Here at ICAN Future Star ltd, we are a team made up of former and current international students from China, Italy, England and the Netherland. Therefore, the team understands and is able to relate to the pain points and challenges facing international applicants when applying to studying abroad. The main problem facing international applicants is that they are often forced to rely on an agent to do applications for them. This practice comes at a hefty price for the applicants and their families (I know, I have been there and done it myself). In this article, we would like to put forward some arguments to point out the pros and cons of using agents when it comes to applying to study aboard. The arguments are based on the team’ personal experience and the focus groups the company conducted during October 2014­ January 2015.

 Agents often work with applicants and their families face-face for a period of time. The main services they provide are: 1) evaluating and checking out clients’ qualifications and preferences, then recommending suitable courses and universities to them; 2) project managing the multiple applications of one client: on average one client would be asked to apply between 4-­6 universities and often more universities in multiple countries. Agents will remind clients about specific dates for funding application, deadline for submitting applications, interview, visa application, etc. 3) acting as an intermediary between the applied universities and the applicants. e.g. agents would write enquiry emails and personal statements for the clients based on their past experiences of working with the particular university.

 The premium services where agents make the most money is the area they claim to be the most valuable for clients:  Their insights or partnerships with universities. Because of these partnerships, agents tend to tell applicants and their families that their chance of being accepted will be much higher if they handle all the applications. For this service, they charge applicants on average £1000-­£3000. They will also be paid by the university an extra 10% of tuition fee for every successful applicant they bring.

 There is an inherent problem with this type of commission­-driven business model, which is the agents do not behave in the best interest of the applicants or the universities. Often they mismatch candidates and universities, e.g. by under­-evaluating candidate qualifications, recommending them universities of a from lower ranking / less known background. In addition, several reports have pointed out that agent were apparently prepared to relax entry requirements in the increasingly aggressive push for students (link to report). In other words, agents usually work for multiple universities and typically recruit students with the lowest qualification that each university they represent will accept, lowering the quality of students from particular countries. Well-­qualified students from these countries begin seeking admission elsewhere, leaving only the minimally qualified. Academic units of the universities suffer.

Other issues with using agents are:

— ­­The counsellor at agents who write your PS (personal statement) and application form may have not a sufficient English qualification. ­­

— Each counsellor at agent is responsible for multiple applicants, sometimes up to 70­80 at once, so they will be less likely to spend more time with each individual application.

In recent years, we have heard more and more stories about unscrupulous agents that cheat students and/or the universities they work for in many ways, such as overcharging for services, making promises that cannot be kept, demanding exclusivity contracts, falsifying documents and funneling unqualified applicants to academic programs to meet quotas. But because there is currently only one fledgling professional standard organization that promotes best practice for agents. There is no approval body or accreditation.

At ICAN Future Star ltd we believe in developing innovative and user-friendly mobile solutions to assist the needs and desires of the applicants to DIY applications. Disrupting the agents-dominated international recruitment market, we are a technology company that providing unbiased product and services to empower applicants to discover, research and apply for the most suitable courses and universities based on their own qualification and preferences.