility that I might still be admitted to their programs if things did not work out with Penn, either this year or next. Within 24 hours, every school I contacted responded with an offer to admit me this year with no problems.
I let Penn know that I had other options, and included the responses from the other schools in my email. Within a matter of hours, Penn increased my school scholarship by $15k, and also let me know that I would be eligible for a TA position in my second and third year ($2k per year).
If you're heading to college, you need to be ready to fight for your scholarships. Once you have been accepted, you know that the school wants you and has chosen you over hundreds of other applicants. And if you are accepted to multiple schools, then you have increased bargaining power. For this reason, I would suggest that anyone applying to top schools also apply to some less prestigious schools, simply because the more schools you get into the more bargaining power you potentially have. I don't know the minds of financial aid and admission department administrators, but I would imagine that they would appreciate individuals who show this level of tenacity in requesting scholarships - it speaks to one's character. And it works!