Higher Education: 7 Tips to Select the Right Student Recruitment Agent for Universities


As the number of universities looking to diversify their students and break into new markets increase, we are seeing an increasing surge of student recruitment agencies (education consultants they call themselves) pop up around the world. No matter how much you research about a specific market, without finding the right contacts to support you, breaking into that market can prove to be a very challenging task.

You may think (and we wished it were that way!) that the ideal way of breaking into a new market would be to contact schools directly and visit them so that you can reach the prospective students via presentations. However, unfortunately this is not as easy as you think. In many countries, you may find that your emails are not even answered, the phone number found on the high schools website is not working, the secretary that eventually does pick up the phone ( after calling 8 times!) may not speak English etc. The time difference is another setback especially when trying to call countries in East Asia.

These issues prompt universities to start searching for a middle man (Education Agents) so that they can facilitate this process and support the university with breaking into the market. If you find an agent with the right connections, you can eventually visit schools at the right time, visit high level officials in the ministry of education in that country and fly over after the national exam results are out so that you can brief high school students/graduates about your university in the agent’s office. Not only this, but agents assist students with their applications and after through training by the university representatives, while also giving the best possible information to the student about your institution. When all these benefits are added up, finding an agent that can be your representative is a very attractive idea.

So how do you find the right student recruitment agent to work with? Here are 7 tips that will help you find the right person in order to break into the target market;

1-Is the student recruitment agency certified?

There are so many agents working around the world without certification. Many are even doing this as a part time job! I’ve even seen students who are still pursuing their studies, enter this business and have indeed become successful. However, my piece of advice would be to always stick with a certified agent. This means that they are approved from their government and ministry of education. This also is an indicator of just how serious they are in this business and their level of commitment.

2-Does the student recruitment agency have connections with local schools as well as the ministry of education?

If the agent has a strong network in the market, then that agent’s a real player. It means that the agent can be your key for success in that market. However, it still doesn’t mean that the job is over. Crucial questions must be asked to get a better idea of just how well connected he/she is;

a) How often do you visit or network with high school representatives?

b) What type of previous experience do you have with the ministry of education?

c) What type of schedule could we put together to promote the university?

d) What would be the best time to plan and execute such a schedule?

These questions can give you an idea of just how well the agent is connected without directly asking them if they can do what you actually want them to do. If you ask a prospective agent ‘can we do school visits?’, they will not say ‘no’. They will say ‘yes’, so that they can get the contract signed between both parties.

3-How many universities does the student recruitment agency work with?

This is a tricky one. Do you go for the established agent with years of experience working with over a hundred universities? Or do you go with someone that has only a handful of universities? My experience has shown that agents who have a small number of universities perform much better then bigger companies. This is because bigger companies already have a set of universities which they are happily working with and getting paid from. Additionally, counsellors working at these companies already have a set of universities whose application process they are comfortable with and have not got any negative feedback from students enrolled there. So why would they all of a sudden turn their focus to a new university? Unless you are offering huge commissions, these counsellors will not be pressured into sending your institution students. Therefore, do not expect a big number from these companies. On the other hand, working with a smaller company means that there will be more focus on your university along with an increase in referrals which will result in a higher number of students.

4-How many students does the student recruitment agency send abroad each year?

This information will give you an idea of just how active the agency is. Find out exactly which type of programs these students are sent to. Are they language programs, undergraduate programs or postgraduate programs? Which program has the most focus? Neither a very huge number or a very small number should impress you. It is important to work with an agent that is busy enough to keep his/her focus on student recruitment, but at the same time should be thirsty enough to send even more students abroad.

5-Does the student recruitment agency charge students for administration fees?

Student recruitment agents have their own reasons for charging students or not for applications. As universities we cannot interfere in an agent’s business model. However, in order not to put students off, we do prefer that agents do not charge students as they get their hard works reward through commission payments anyway. This also prevents any possible conflicts between the student and the agent as well. We have seen many cases where students fill in an application via an agent but then do not follow up with it as soon as a fee is requested from them. They then search for another agent to assist them, and conflict between agents may occur. Although this may not seem like a huge problem at first, it may create a bottle neck for prospective students that would like to study at your university.

6-What is the yearly budget for social media advertising and which social media channels are used?

Almost every agent you speak with will tell you that they actively use social media for marketing purposes. But just how active are they? How many adverts do they pay for on Facebook? What about YouTube? Instagram? Twitter? How many times a month will they advertise your institution? These are all questions that need answering. With these questions you will get a clear understanding of just how engaged they are in regards to digital marketing.

7-Are there any exhibitions organized by the student recruitment agency?

Exhibitions are huge money generators for agents. This is because they receive money from attending universities, and they also collect leads to follow up for the future. Therefore most agents organize education exhibitions in order to generate more income. Attending fairs is  very beneficial only if the visitor profile is right, so make sure that you find out about past expo statistics in order to figure out whether to attend the expo or not. Not all agents organize exhibitions. If they feel satisfied by the foot traffic to the office and the results, then they do not feel the need to organize such an event. Nonetheless, having an exhibition organizing agent should be seen as another plus for your marketing strategy, providing that the audience is right.

As the level of competition among agents becomes ever so fierce in today’s environment, finding the right agent becomes ever so difficult for universities. In fact, you may find that many agents can give false promises just so that they can get your university on their clientèle list. They then do not meet their promises or fail to organize any type of meeting for you to be able to break into that market. It’s a difficult process for us university representatives. You want to make sure that you will find such an agent that will support your efforts in increasing your brand’s awareness and most important of all, your student numbers. At the same time, the agent has to be convinced that his/hers efforts will pay off. As you can imagine, it is a difficult balance to find. However, the 7 tips mentioned in this piece can ensure that you keep on the right track to select the right agent for your institution.

 Good Luck!

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