9 main criteria for evaluating a good consultant and educational agency. What should I look for before applying for admission assistance?
Admission to a foreign university is a laborious undertaking that requires serious preparation. Passing the necessary tests and exams, filling out papers, writing letters of recommendation and statements of purpose correctly, passing an interview — all of this requires attention and effort. As a rule, the process of admission to a foreign university for a foreigner begins much earlier than for a local student. Several important tasks fall on the shoulders of the applicant at once: you need to not miss deadlines, successfully pass tests, fill out applications, write letters and at the same time maintain high academic performance in your educational institution. That is why many applicants entering foreign universities use the services of educational agencies or private admission consultants.
Before contacting an agency pay attention to...
Agency’s website. Take a close look at how the agency (or private consultant) positions itself on its website. Not everyone is willing to inform their clients about education abroad. By having a lot of information on display, the agency shows that it is not only selling its services, but also makes sure that students can review the information and draw conclusions on their own. Another important factor is the design and the frequency of updates on the site — articles about admission published five years ago with outdated statistics will hardly give you a clear picture of studying abroad;
Reviews. After selecting several agencies / consultants, take your time to read the reviews. This will help to weed out the most unprofessional companies whose flaws are not as obvious as the content of their websites.
Below you will find the tips for finding the "right" consultant from reviews or in person.
1. Identification of strengths and weaknesses
During your first meeting, a competent specialist will start the conversation by asking the right questions about you, your profile, interests and reasons for admission. Be prepared for the conversation to last at least half an hour — the consultant must understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, what gaps in your personal profile have to be filled. This is not just advisory but analytical work.
Often the specialist has to refute the deliberately false information that the applicant or his parents received when reading the forums or heard from acquaintances who also had been admitted to the foreign university. Of course, personal experience is very valuable, but anecdotes are not a reliable source of accurate information, everyone has their own stories to tell and you cannot automatically apply it to your individual case without taking into account other details. That is why it is important for the consultant to cite only facts and information from official sources.
The task of the specialist is to systematize the bits and pieces of information in the student's head:
What to do next (take exams, collect certificates, write a motivation letter...);
How long it takes (to prepare documents, submit an application, enroll…);
What you should pay extra attention to (immerse yourself in learning the language, improve your academic performance in the next six months before admission...);
What you are missing for successful admission (knowledge of the language, one year of study at the university, work experience...);
What you can count on (based on your estimated GPA or maximum available budget).
If the communication takes place via phone and the call is made by a minor, the consultant will request the contacts of parents or legal guardians to discuss the details of the work interaction individually.
If you need any additional information or documents (for example, a transcript with grades, resumes, IELTS results), the consultant will request them via email.
Some agencies may ask you for a resume before the meeting, but this is not always convenient and rarely productive due to its brevity and formality. It is much better if you are asked to fill in all the necessary information about your education, achievements and visa history in a specially prepared form on the website. This will help the consultant to more comprehensively evaluate your profile, make a preliminary search according to the given criteria, think over options with colleagues and return to you with an answer to your question.
2. Personal and professional qualities
A good consultant is not indifferent to his work, he is ready to talk about his achievements and share his experience. During the first consultation, he asks many questions, but at the same time he himself can be interviewed. The specialist must be ready to present the following information:
How many clients of his entered the selected universities?
How many did not enter and why? Did they re-enroll next year?
How long has the consultant been working as a specialist in education abroad?
Has this specialist already worked with applicants entering the same country as you?
As for personal qualities, a good specialist is a highly organized person, strict, responsible, literate (in speech and in writing), polite, can explain things clearly, and never uses slang words. He always keeps you in the loop and is able to quickly react to a new situation or circumstance. The key qualities of a good consultant are honesty, critical thinking and flexibility. Only such a consultant will be able to adequately assess your profile: he will not only highlight your merits, but also honestly point out your weaknesses and find ways to turn them to your advantage.
3. Good advice and help in making a right decision
After discovering your weak points, a good specialist will definitely try to cover them. For example, if you have a low level of language proficiency, a consultant will recommend language courses or a tutor, give you a couple of tips on how to improve language skills. If you have a hard time deciding on a specialty or country, the specialist will send you useful information for consideration — these can be links to articles from the agency's website or third-party resources.
If you have 2 years or more at your disposal, the consultant will find a way to spend this time efficiently: for example, he will select language courses or summer schools for you to gain new knowledge and network. It will help you immerse yourself in student life and experience the benefits of studying abroad while you are still some time away from admission.
Important: in the future, already in the admission process, questions may also arise that will require serious and informed decisions to be made. And here, too, you cannot do without the advice of a consultant, especially when something does not go according to plan. A good specialist should be able to improvise and take risks somewhere. But the main thing is that all actions are coordinated with the client. A professional will not base his advice on random success and other dubious arguments — he should offer you several solutions (even if they are not perfect), describe the risks, probable outcomes. In the end, it is YOU who has a final say based on the information provided.
4. Analysis of alternative options
A good consultant, after learning of your preferred university and specialty, will always offer alternative options. As a rule, applicants choose only 1-2 "dream universities", where it is often not that easy to enroll. A good specialist will fully support your choice and will do everything in his power to ensure that you have a good chance to enroll even in the most selective university. At the same time, he will objectively assess your capabilities and recommend submitting documents to 2-3 more educational institutions that fit your criteria. If there is absolutely no chance of getting into a dream university (for example, deadlines have passed, your previous education does not fit the requirements, etc.), then the consultant will guide you only through alternative options in order to save your money and time.
However, be careful: 99% of agencies work exclusively with private partner universities, so they may unreasonably narrow your options to a limited set of partner commercial educational institutions. Only the remaining 1% of agencies work with everyone and make sure that you enter the best university and receive a quality education. To ensure that the agency is transparent, discuss all options with a consultant. If the high ranking state universities will not accept you, the specialist must provide objective reasons for this (inconsistency in the profile, minimum GPA, etc.).
5. Tips on funding your studies
A good consultant will not only calculate the cost of training, but will also inform you of additional costs that clients are often unaware of: for example, rental housing, meals, the required amount on the account for a visa, insurance, etc. Of course, they will not tell you the exact amount to be spent, but they will be able to provide a rough estimate and build certain expectations, send useful information or contacts so you can clarify these issues (phone or mail of the university settlement department, websites of trusted insurance companies, etc.).
A professional consultant will also offer grants or scholarship programs to help you cover at least some of the tuition cost. Each large university has dozens of internal programs of financial aid, and if we count to external ones, their number reaches several hundred. Depending on the package of services of the educational agency, the consultant can choose a scholarship for you according to your profile or help you prepare a package of documents for you to submit on your own to a scholarship program of your choosing.
Important: before announcing the availability of any grant, a good consultant will first examine the requirements for obtaining it, the possible limitations, determine how much of the cost is actually covered by it, and compare it with other possible options. There are thousands of funds and scholarships, but they can only be available to citizens of certain countries / regions and, accordingly, will not suit a citizen of each and every country.
Next, you need to try to be among the first to apply, fill out all the papers correctly — a good consultant should also provide help during this stage. If done correctly and with a bit of luck, the benefits can be very good: in the end, you will probably save a significant sum.
6. Knowledge of the subtleties and nuances of submitting application documents
Having decided on educational institutions, a good consultant will not just find the necessary information about admission and the package of application documents. He will find out what the selection committee of a particular university pays special attention to. At some universities good test results are paramount, but in others you will need to show leadership skills and qualities.
Important: beware of consultants who rely solely on the information that is presented by unofficial sources on the Internet, or on outdated data on the universities websites. A good specialist will repeatedly write and call the admissions office or all other possible departments in any part of the world. Each case is absolutely unique, so the consultant will clarify not only what documents need to be collected, but also:
How to translate them? Do they need a professional or consular translation? Is an apostille required?
What if you have two degrees? Or just a certificate and more than 10 years of work as CEO?
How to staple the documents? In what format they should be uploaded?
Having studied all the nuances, the specialist will help to fill out all the papers. At the same time, he should act not only as a person correcting grammatical and lexical mistakes (although this is also a mandatory function of a good consultant). A professional with extensive experience will advise on how to properly present all of your academic and non-academic achievements so that the admissions committee can fully understand your potential. In addition, he will be able to save you from the need to solve many technical issues, whether it is uploading hundreds of pages of documents to the site or filling out a digital application. It is these seemingly little things that can play a critical role along with a motivation letter or exam results.
The main advantage of an educational agency or a separate consultant is the preparation of an individual admission plan — literally a strategy with a timeline, which contains all the terms, requirements, and documents for each university. Here, your mentor should try to take into account all the nuances and external factors that may unexpectedly arise, laying in extra time for this. During admission, incidents often occur, for example:
The admissions office closes the submission of applications early;
Website being down due to overload, making it impossible to apply;
The university / school / bank delays the preparation of documents for several weeks or months;
The translation needs to be done again due to a mistake;
Universities / language schools / embassies have stopped working due to the epidemiological situation, etc.
The purpose of such a strategy is to organize work in such a way that you feel comfortable and at any moment in time it is clear at what stage of admission you are, what remains to be done before applying, what documents are not yet ready, when to sign up for IELTS, so that if something happens, you have the time for an additional attempt, etc.
A good consultant not only helps you fill out and send the papers correctly, he stays in touch with you 5 days a week for several weeks, months, and sometimes a whole year, while the admission process is underway. He gives advice if an interview is ahead, and rehearses the whole process with you, contacts the university and finds out if the documents have been received, learns all the necessary related information.
If emergencies occur, a good specialist will promptly and correctly respond to them, even if they were not taken into account in the individual strategy. For example, a university has a system error and you receive an automatic refusal on your application. A professional consultant will immediately understand how to act: where to call, write, how to communicate with the selection committee, what questions to ask. Based on this information, the specialist will offer you a further plan of action.
After all, a good consultant helps with more than just paperwork. More importantly, he gives you moral support. He knows: that applicant who is confident in his abilities and knowledge is much more likely to enter the chosen university. Having a professional by your side with the necessary knowledge base and many years of experience, will lift many of your doubts. You will be sure that you can achieve your goal — to become a student at a foreign university. In this sense, the consultant plays the role of a real mentor. The time he spends giving clients advice, supporting them, talking, cannot be measured in money.
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