S2 narrowed down his college list based on the location/size/majors/campus life. Once the list was narrowed down, he further researched each specific school via their website to find out the requirements for merit aid (gpa, SAT/ACT scores). Because we don't qualify for need based aid, he needed to find schools where his academic statistics would qualify him for merit scholarships. He sent out his applications (applied EA to the schools on his list) and hoped for the best. When the acceptances came in with offers of scholarships, he had to re-evaluate again and narrow down the list to where he would get the most "bang" for his buck. Even with a merit scholarship to his first choice school, the bottom line figure was still too much. Luckily, his 2nd choice came in with the best "bottom line" cost.
So, I guess the best advice I can give you is to pick schools where your child's scores are a bit above the majority of the stats on the freshman profiles of incoming students. Research specific college websites for their merit scholarship criteria.