|Much was made at the start of the millennium of the possible decrease in relevance of the travel agency as the Internet grew in importance as a source of information and means of purchasing anything from food and flowers to a study abroad holiday. But the study abroad advisor has remained a vital component of our industry, with clients realising that the wide knowledge base and expertise of study abroad advisory centres far outweighed the confusing mass of information available on the Internet. What has changed, however, is the high level of professionalism expected of advisors by their students.
Why an advisor?
The core reason for students to choose to book their study abroad programme through an advisor is to benefit from their expertise. An Icelandic student recounts, “It was easier to find a school, job and place to stay through the agency.” Price also plays an important role. Tami from Brazil said she chose to book through an advisor because of the price and range of programmes that were on offer, while 23-year-old Alberto from Honduras indicated that he chose to book through an agency because medical insurance was included in the price. Similarly, German student Mathias chose to book through the advisor because “it was the cheapest [course] and they were offering me a scholarship”.
Instilling their clients with confidence is important and Spanish student Irene comments, “The [agency] is competent and organised, and it also seemed like the consultants were very familiar with the locations [and] schools to which they send their students. Because of this, they are able to advise and prepare students better.”
Choosing the advisor
Trust is an important factor when it comes to using an advisor, evidenced in the high proportion of students 33 per cent who used an agency as a direct result of a personal recommendation from a friend or family member. Sixteen-year-old Irene from Spain said her parents had already used the agency for a course for her brother a few years before and so they used the same agency for her trip. A further 30 per cent of the students who took part in our survey had found their agency on the Internet, seven per cent through exhibitions, a further seven per cent through advertisements in newspapers, and 10 per cent through their schools. Seminars and small workshops in schools conducted by advisory centres are an effective marketing tool for agencies. Lotte from Germany explains, “There was an information event about exchange programmes at my local high school, where many organisations presented their programmes. You could collect the different brochures and there were consultants to give you more information. There were very helpful and friendly consultants at [my agency] stand and I liked the brochures.”
Type of consultation
For many students, the agency website was highly important in providing an overview of their study options, and when criticised by students, this was usually because of a lack of information. For example, Icelandic student Eva said, “The website was good but would be better if they showed more information about the place we’re going to.” The website can also assure students of the advisory centre’s credibility. One student commented that, although the agency website was not a factor in her decision about which agency to use, as they had found out about the company through a school seminar, “the online testimonials and the presentation of the individual schools did confirm that I had made the right decision”.
While the advisory centres’ websites generally acted as a first point of contact for students, half of the respondents in our survey also had face-to-face consultations with their advisor, while 13 per cent were advised by email and phone, and 10 per cent used email only to communicate. A German student said she received considerable personal attention for her booking. “[I had] several face-to-face consultations [with the advisor], once to discuss finding the most suitable school, where there was an interview, and then there was a two-day preparation seminar, where all exchange students were prepared in detail for their time abroad.”
Students valued an advisory service that provided a wide range of information. Lucy from Taiwan said she was given information about the weather, airport and city transportation, clothing, budget and a map of her destination. Eva mentioned that her advisory centre arranged a meeting a couple of days before the trip to tell the students what they could expect in their study destination. Irish student Katie reported that her advisor sent “a lot of information to me about the course as well as information about other courses they spent about two months preparing me for it”. Two students indicated that they did not receive enough orientation information, and three students said they would have liked a wider choice of schools in a particular location.
As the biggest asset an advisory centre has is its wealth of experience and expertise in the study abroad field, this was also where the expectations of the students were highest and any complaints centred on inaccurate or insufficient information. One student reported, “[My advisor] didn’t tell us much about the school. I would have wanted to know more about it. She told us some basic information about the accommodation and what to expect.” Portuguese student Olinda says, “About the [course] I was informed that I would do an intensive course of 26 lessons per week. Actually I have a course of 22 hours per week.” Katie from Ireland commented that she would have liked to have known exactly what the students would be learning in class.
Offering an efficient service was also an important factor for Colombian student Andres, who said, “[The advisor] helped me a lot but they took too long taking documents to the Canadian embassy.” Icelandic student Maria says that improvements could have been made to the service she received by being “better organised and [providing] more information about the school and the hotels that I am going to work in”.
One student mentioned that not all the advisors at the centre she used offered the same level of service, with one not being as accurate in the information supplied as the others. “[The advisory centre I used] needs to re-educate their employees to make sure each one is professional, not only some of them,” she said.
Nevertheless, a high proportion of surveyed students (99 per cent of those who answered this question) indicated that they would recommend their advisory centre to other students interested in going overseas. One British student said, “I would recommend my agency because they were very professional and gave me a good insight into what [my location] is like.” Alberto commented that the advisory centre he used “answered all my questions as soon as they could”.
Most students also indicated that they would book any future study abroad programme through an advisory centre again, although two students said they would not because they thought it was cheaper to go directly to the school. One student also said that having booked through an advisor the first time, he would now book independently as he knew more about what to look for. The best feedback that any advisor would like to receive is that from Eva from Iceland. “I’m very glad about this trip so far. Everything is how [I expected it] to be.”
Type of consultation
Face-to-face and email 19%
Email and phone 13%
Email only 10%
Face-to-face and phone 6%
Nationality breakdown of students
Thank you to the following schools for taking part in our survey: BELS, Malta; Carl Duisberg Centren, Germany; Christchurch College of English, New Zealand; ELA, Malta; Humboldt Institute, Germany; ILSC, Canada; LSF, France; Pamploma Spanish Institute, Spain; South African School of English, South Africa.