As international student numbers continue to grow around the world, students also have more and more information at their fingertips. In general, they’re better informed than ever and able to be more discerning when picking their destinations, institutions and education agents. As an agent, being tuned in to what students want can make all the difference. So here are 11 things students are looking for in an education agent.
Students value trustworthiness and integrity
Rates of students using education agents vary greatly worldwide. In Australia and New Zealand, where institutions and students have been working with agents for longer than anywhere else, between half and three quarters of students use agents. But in the US rates are much lower and there has been real skepticism about agent usage, particularly before the US Department of State’s endorsement in 2018. Trustworthiness is obviously important for students no matter where they’re studying but it comes at an even higher premium in countries where agents are not as well used.
They are seeking experienced agents
Nothing builds confidence in your services like past results, and happy customers. In the US, recent research showed as much as half of the students picked their agent based on word of mouth. Student surveys also repeatedly show experience and knowledge of processes like visa and study applications to be major reasons to opt for an agent’s assistance.
Students want to know if the legal stuff is right
OK, this is obvious but the differing regulations from place to place can be an absolute minefield, both for agents and students. In Australia, the government mandates that any education institution using an agent must have a contract with them but the US only endorsed the use of agents in 2018. You already know what you need to operate legitimately in your jurisdiction of choice. But students might not, so it’s important to show them your qualifications in terms that are easy to find and understand.
An eye on the costs
Cost can be a major influence for international students on a whole range of decisions. The most popular destination countries, such as the US, UK, Australia and Canada are relatively expensive and many students come from countries where the cost of living isn’t as elevated. Agents aren’t immune to this consideration. A 2014 Canadian report highlighted fees as one of the major drawbacks of using an agent, surely a major consideration for anyone planning to exist on a diet of mi goreng noodles and beer for the next three years. Extra fees were a particularly difficult issue. “Some students interpreted upcharges for tasks requiring only a modest amount of work as a sign of bad faith on their agents’ part,” the researchers said.
Safe, great value accommodation
Finding good, affordable accommodation for university can be extremely stressful even without moving to the other side of the world, especially in popular but expensive destinations such as London, Boston and Sydney. While websites custom-built to help students find accommodation are becoming more and more popular and most universities offer on-campus living, both options can be expensive and inflexible. Also, Cohort Go’s 2019 Aussie Study Experience report found only 12% of Australian students used an agent to find their accommodation, highlighting an important potential growth area.
Students crave visa advice
Just like accommodation, visas can be a major hassle for students picking up their lives and moving to a new country with a different culture and often an entirely new language. The same Canadian report that highlighted concerns over agent fees also noted help with visas as one of the major advantages of agent usage. “My agency has so many students applying for Canada that they send the visa applications to the embassy in bulk,” one student noted. “They have some arrangement with the embassy so I don’t have to go myself. I didn’t have to do much legwork, and that was very good for me.”
Even in countries where the use of education agents is common, concerns exist around objectivity. Will an agent always act in the best interests of the student or allow self-interest to cloud their judgement? Of course, good agents know their reputations are at stake with every recruitment and the long-term advantages of acting objectively outweigh any short-term benefit. World Education News and Reviews’ 2017 report found more than 80% of students felt their agents recommended the best schools but that figure plummeted below 20% for students coming from some South, Central, and East Asian countries.
You need to show transparency
Any nervousness about working with an agent is likely to be exacerbated when a student feels they’re not being told about something important. The two key areas of concern repeatedly highlighted are fees, and partnerships with institutions. Students want to know how much they will be charged and for what, without unexpected fees. And they need to know your recommendations are not being unduly influenced by other arrangements. In Australia, transparency is enshrined into the Agent Code of Ethics, requiring the declaration of “conflicts of interest to all clients, especially when service fees are charged to both the education provider and the prospective student”.
Communication and professionalism
Students can often feel like their future is in the hands of their agent so keeping them up to date with the latest developments is critical. They also want to receive what they’ve been promised, so setting clear expectations can help shape their experience and satisfaction with your services. The WENR report that highlighted high levels of satisfaction with school recommendations pinged agents for “unrealistic expectations about on-campus jobs and/or scholarship opportunities”. It also reported concerns around clear communication in general - 28% said agents were unresponsive to their queries - and confusing fee structures (28%).
A focus on student needs
Students are at the heart of everything an agent does and they don’t want to be relegated to second priority by other pressing business concerns. “My agents are too business-minded, and work for the sole reason of improving their income. I would have liked it if their service was student-centered,” one undergraduate student told the WENR researchers. Many nations’ ethical codes for agents stress the importance of this principal, including some sort of exhortation to act in the student’s best interests above an agent’s own benefit.
Confidentiality is key
Students hand over a great deal of detailed personal information at many different stages of the school application process. If agents are handling this data, it’s vital they are doing so with proper care and can reassure students that this is the case. As well as more obvious measures, this means a good data protection policy and taking appropriate cybersecurity measures.