by Matthew Ulmer, Manager of Communications, IDP Education

Third-party international recruitment services, or “agents,” have received a good deal of attention recently.  As institutions evaluate methods to expand their global outreach even as their budgets shrink or remain stagnant, now seems like a good time to discuss the many myths and truths regarding such placement services.

Three of the main myths agents often hear are that their services are illegal in the United States, they don’t have students’ best interests at heart, and that more often than not they send unqualified or inappropriate applicants that squander admissions officers’ time instead of freeing it up.  One of these myths is false, the other two depend on a number of circumstances.


There remains no law or federal regulation against the use of third-party representatives for international student recruitment.  Most often cited is the NACAC organization’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice, though this does not extend to overseas outreach.  Additionally, NACAC’s reference to the payment of incentives for successful student enrollments applies only to its members (institutional employees responsible for admissions decisions), not vendors, alumni or other recruitment partners who may refer student prospects.

In actual business practice, student recruitment services can be compared to other professional services such as search firms for executives, real estate agents for campus property acquisition, financial services for endowment fund management, and pay-for-performance advertising channels such as online directories and website advertising.

Inappropriate motives?

The other two myths often heard can in fact become truths.  Many agents are more concerned with making money than fostering the right relationships, and many will refer any students interested in a school, regardless of qualifications, simply to collect a fee from those students.

Most agents, however, have been in business for years and have built successful enterprises that put a student focus above all.  They take the time to fully understand an institution and its desired students in order to become a trusted partner, as opposed to chasing a commission.  A similarity can be found in the field of financial planning – for every crook who makes headlines, there are dedicated, competent finance managers who recognize that it is in their best interest to keep their clients as successful as possible.  The same holds true with recruitment agents – while there may be a few that taint the entire industry, university staff should understand that the majority of agents are honest partners who have been successfully guiding students for many years while following a strict set of local standards and business practices.

The key then for institutions interested in seeking outside support for expanding their global diversity is in finding the right organizations with which to partner.  They are indeed legal in the United States, and many of them will be dedicated to serving both the student’s and the school’s needs by connecting the two in mutually benefit.

IDP Education is a global leader in the advancement of international education. It is the world’s largest student placement firm, is the driver of significant market research, and, as a partner in the IELTS English language proficiency test, is committed to quality and professionalism.

2 thoughts on “International Student Placement Agents: Myths and Realities (Guest Post)

  1. Rightly said. Australia and UK universities employed Indian agents to their advantage. Well there were cases of wrong doings, but these universities kept persisting and eventually found gold.

    US universities, like the Ostrich could dig their heads into the earth and, could watch the universities from UK & Australia wean ‘brainy talents of India’ away from USA OR pro-actively work with consultants / agents in India and ensure that they continue to attract the ‘brainy’ and/or the ‘wealthy’ to their advantage.

    Hope the US universities hear the Wake Up call more clearly at least now!


  2. Thanks for this input, Suresh. Yes, pursuit for international students is picking up intensity.
    Another factor is the tremendous push to create more spaces in developing nations, the source of many of the international students.


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