New NACAC Research Brief Offers Insights into the Use of Agents in International Student Recruitment

Media Contact
Shanda T. Ivory


Arlington, VA (July 1, 2019)—High schools and colleges continue to develop and refine their strategies for recruiting abroad, according to new findings from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

In particular, the association’s latest research brief shows that over the last two years more colleges have adopted practices that provide greater oversight of commissioned-based agents.

Agents is a term used to describe individuals who are paid on a per capita basis to recruit international students. Contracting with agents is one method US secondary and postsecondary schools use to establish a local and permanent presence in strategic regions abroad.

“International students bring great cultural and economic benefits to US high schools and colleges,” said NACAC CEO Joyce Smith. “As advised by NACAC’s Commission on International Student Recruitment, we are intent on understanding the market for recruiting international students and advising our members about best practices to safeguard the interests of their students as well as their institutions.”

Key findings from NACAC’s Use of Commission-Based Agents in the Recruitment of International Students research brief include:

Postsecondary Institutions

  • About 36 percent of colleges responding to NACAC’s 2017-18 Admission Trends Survey reported using commission-based agents and another 27 percent were actively considering the practice. More selective institutions were less likely to use agents.
  • Among survey respondents that used agents, 39 percent rated them as considerably important to the recruitment of international students. An additional 36 percent found them to be moderately important.
  • Since 2015-16, more colleges have adopted practices that provide greater oversight in their work with agents, including providing training manuals and/or in-person training sessions, as well as regularly assessing the students recruited by agents.

Secondary Schools

  • Only 9 percent of secondary schools responding to NACAC’s 2017-18 Counseling Trends Survey reported having a written policy that outlines whether and how school-based counselors should engage with agents hired by students and their families.
  • Levels of awareness of student/agent relationships varied by school type. Seventy-two percent of counselors at private non-parochial schools reported awareness of student relationships with agents, compared to 52 percent at private parochial schools and only 13 percent at public schools.
  • Among counselors who were aware of student/agent relationships, a third reported that more than 50 percent of international students were working with agents.

NACAC continues to maintain a healthy concern about the inherent risks to students and institutions posed by partnerships with commission-based agents. The association has worked diligently to help its members adopt policies that safeguard the interests of students.

Download the new research brief and learn best practices for working with agents through a series of resource papers from NACAC. 


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

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