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How to choose the study agent for medical studies?

Selecting the correct university for medical studies is a decision that forms a student’s career and life. There are tens of medical universities teaching in the English language with different entry requirements, tuition fees, enrollment procedures or several seats offered for international students. Applicants have two options: to apply on their own or to apply with some educational agent. As I work as an educational agent for the last 6 years I would like to share my insight into this topic.

Applying to university without a study agent or educational agency

Applying directly to the medical university is possible, but it will involve stress, and (usually) applicants make mistakes that cost them time and money. I had a student, whose father decided to do the whole process, including the visa procedure. The result was, that the student submitted documents 4 days after the deadline to the foreign police and had to leave to home country as she could not obtain the residence permit. Other students translated documents on their own for nostrification (recognition of completed secondary education) just to find out, that the sworn translator must be from Slovakia (so hundreds of euros were lost). I would suggest applying without agency in case you have a friend who can navigate you through the process or a supportive study office. If you wish to rely on the study office, start your application at least 3-4 months in advance, as everyone is sending emails and making calls just before the deadline.

I estimate that around 25-35% of students decide to apply to European medical universities without any agency. The number may seem low, but you should take the following into consideration:

1. There are agencies, mostly in countries like Germany, Austria, Greece, Italy, or Spain, that have packages containing preparatory courses, translations of documents, and organizing entrance exams abroad. Decision makers are usually parents and they do not want to take any risk and spend the amount to help their kids with procedures and entrance exams. The service fee varies from 2.000-10.000€. The agencies need to spend substantial amounts for marketing and promoting their collaborating universities which justify the price. Agencies have wider offers of collaborating universities, including universities that do not offer any commission for them. Typically you may find these agencies collaborating with universities in the southern part of Europe (Bulgaria or Romania) where papers need to be submitted in person to the universities – so students would need to travel in person to do the paperwork.

2. secondly, there are agencies (including www.Medhead.eu) that charge nominal service fees (250-300€) upfront. The reason is the following: applicants are usually applying to multiple universities and for agents, it is impossible to tell, if the student will or will not enroll in September/October university. In the case of Medhead.eu, there were plenty of students who dropped their plan in September and several months of work were lost. The service fee is comparable with the amounts you would pay for agencies mentioned in point 3.

3. finally, there are agencies, typically in the UK (eg. Medical Doorway), Norway, or Poland (for example MedycynaSlowacja.pl), that have a big number of potential students who would like to study medicine in Central or South Europe. They sign contracts with universities and get the commission directly from them per accepted students. Therefore do not need to charge the service fee to the students. Students need to pay direct expenses, however, but still, it is only a fraction of the price of other agencies (mentioned in point 1). Agencies are usually offering the same university for all students. In case you can do the research and select several medical universities upfront, you might start by looking for agencies that do mass recruitment for given universities.

Does it make sense to pay Success fee / intermediate fee?

It depends on what is included in the service of an agency. If they only give you access to a general course not tailored for the given university, there is no big added value. In the end, it is your determination and hard work that will help you to pass the entrance exam. The success fee might be sometimes 3000-8000€ which might easily cover yearly living costs.

Selecting educational agent for medical studies – Step by step

If I were a student, there are several aspects that I would take into consideration

  1. Experience: if you are from outside of the European Union, I would definitely ask about experience with visas/residence permit processing for a given country. Every country has a different process for issuing visas and requirements. If the agent is submitting 2-3 files per year per country, it is very probable that something has changed recently and you may miss time and money with redoing your documents. I am also getting questions about visas or residence permits to countries like Romania or Bulgaria, but as I don’t have experience with these countries or universities, I suggest students contact someone more qualified.
  2. Full-time specialist – you may find plenty of websites of agencies that will promise you to help with admission to the university. Many agencies are only side-business of people who have different full-time job. In other words, you will need to wait for a response until the main job is over with answers to your calls or emails. Speed of response can give you hint about whom you are dealing with.
  3.  Satisfaction of the former clients: I would always ask for the satisfaction of the students whom they helped before. They will give you an idea about the process, university, or possible problems.
  4. Payment per stage: as mentioned before, there are agencies that charge various amounts for their assistance to students. If they ask you to pay the full amount before the work is finished, you risk that they will not be motivated to spend extra time with you after the payment.
  5. Type of services provided: Students need preferably these services: help with submission of application for an entrance exam, tutors for entrance exam topics (typically chemistry, biology, and physics),  help with recognition of documents (nostrification), and assistance during enrollment day. You may do your own calculation and compare the costs, e.g. by contacting a local teacher and ask him to prepare a special course based on the syllabuses for the entrance exam

     That said, there are other recruitment agencies that might only help applicants with part of the required paperwork, or that charge a large sum of money to do virtually nothing at all. Sourse: Website of the 2nd Faculty of medicine

  6. Ask about hidden costs: there are agencies that will charge high amounts for securing admission to medical universities (they will apply to multiple schools and promise to give you admission to at least one). Make sure to check the contract thoroughly and ask the agency as well.

There are factors that I would not take into consideration on another hand:

  1. A number of medical universities the agency is working with: some agencies have an extensive list of universities published on their website, but when you dive deeper, you will find out that they do not have a contract signed with them. In other words, the agency can help you with admission to those universities, but their expertise would be in sending a majority of students to 2-3 main universities
    Example: Always check whether the university is working with agencies, especially when agent claims to represent it officially
  2. Guarantee of admission: you will find this information on multiple websites of universities that no agency can provide guaranteed admission or any benefit in the admission procedure. Some universities have a limited number of seats and do not need any help from agencies. Some universities had a bad experience with agencies that they do not want to sign any contract at all. During my career, I have gotten in touch with students who lost money especially when the agent promised a guaranteed transfer to some university (which is impossible.
  3. Free consultation – Some agencies are promoting the offer of free consultations. That does not mean that the assistance itself is free of charge. Make sure to check all costs before you sign any paper.
  4. The locality of the agency / agent: One would tell, that having a local agency could be a great advantage. You speak the same language and can even visit them in person. The thing is that there are plenty of procedures that agency cannot do remotely – typically assist you on enrollment day (in case the university is not assisting on their own), take you to the foreign police, help you with recognition of academic documents (where local translator and notary are frequently asked) or finish any related paperwork. From my experience, students often feel lost especially in their first days, when assistance would come in handy.

Conclusion – how to get accepted to medical university and save a money

I tried to explain my point of view on selecting the correct educational agency. I would sum them up with the following:

  1. Make your research and preselection of the universities
    If you narrow your search to several universities you wish to apply to, you can contact directly agencies that are working with them. Agencies can direct you to some universities where they have exclusivity, which makes the price of assistance high
  2. Contact several educational agents before you choose one
    Once you select the university where you wish to apply, make 3-4 calls and compare offers of the agencies. In most cases, the price offered will differ by several hundred euro or dollars, in extreme cases by thousands (even different 8000€ is possible)
  3. Check the offer properly
    Always check before about every stage of the procedure and support the agency is providing – make sure that you will have support also in the city where you plan to study (enrollment, foreign police, explaining of the local culture)
  4. Ask about the hidden cost 
    Always ask about the hidden cost or total sum that needs to be paid – some agencies split the costs into two phases: before and after admission. Make sure you understand the full pricing policy before signing anything
  5. Ask for a reference
    Ask for the email or phone number of former clients if you have any doubts – having contact with a current or former student can help you to get answers to questions which agency cannot answer, e.g. classes attendance, type of subjects completion, best place to go for late dinner etc.
  6. Too good to be true offers
    Be careful if someone is offering guaranteed admission or guaranteed transfer – medical universities in Europe have several times more applications than available study places. If someone is promising guaranteed admission for any high-quality institution in Europe (which usually awards admission based on the entrance exam or excellent results from secondary school), there is chance you are speaking with an unprofessional provider
  7. Is your agent doing the job as a side business? 
    Check with the agency, whether they work full time as an agency. There are many “providers” that have different main jobs and have 2-3 clients per year. They will not be able to provide you with more information than those which you can find by 1 hour of googling.