Buyer Beware: The Potential Pitfalls of Agency-Based Recruitment

In the remarks referenced in my last post Ambassador Michalak also spent a couple hundred words on the subject of education consultants, or agents.  His advice was spot-on (my italics): 

“Some parents may choose to work through an agent when looking to find the appropriate school for their child in America. Agents are local representatives for a school or group of schools who are compensated for their services, either by you as the client or by the school for which they represent, or both.  For those parents who are considering working with an agent, please do careful research to understand the fees associated with their services and understand that agents cannot guarantee admission to a school nor can they guarantee issuance of a student visa. Any agent who promises either of these things is not being completely honest with you. The Embassy and the U.S. Department of State do not endorse agents nor do we have oversight over their business dealings in foreign countries. We therefore encourage parents and students to carry out the proper due diligence, or research and verification, before entering into an agreement with an agent to make sure you receive the services that you pay for. Please also remember that you do not have to pay money to receive education advising support, EducationUSA provides this free of charge.”

Here are two relevant excerpts from a forthcoming article of mine about this issue:

The former (EducationUSA advising centers) are charged with the task of representing all of U.S. higher education not individual schools.  As such, the service they provide is valuable but very basic; the amount of time advisers are able to spend with any one student or parent is necessarily limited.    

As many in the field have observed, agents understand the local language and culture, and are in a position to establish long-term relationships.  They come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing the good, the bad and the ugly.  Referring to the latter two categories, Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, noted a couple of years ago that “There are a lot of bottom feeders out there,” but admitted that “In a globalized world, where some people need a lot of guidance to get here, there may be a legitimate place for responsible middlemen.”

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