Pros, Cons of Using International Student Agents, Consultants
The entire application and admissions process to U.S. universities can seem intimidating and complicated. For help, prospective international students may consider using a college admissions agent or independent educational consultant. But before seeking out either, students should understand how they operate and weigh their pros and cons.
Agents are typically contracted and paid by universities to guide and recruit students to their institutions, according to Trusted Sources , a resource provided by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in multiple languages. Consultants are typically hired and paid by the student or family and provide college admissions guidance.
“Do your research and ask a lot of questions, such as those listed in Trusted Sources, of potential professionals who may help you in the admission process. Make an informed decision about who to work with so that you can be confident they are focused on your needs and best interests in your college search ,” says Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement for NACAC.
Whether considering using the services of an international student recruitment agent or independent educational consultant, prospective international students should weigh the following pros and cons.
Individualized, experienced support. The internet can provide international students and their parents with a wealth of information on U.S. universities, college rankings and admissions. But it can be a lot to take in. Students can work with a knowledgeable agent or consultant who can sift through all the information, answer questions and walk them through the admissions process.
Stephanie P. Kennedy, founder of My College Planning Team in Illinois, says her firm assists students in identifying colleges that match the student and family in many ways, such as academic, financial and social fit, career goals and more.
She says independent educational consultants can “guide students and families to make informed choices based on accurate information and realistic chances for acceptance to quality programs in the U.S.”
Pam Rambo, founder of Rambo Research and Consulting in Virginia, says the key to getting value and results from an agent or consultant “is either knowing someone who used their services successfully and/or making sure they are experienced and qualified.”
She says students can check for qualifications through professional organizations such as NACAC, Higher Education Consultants Association, Independent Educational Consultants Association and the American International Recruitment Council. Guidance in a student’s language. An agent or consultant can provide prospective international students guidance in their own language.
“The tremendous variety of U.S. colleges and the differences in application and enrollment processes and deadlines is confusing to U.S. and international students alike,” Rambo says.
Experts say having an agent or consultant who is fluent not only in English but also in the applicant’s spoken language can help the process go smoother.
“Some agencies help students prepare for standardized exams and English proficiency exams and have great access to resources to help the student,” says Dean Kahler, vice provost for strategic enrollment management at the University of Idaho .
Additional guidance. Agents or consultants can inform international students about scholarships or grants awarded by specific institutions and assist with student visa applications as part of their services. This means prospective international students wouldn’t have to search for scholarships and decode the visa process alone.
Rambo says prospective international students, with little to no background in U.S. higher education, can more quickly identify and navigate U.S. colleges and processes with professional help.
“The process is even more complex for international students who have several additional layers of visa and financial requirements,” Rambo says.
Costs. While agents and consultants can provide valuable services, one potential disadvantage to consider is the cost. Agents are typically paid by universities to advise and recruit students to their schools but consultants generally must be paid by the student or family for their services.
The average hourly fee for a consultant in 2017 was $200, but comprehensive package fees ranged from $850 to $10,000, according to data from the Independent Educational Consultants Association. The average IECA member charged $6,700 to work with international families, and the 2019 figure is estimated to have risen to $7,500 for a comprehensive package, according to Sarah Brachman, director of communications for the association.
“It is helpful to find out upfront what expenses will be incurred by the student and/or family,” Kahler says.
Decision influenced by a professional. Prospective international students should also be aware that agents and consultants may recommend certain schools over others based on their opinions or biases, rather than a student’s own research on schools.
Kahler says while there are many good agents, there are a small number who give the rest a bad reputation.
“All agents manage a business for profit and some might not have the best interest of the student in mind. There are some agencies who will charge the student for scholarships that are awarded by the college, charge both the institution and the student for their services, undertake fraudulent practices or recommend a school that is not a good fit for the student just to make a profit,” Kahler says.
Reliance on others. The application is likely the first paperwork prospective international students will handle, and by using the services of an education agent or consultant, they would be relying on a professional to lead the way. Students may miss out on taking their first step of independence by not tackling admissions and application procedures solo.
Kahler says international students who choose to go it alone will have support from prospective universities.
“A student should always feel comfortable working with the recruitment or admissions office of the college they want to attend,” Kahler says.
As an alternative to working with an agent, he says students can use EducationUSA, a network of advising centers supported by the U.S. Department of State, to find free help in their region. But he says overall, education agents and consultants can be helpful resources.
When considering an agent, international students should check references, speak with students who have worked with them and ask colleges and universities if they are under contract with the school, Kahler advises.
“Students and families should shop around for reputable agencies with whom to work and always maintain direct communication with the U.S. school they want to attend rather than just communicate through the agent,” Kahler says.