How to avoid falling prey to fake study abroad consultants

More and more students are opting to go abroad for their higher education. However, the procedure is not really common knowledge yet and fraud student agents prey on the vulnerable. Check out these warning signs and save your dignity and money.

As admission to top institutions in the country is highly competitive, increasing numbers of young students are looking to study abroad.

However, many of these young people lack the exposure that some may have gained from overseas vacations, foreign-educated family members, and watching one’s school or college seniors go through the application process to study in another country. Many people live in cities where there is no Education USA, British Council, Campus France, or other official government information channels about studying abroad.

Such aspirants may be unfamiliar with, and perhaps even daunted by, what foreign universities expect from applicants, and the process of applying for admission and a visa. These students are perhaps the most vulnerable to fraud.

Horror about student agent fraud

Every now and then, we read news stories about students being scammed by study-abroad agents and diploma mills. Unfortunately, the frequency of such incidents seems to be rising.

Visa fraud and deportation are not something to take lightly. They remain on your immigration record, and could make you ineligible for any visa in the future. If you are applying to study abroad with the help of a counselor or agent, make sure he or she is genuine and competent. In any case, you must do your own research on what to study, where to study, and how to apply. Consult others, but steer your own application process and arrive at your own decisions.

No agent will tell you that he or she is a fraud – you will have to figure it out on your own. It helps to be aware of the telltale signs.

Here are some warning signs to look out for when dealing with a student agent:

1. He’s a poor listener

If your counselor talks more than he listens, or if he thinks a ‘job’ is the main goal, then he is incompetent at best. He cannot do a good job of helping you if he does not understand what motivates you, and what your career and life goals are.

At worst, he isn’t listening because he’s interested in pushing his own agenda. And invariably, whatever is ‘best’ for you will coincidentally also be the most profitable for him, though he will never say so.

2. He keeps you in the dark

He does one of two things to prevent you from gaining a clear understanding of the application process. Either he discusses minute and inane details at great length in an attempt to undermine your confidence and increase your dependence on him, or he tells you to just leave everything to him.

Either way, he subtly discourages you from getting too involved in the application process. A genuine student counselor will help you understand the process and walk you through it.

3. He promises things that he cannot legally deliver

These could include admission, a student visa, or an authorisation to work in another country. This is a huge red flag. Admissions are processed and vetted by the university or college, not by agents, at least at reputed universities. In the case of some countries, such as the US or UK, visa applications may be processed by an officially designated agency in the initial stage, but the ultimate decision to grant or deny a visa is made by a consular official. The likes of Lucky Lakhanpal cannot influence that decision.

Your starting point for genuine information about visas should always be the official website of the high commission or embassy concerned. You can even apply online. And remember that a visa does not guarantee entry into another country – you can be turned back after landing at a foreign airport if immigration officials there have reason to suspect you of illegal activities or intentions. No student agent can influence them.

4. He glosses over academic concerns and focuses on inane things

If your agent is more concerned about coaching you on things like cultural adjustment, what to pack, and how to find an off-campus job, he probably has the wrong priorities. A good agent should be able to answer your questions about writing application essays, and taking the GRE or GMAT. He should be able to explain things like accreditation, course credits, how to choose classes, the academic calendar, practical training opportunities, and so on.

5. He keeps bringing up the name of one or more colleges

If he does this, and can’t explain clearly why they’re the right match for you, then it’s another big red flag. It suggests that he does not care about you or understand your goals. But the application process is about you and not about his agenda.

An agent who takes your money and treats you as a secondary concern in the application process is, well, just taking your money. Quite possibly, he’s also taking money from the colleges he’s plugging, for every student that he recruits for them.

The bottom line is that there’s no alternative to playing an active role in your own application process. Nobody understands your educational goals better than yourself. A good agent will listen, and provide perspective, information, suggestions and tips based on his experience of guiding other students to successful academic careers. But, if you don’t do your own research, you will benefit less than you can from even a good agent. More importantly, if you don’t do your own research, you are far less likely to be able to tell a good agent from a fraud.

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