Q: I am an international student and wish to study economics in the United States. I have taken the O-Level examinations and scored mostly As with some Bs. Currently I am taking A-Levels in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and economics. Is there a top-ranked university I could easily get into, and are there scholarships or other financial awards for which I could qualify?

A: Your qualifications are excellent: the O-Levels (sometimes called the GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education) followed by A-Levels represent the highest curriculum in the British educational system. That is the encouraging part of my answer.

The discouraging part, unfortunately, is that many students have rigorous qualifications, and that makes acceptance to a strong, popular university program extremely competitive. The word "easily" simply does not apply. College admission in the United States, especially in fields such as mathematics, chemistry, and economics, is not easy.

The second part of your question involves "top-ranked" schools. I'll ask what always do when students and parents seem overly concerned with rankings: ranked by whom? Who conducted the survey? What was their methodology? Is the school ranked #1 in economics markedly different from the school ranked #50? And if so, how? Some of this is self-fulfilling: more people apply to the schools ranked #1 through #10 each year (most of them are denied), but those schools remain high-ranking. For one thing, their selectivity increases the more students are turned away!

Now we get to the scholarships/financial aid part. This is truly a difficult topic. At most institutions of higher education in the US, one must be a US citizen or at least possess a valid green card in order to qualify for aid. Most schools have no money for international students, so those students must be self-supporting. A few do have aid, but as you might imagine, the competition for that aid is very keen. An important book to access is the College Board's International Student Handbook 2016.

What you might consider are the following – and these ideas apply to American high school students as well!

  • State universities charge much less than private universities, so even without financial aid they may be more affordable.
  • Universities in Canada also charge much less for an excellent level of education
  • Universities in the UK also charge less, and since you already know what you wish to study, you might make an excellent UCAS candidate. You can access information at www.ucas.com

Good luck with whichever option you pursue!