There are tens of thousands of international recruiting agencies across the globe, and they have a variety of ethics policies and business models. To avoid being taken advantage of, international students and their parents should take several steps before they sign an agreement, experts say.
1. Know who you are working with: Agents that help international students get into U.S. schools tend to have three different models. Some sometimes called independent education consultants, work for and charge students who are looking for the right school, others work for and charge colleges looking for the right students, and still others work for and charge both parties.
Agencies that work on behalf of certain schools have an interest in placing students at those schools. While that’s not always a problem, particularly if the agencies work with many universities that could be a good fit, students should be aware of the arrangement, experts say.
“One of the risks is that the student will end up going with an agent that will not advise them based on what is the best for the student but that is in the best financial interest of the agent,” West says.
If an agency makes a promise that sounds unrealistic, it probably is, experts say.
“Promises of admission or promises of scholarships or promises of work, those are all huge red flags,” says Jennifer Wright, associate director and manager of certification at the American International Recruitment Council, a group working to certify international recruitment agencies.
2. Make sure fee and refund policies are clear: Since different agents have different business models, it’s important for parents to understand fee structures before they agree to work with agencies, experts say.
“Oftentimes, those financial arrangements are anything but clear,”. Some agencies will have hidden fees they collect from students after they are admitted, he says. Other companies don’t make it clear who they are charging – the student, the school or both. Some companies will refund students if they don’t get into schools, while others don’t.
Families who decide to work with agents should make sure they have an agreement which spells out fees, refund policies and the process for lodging complaints, Wright says.
3. Verify claims about school relationships: Many agencies will tell students they have relationships with U.S. schools. If so, students and parents should make sure those relationships are current, says John Deupree, executive director of AIRC.
One way to do that is to look on a school’s website, West says. Most schools will plainly advertise the agencies which with they are working. Students shouldn’t be shy about calling up schools and asking to speak with someone in admissions, says John Eriksen, director of international admission at Rhode Island’s Bryant University.
4. Be on the lookout for fraud: Under no circumstances should students work with agencies that offer to write essays, fabricate letters of recommendation or alter test scores, West with NACAC says.
5. Look for expertise in the U.S. market: Students should work with agencies with a track record of placing students in the U.S. and familiarity with the U.S. higher education system, experts say.
Ideally, students will be working with someone who not only knows about the U.S., but who has been educated there, says Mark S. Kopenski, interim vice president for enrolment at New Jersey’s Drew University, who is the founder of a business that advises colleges on international recruitment.
6. Look for an established reputation: While the U.S. doesn’t have a government sanctioned list of recruitment agencies, some countries do, experts say.
“If you are going to use agencies, stick to places that are vetted by the government or some organization that is trustworthy,” Kopenski says. “In China, they have government-regulated agencies there.”
Longevity is also an indicator of quality, Deupree says. Students looking at agencies should make sure they’ve been around for at least two years, he says.
7. Check out other resources: Students looking to go to the school in the U.S. should consult other resources, such as EducationUSA, which provides unbiased information about college options in the U.S., West says.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, EducationUSA has advisory centers in almost all countries and keeps an updated list of financial aid opportunities for students who want to come to the U.S.