@Lorijb, in general, I think most students comparing engineering programs are comparing UAH to UA. Have you looked at UAH too?
There a few parents I'm aware of who have had students at each. @SOSConcern has a child who graduated from UAB (not sure of the major, but it may have been nursing) and another in engineering at UA. @momreads had a student at UA and another currently at UAH, although neither was in engineering.
Maybe one of them can help answer your questions more generally, however.
The engineering facilities at UA are quite impressive and well worth a visit. I would also recommend meeting with somebody from the college as I've found them to be very helpful in answering questions and helping a student figure out what he or she might want to study. I would imagine both UAB and UAH would do the same.
I feel like it would be more helpful to future families if folks listed the final cost of attendance for the family after any merit awards applied.
While a merit of award of $25,000 sounds like a lot, if the total COA is $65,000, it may leave a final price beyond a lot of families. OTOH, if the full COA is $30,000, $25,000 likely makes it doable, as a Stafford loan could cover the balance.
Unless you can schedule his Bama Bound session just prior to Honors Action week, I think he will have to travel two times.
My son did, and I attended Bama Bound with him. And, along with his dad, I traveled to UA to move him in for Alabama Action. It was rather stressful as he didn't schedule BB until late July, so we were back within two or three weeks as I recall. Hopefully, you can get that last BB session scheduled, and if it appears fully booked, I'd pick up the phone and call to see if they can accommodate your son, given your circumstances.
Keep in mind you're moving him in for the semester when you come for Honors Action - either send him alone to Bama Bound or just accept that this is a onetime expense and try not to dwell on it too much. I know it's hard. We had to travel to Russia twice in four weeks to adopt our younger son, so maybe that's why two trips to Tuscaloosa in a similar time-frame didn't seem as daunting or expensive.
BTW, some kids actually move in without their parents too. I know it's not the norm, but there are a lot of kids on very tight budgets. Do what works best for your family.