A study abroad or university agent plays an important role in a student’s international higher education journey. Applying to a foreign university can be a herculean task for many students as it involves a lot of research, sifting through the relevant information, arriving at the right decision, and much more.
From guiding a student through the complete stages of selecting an institution and applying to one, to assisting an aspirant with the university and visa applications, and even getting them information and help regarding travel and accommodation, an agent does it all.
Today, there are several education and academic agents that students can reach out to but finding the right one can be a challenge on its own. Here are some insights and a checklist on choosing the right agent.
1) Affiliation and accreditation: The first step in choosing an agent is checking if they are properly accredited while also doing the necessary background checks. Associations and organizations such as the International Education Association of Australia, International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF), The British Council, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, UK Council for International Student Affairs, British Universities International Liaison Association, and the American International Recruitment Council, to name a few, are some that provide training and accreditation to agents worldwide.
Students can also look up the different university websites for more information on agent accreditation. A good agent must fulfill all the regulatory compliances set by the institution and also by the respective high commission/embassy of the destination country.
2) Association with international education platforms: One must also find out if an agent has a partnership with a university or an international education platform that has the right experience, expertise, and resources, and combines these with technology and planning to facilitate the student-agent-institution connection.
“Good education agents must have a contract with the university that employs them, in addition to having their brand listed on that university’s website. If your agent is transparent about this documentation, and they’re listed on the university website they allegedly represent, this is a mark of legitimacy,” advises Avinav Sharma, the head of strategy and business operations at MSM Unify, an online marketplace providing students with end-to-end solutions, from study program and institution selection to post-admission support services.
One must note that agents who have partnered with universities might have a bias toward that university since they are paid a commission for each student they recruit. If a student is weighing multiple university options, they must opt for agents associated with credible third-party providers or those without any prior affiliations among the choices.
3) Transparency, efficiency, and up-to-date knowledge: A good education consultant/agent will also be transparent about their fees and service charges. They have to be upfront with students on the cost.
“Being ethical, effective, and efficient are the highlights of a good agent,” says Sharma.
Providing accurate and authentic advice and information, not taking decisions on a student’s behalf but empowering the student to make the right decision, are other qualities of a good agent.
Given the current pandemic situation, things keep changing every day in every country. An agent must be able to stay on top of policies and protocols, also keeping in mind any travel restrictions.
ICEF research also says that a country’s border policies affecting foreign students will also determine and affect an agent’s recommendations to students in 2021. For agents, a country that is more welcoming and open toward international students is more likely to recruit or attract more students, compared with one that projects itself as safe.
Sharma adds that a strong knowledge in and understanding of the intricacies of many different qualifications, destination countries’ culture, and the higher education system in various countries is another must-have for agents, so students must ascertain this as well.
4) No information gaps: There shouldn’t be any information gap between agents and students. A November 2020 QS report on navigating the challenges of agent management in 2021 states that understanding what information students rely on agents for, is important in finding out student motivations and ensuring an institution can effectively plug any gaps in information between agents and students.
In the QS 2020 International Student Survey, 65 percent of prospective students said that they believed agents to be useful in helping them study overseas. Up-to-date information about intake start dates, scholarships, policy changes, course offerings, and fees are critical to student decision making, especially when there is so much uncertainty.
The QS data demonstrated that there was a 33 percent increase in conversions when agent-managed students are engaged directly throughout their decision-making process. Providing a complete and dedicated document checklist that is required for admission and visa processes is also important.
5) Tech is the game-changer: Choosing an agent or counselor can also be done based on different phases of the overseas admissions process or individual requirements of a student. For instance, one can opt for the services of an agent for just the course or college selection part, the application part, or the travel and accommodation aspects.
Agents and counsellors can also be chosen based on whether they are able to help an aspirant become ready for preparatory/screening tests such as IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT. Also, one that is systematic and uses technology and the latest tools to streamline, store, and analyze information will have an edge.
“This is where platforms such as MSM Unify come into play. Our SaaS-based methods, backed by the use of AI and data analytics, help agents navigate through any challenges that they might encounter. It also helps agents, students, and institutions work in tandem when it comes to finalizing an admission or enrollment,” adds Sharma.
About MSM Unify
MSM Unify is an AI-powered international education marketplace serving students, agents, and higher education institutions (HEIs). From 40,000+ program offerings to free study guides and smart agent matching, we help students gain full control over their application and increase their chances of success in studying overseas. Once they apply to their dream school abroad and get accepted into their program of choice, students can also manage this life-changing journey through free tools and resources, articles and quizzes on popular topics, and a discussion forum for like minds on the platform. Read more about MSM Unify at www.msmunify.com.
About M Square Media (MSM)
MSM is a leading international education company that establishes global or in-country offices and offers education management, an AI-powered student recruitment marketplace, high-performance student recruitment services, online courses and programs, and a wide range of edtech solutions. Through these diverse lines of business, we deliver targeted numbers in student recruitment to foster sustained institutional growth and cater to every stakeholder in the industry: schools, agents, and keen learners from around the world. Headquartered in British Columbia and operating in 17 countries, we strive for people and community empowerment through education, technology, and partnerships with industry and the academe. Read more about MSM at https://msquaremedia.com/.