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International Admissions on Student Recruitment Agents

From The Chronicle of Higher Education.


In International-Student Recruitment, Questions About Integrity Persist.  The agent debate is dead. Long live the integrity debate.

For some time now, the discussion about whether American colleges could use commission-based agents when recruiting students abroad has been the hottest of hot-button issues in international admissions, with each camp staking out fiercely partisan positions.

It all came to a head with the recommendation of a commission organized by the National Association for College Admission Counseling—which represents some 13,000 college admissions officers and high-school counselors—that attempted to chart a middle ground. Basically, the admissions group, known as NACAC, said, Colleges, we’d rather you not pay recruitment agents. But if you’re gonna do it, we’ll hold our noses as you go ahead.

It’s been nearly a year since NACAC’s members endorsed the policy shift, and there’s some evidence that the issue, if not exactly dead, is certainly less divisive.

Colleges that had been sitting on the sidelines have moved forward. Some have chosen to use overseas agents (agents are verboten in domestic recruitment); the American International Recruitment Council, an organization that sets standards for and accredits agents, says its institutional membership grew 22 percent, to 236 colleges, last year. Others have gone in the other direction, even posting on their admissions websites that their institutions do not work with international recruiters….’


No one has a monopoly on integrity, whether an institution admissions counselor or agent, and this debate seems more about a ‘demarcation’ dispute.

China dwarves most markets, but with all international markets do admissions counselors actually know how their enquiries and candidates emerged?

Any good marketing of an institution should revolve round qualitative feedback from enrolled students and stakeholders (including agents) to inform marketing strategy.  This feedback could include academic and social welfare, in addition to how they found the institutions, i.e. what information sources?  How was your agent? Had you applied other universities? etc.

In contrast many institutions still apply pre digital sales benchmarks i.e. make contract with agent, include arbitrary recruitment target, then provide no digital feedback essential to inform marketing.  I would qualify this with fact that many job descriptions have not kept up with advances in digital/SEO and streamlined administrative processes.

Further, some view ‘marketing’ as attending an international recruitment event at great cost (however is decreasing especially since most cannot advise on visas, immigration and careers in home country of student), ‘distributing marketing materials’, focus upon short term sales (“if I get one applicant I can get travel approval again”), depart, and then expectation that agent recruits independently (and often in competition with admissions) for remainder of the year ….

Considering most prospective candidates are able to search online in their mother tongue e.g. EU 90%, from anywhere in the world (many are not in their home country), this suggests the ‘empirical field’ is digital, all year round.

An integral element of good digital marketing is SEO search engine optimization which requires qualitative feedback, target language marketing content, quality reciprocal links, social media network and ‘analytics’ with the organisational boundaries being blurred i.e. precludes ‘silo’ mentality or scientific management.

Many of the risk factors are apparent for both agents and admissions, and cooperation would seem best?

Advantages of all year round (informed) agents abroad include vetting enquiries, checking bona fides, certifying documents, pre assessment of credit, submitting study application, doing visa application, arranging accommodation, travel and remaining in contact with students.  This allows admissions to focus only upon genuine candidates and not become bogged down with random enquiries etc., accordingly many universities will turn prospective candidates back to their agents, whom also have a better chance of ‘closing’.

Further, the most valuable digital or SEO resources for international education are good quality agent websites in specific (target language) markets with which reciprocal web links can be made with their institutional partners.  This produces ‘digital juice’ which Google and search engines reward with higher rankings in search results for generic search enquiries (excellent organic start to market development).

Accordingly, institutions should be or could be cooperating successfully on digital/SEO strategy with agents and related parties through creating rich content and social media network sharing to ensure there are good candidates to counsel in the first place.


For more information about international education marketing services in Europe and Turkey click through.



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