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How to choose a university agent: five top tips

Academic agents can help to guide you through your application process and but it can be hard to know how to choose one that suits you. Here are five top tips from the experts on choosing an academic agent

  • Study abroad
  • Admissions
Joy Hunter's avatar

Joy Hunter

Student content curator
April 30 2021
Female university student choosing a university agent


A university agent guides you through the entire process of choosing and applying to university, from helping you with your college application to assisting with visas, travel and accommodation. They can be a great resource for students, especially any international students daunted by all process of applying to university in a different country.

With so many academic agents and education agencies available, it can be a challenge to select an agent and feel assured that they have your best interests at heart. Below are five top tips to keep in mind when searching for a university agent.

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1. Check who the agent is partnered with

Many university agents will have partnerships with universities that they work closely with. Markus Badde, CEO of ICEF, an agent-accreditor and events organiser, points out that when a top university partners with an agent, it’s usually an endorsement of their quality and experience. You can check the rankings of the universities your agent is partnered with using the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

If you’re certain of where you want to go, it could be worth choosing an agent that is partnered with your desired institution. That way, you’ll be reassured that the agent is well versed in assisting with the specific application process of the university you wish to enrol in.

However, it’s important to note that an agent partnered with a university is likely to receive a commission from the institution for every student they recruit, so could be biased towards that university. If you’re less sure about where you want to go, it might be better to opt for an agent without pre-existing university affiliations, who might offer more balanced advice.

A spokesperson at the British Council advises that you should always ask what an agent’s recommendations are based on and take note of how well they are considering your own interests and academic strengths when offering their opinions.

Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), recommends asking forthright questions early on to make sure you’re getting what you want. “Always ask the agent if they are recommending a particular education provider or course because they are going to receive more commission from it, rather than that provider or course being the best one to suit your particular interests or needs,” he says.

2. Check the agent’s accreditations

University agents operate in a lucrative, competitive and oversaturated field, so it’s essential to do some background checks to make sure you’re protected. There are several associations and bodies dedicated to assessing the quality of student agents who are there to help. These include:

ICEF – ICEF, which provides training to education agents globally, provides a list of all approved agents on its website that’s well worth a browse.

The British Council – All agents on the British Council’s Global Agents List have undertaken agent’s training with the British Council, so they will be specialised in helping candidates applying to the UK.

UKCISA and BUILA – Together, the UK Council of International Student Affairs (UKCISA) and the British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILA) have announced plans to collaborate on a new code of ethics of practice and have revamped training for agents. Keep an eye out for these developments.

QAA – The British Council recommends that you check if the university your agent is recommending to you complies with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

IEAA – In Australia, the IEAA created the Australian International and Training Agent Code of Ethics to ensure that all agents operating in Australia reach a certain standard.

AIRC – In the US, the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) has created a code of standards to ensure that agents operate transparently and with integrity.

University websites – If you’ve decided on a university and want to go with an agent who is affiliated, you can also check the university’s website, which will usually provide a list of approved agent partners.

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3. Ask the right questions

An agent can promise you a lot, but that doesn’t mean much without a good track record.

A key metric to distinguish a good agent from a bad one is their success rate, so don’t shy away from asking them about it.

Of course, you should ask how many students an agent has helped to secure a place in their dream university. But Badde of ICEF points out that this is quite a narrow measure of success. He recommends asking how many of the agent’s clients went on to graduate; whether the agent continues to support previous clients once they get to university; and whether previous clients have gone on to graduate into successful careers.

Brian Whalen, executive director of the AIRC, suggests asking an agency about how many students they’ve placed in a year, how long they’ve been in business, and their staff size and company structure.

Honeywood at IEAA recommends that you find out about the agent’s record in having student visa applications approved. This is a vital part of the service an agency will offer you, so it’s important that they have a history of getting this right.

A spokesperson at the British Council also advises asking how an agent keeps up to date on new trends and courses, and whether they undertake regular professional development.

4. Shop around

A common piece of advice to students when researching agents is not to simply sign up with the first one you talk to.

“Don’t just go to an agent who is a friend of your family or who has been recommended by a friend of a friend,” says Honeywood. “Do your own research about their student visa approval rate and other key performance indicators, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.”

It’s good practice to compare as many international student agencies as you can, and don’t always rely on the ones at the top of the Google search results. There are several specific search tools for finding agents, including the British Council’s Global Database. Lists of approved agents from affiliated universities are available on most university websites.

It’s also worth going into the search with a budget in mind, so you can compare costs.

5. Read the contract thoroughly

Before signing anything, make sure you read the contract thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications of any terms, and don’t hesitate to question anything you don’t understand.

Many of the quality assurance bodies mentioned above will have codes of conduct and ethics that they encourage agents to follow, such as the British Council Code of Ethics or the AIRC’s code of standards. Some agents will include a commitment to these frameworks in their contract with you. If they haven’t, you can go back and encourage them to add this into their contract before signing to ensure that you are being protected to the industry standard.

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