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EXPOSED: Unreliable overseas education consultants

Going abroad to study? Don’t rely on your overseas education consultant blindly. Pooja Biraia shares her experience

During the process of applying for a Masters in Journalism in Canada and UK last year, many facets of the way overseas consultants function came to the fore. I was applying for a course abroad after graduating from GN Khalsa College(Mumbai), and pursuing my MA in Political science from the University of Mumbai.

Officially, admissions in the US and Canada for fall 2010 are closed in February, latest by March. However, in May, I received almost 20 messages of education fairs held across the city by leading education counsellors. So, I decided to put forth my personal experience with a particular counsellor since September 2009, and how I managed to gain an unconditional offer letter from one of the best journalism universities in the UK and the second best university in Canada all on my own!

When I decided to pursue my course abroad, I didn’t know where to begin. The net gave me good information, but it was too much. I was confused about which country to opt for, which university to select, the admission procedure and whom to go to for a loan. I decided to approach an overseas education counsellor and here are the lessons I learnt.

Yes, the universities abroad have a lot of processes and paper work involved -selection of best-suited universities, scholarships, job opportunities et al. Counsellors for UK do not charge a fee, while those for US and Canada charge around Rs 20,000. Before you trust a counsellor, remember these points.

Do your homework: Counsellors will not tell you about the very good universities, unless their interest lies there, too. You will be brainwashed into thinking that the universities they represent are the best. However, there are many more than what meets the eye! My counsellor told me that the best universities in the UK for journalism are Cardiff, UCLAN and Sheffield. However, I found that City University, followed by Goldsmith’s (University of London) and University of Westminster are better off in all aspects!

Scrutinise recommendation: My counsellor insisted that I accept the offer from Cardiff, Sheffield or UCLAN, for obvious reasons. When I told her about applying to City University, she bluntly said, “I don’t think City is better than any of these. You may not get an admission.” It was then that I accepted her statement as a challenge and applied to City on my own. I wrote my Statement of Purpose (SOP) and got Letter of Recommendation (LOR) myself. I received an unconditional offer for MA International Journalism, City University!

Check the economy: I googled “UK economy” to check how far the country had gotten over the recession, checked the white papers, the official websites and opinions in leading magazines – all of which pointed to the ongoing downturn and lack of jobs available. Finding placements has become a daily hassle for the residents, leave alone bright opportunities for us! But my counsellor never told me any of these things. She just saw a “land
of opportunities”.

Establish contacts: I established contacts with students studying in the UK, spoke to them about the cost of living, job opportunities, internships, whether it’s the right time to go etc – all this through Facebook and Orkut. I also spoke to a few Indian students, who had been to the UK in 2009. Most were returning to India due to lack of jobs. “The scene is much worse than what appears in the papers,” a friend said.

LOR and SOP: One of the biggest challenges is preparing an impressive SOP and LOR. Thinking they require over-the-top writing, we depend on our counsellors completely. The sample SOP they provide will not help you. For instance, the SOP I had prepared, was confirmed by my education counsellor, though it was my first draft, but while separately applying for a premier institution in Canada, I had to prepare at least seven drafts to finally get that call.

No need to pay: Why pay Rs 20,000 to get into a mediocre university? If your academics are great, try and apply to at least three or four top league universities proactively – trust me, it’s not difficult.

IELTS does not require coaching: If you know the meaning of a reading comprehension, still remember how to form sentences and if you had at least managed to write an okay essay in school, you don’t need to be coached for IELTS. Simply, solve papers from the net, solve the book given to you after your registration, and you’re set! Use counsellors as guides and participate in their education fairs. Interact with the representatives of the universities and do take their help in getting a visa and pre-departure formalities in place.

Bottom line: I received a call for the interview within two months! The entire process took five-and-a-half months, and, there was no counsellor involved!

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