This is part two of the series: You can read part 1 called “Education Agent or Direct Enrolment? Advice for your students.”
Quite often students are studying English because they want to study abroad. EFL Teachers then find themselves in the position of trying to answer questions about which schools to apply to, what is a good way to credits for English instruction, what to study, where, etc.. Although this article is written from the point of view of the student themselves, an EFL teacher could certainly find the information contained in it quite useful for those often difficult questions!
‘Advice on Choosing an Education Agency – A Guide for Taiwanese Students wanting to Study Abroad’- By Steve Sutherland
Steve Sutherland has been an education agent in Taiwan for four years (World Class Education - www.worldclassed.com.tw ) and manages a ‘Study Abroad’ industry forum called www.agentschat.com for Education Agents from around the world.
While most students have a positive experience when they undertake a course of study abroad, some come back disappointed and wish that they had chosen a better option. An education agent can help you to make the best decision but there are many things that you should be aware of before choosing an agent. This article sets out some of the things that you should consider.
Exactly what Services does the Agency offer?
The Agency will enroll you at the school but what additional services do they offer. Will they handle your visa application, make your travel arrangements or give you assistance in case of an emergency abroad?
How Reliable is the Agents Information?
My impression of most education agents that I have met is that they are concerned for the students that they consult and want what is best for them. However as in any business there is always a small minority that doesn’t operate as ethically as they should (this goes for schools as well).
While most agents will try to find the school that is best for you a few less professional agents will be motivated by commission and may talk you into an inferior school so that they can earn more commission. These agents take a ‘business is business’ approach and may exaggerate the truth to talk you into a specific course at a specific school.
Wherever possible you should do a little research of your own into the country, city, your course of study and the school. You may also consider trying to get the agents promises in writing if a dispute arises at a later date.
Talking to a few students that are already at the school or students who have recently completed their studies is one good way of finding out what a school is like.
Which agents are reputable?
Agents that belong to a national association such as TOSA that set standards for their members are more likely to be reliable. However there are also many good agencies that are not members of an association.
Sensible agents realize that it is their best interests that you, as their customer are happy as so much of their business comes from ‘word of mouth’ referrals. Happy students refer friends and acquaintances and the agencies business slowly grows. In general, you could expect that agencies that have been around for a longer period of time would offer a quality service while new agents you would be more cautious about.
If friends have had a good experience studying abroad you may consider asking them which agency handled their enrolment.
Paying Tuition Fees and other Expenses
After your agent has completed your enrollment and it comes time to paying for your course you may consider paying tuition fees and other expenses directly to the school instead of paying fees to your agents account for them to forward to the school.
In the unlikely case that the agency that you are using were to go bankrupt you could stand to lose your tuition fees if the agent had not yet forwarded them to the school.
Some agents also hold funds in their accounts for too long before transferring funds to schools and this can slow down the visa application process.
Schools have also been known to go bankrupt but in some cases Governments, other schools and schools associations have come to the rescue and compensated students in order to protect the reputation of their national education industry.
This decision should be based on the reputation of the agency and the school.
It should not be necessary to pay your agent additional consulting fees for a language school enrolment as the commission they earn is already reasonable. The exceptions would be short-term bookings and low cost destinations where the commission is small and a lot of the agents time is still involved.
University commission rates are lower and in some cases more work can be involved for the agent. An agencies consulting fees for a University application is usually justified.
High School bookings usually also justify additional consulting charges as the agent may be involved with the case over several years as the workload can be substantial (communication between the school and parents, translating school reports etc).
Some Questions to ask the Agent
Aside from asking the agent questions about the school, country and your intended course of study you should also question the agent on the following.
Exactly what services does the agency offer?
What is the average class size at the school?
How many Taiwanese students of your nationality are currently at the school?
How far is your accommodation from the school?
Where is the school located and what does it look like? Ask to see a good selection of pictures of the campus.
What Part-time work options are available and how do you apply for permission to work under your visa?
What the agent is able to do to help you if problems should arise while you are abroad?
What are the school or agency policies if you wish to change your accommodation?
What refund and cancellation policies do the school and agency have?
Are there any hidden charges that the school may charge for use of their resources or facilities such as book deposits?
There are many things to consider when choosing an education agency to consult you on your ‘study abroad’ program. Most agents are professional and their students have positive experiences abroad. If you take a cautious approach to selecting your education agency and course of studies abroad you dramatically increase your chances of also having a positive experience.
Good luck planning your studies abroad!
Copyright – Steve Sutherland 2007