I recently came across this question on an international student forum and I know it's one of the things international students think about a lot before they come to The States.
My response may seem absurd to you. I'm not saying you should do this, I'm only giving you a suggestion. I would never suggest anything I wouldn't do in person :)
So, you want to write the SAT's? I'm guessing you know how to do that already. Well, if you don't, College Board is the place you should be heading after reading this.
You've registered for the SAT's, what you obviously have to do is STUDY HARD. Your performance in the SAT's plays a huge role in determining the amount of scholarships you'll get. Things like sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, roles of responsibility, etc also come into play.
Well then, you write the SAT's, you do incredibly well, you send your scores in, your dream university offers you a scholarship, you live happily ever after.
This isn't always the case.
So what happens if you don't do as well as you hoped in the SAT's? Your dream school won't offer you a scholarship, or maybe they don't even admit you at all :( What now?
This is where a Plan B comes into play.
Your SAT scores get sent to 4 schools at no extra charge. Deciding the 4 schools to select is very crucial. Of course, we all have our dream schools. We want to be where family is. We want to be able to go to the beach in summer. Who wouldn't want to school in the Big Apple, or in LA? I sure would love to. I may meet Leonardo DiCaprio, or Julia Roberts, or anyone famous....
Life doesn't work that way. You have to be realistic. When choosing your schools, of course - include your dream school. Also, include those schools that are less expensive, might be far away from family, isn't in a huge fun city, has crappy weather.
Your chances of getting in such schools are greater. You could still get a scholarship. You might not be as happy, but you're here to excel in school, having fun is secondary (well, to me it is).
What am I getting at?
A small school takes you, you may not get a full scholarship, but with more affordable tuition, your family/sponsor could pay the part of your tuition not covered by a scholarship. See what I mean? If you dont, I'll try again.
Lets's assume you get a 50% scholarship in both schools. School A (dream school) costs $20,000 - you have to pay $10,000. School B (ok school) costs $10,000 - you have to pay $5,000.
Hopefully, you wont be sad for long cos the awesome thing about studying here is that you can always transfer after a semester, or most likely a year. It is not difficult at all.
If you do really well in School B (ok school), you could always get a really good scholarship in School A or any other school of your choice and transfer.
Hope I helped
Hugs & Kisses.