Are Students The Product In The Traditional Admission-Based Model?

For decades, students aspiring to study abroad have relied on admission advisors affiliated with universities and worked for commissions. In fact, the advisors have become not just the first point of contact, but often the key decision influencer. While this has worked for millions of students for years, the digitization of the education system and the rapidly evolving edtech landscape, the increased demands as well as competencies of the new generation of students made them question the efficiency of the traditional approach to university admissions. 

Let’s look at some of the shortcomings of the traditional approach, from the students’ points of view.

Different priorities

In the case of college admission advisors affiliated with particular schools, students do not pay for the service. This sounds like a good thing, but in fact, just turns out to be the curse. A widely quoted phrase “If you don’t pay for the product, then you become a product yourself,” borrowed from a community weblog a decade back, is incredibly relevant in today’s college admission reality. The role of the university-affiliated and commission-driven advisor is to place as many students as possible, prioritizing schools’ interests — rather than those of the students. 

Lack of flexibility and alternatives

Students guided by college-affiliated advisors are meant to be limited to just those options offered by these colleges, and this covers both the academic programs as well as financial plans and support. The model where admission advisors are worried about placing enough students to keep themselves relevant (or to be profitable) does not bring us closer to the goal of having equal access to higher education opportunities. For many students aspiring to study abroad, the college fees are unaffordable. At the same time, they remain unaware of the sheer number of free opportunities offered by a wide range of schools and accepting students from across the globe. 

Unequal relationship

The advisor-student relationship is hierarchical, even if students are paying for the consultations. Education is one area where the authority of the mentor is prevalent and widely acceptable, but it is increasingly becoming a problem for Generation Z which most of the university applicants at the moment belong to. Unlike millennials and older generations, Gen Z-ers are known to be more independent-minded, technology-savvy, and socially connected. Since the traditional model hasn’t been designed to be student-centric, it lacks the peer-to-peer support that is essential to students across age groups, especially Gen Z. 

Money first

The pandemic revealed the transactional nature of admission advising business like never before. Covid-related lockdowns kept many students who would otherwise pursue studies abroad at home, making advisors’ commissions dry up. Instead of building a long-term relationship with students and focusing on making their journey successful, the traditional model assumes a single touchpoint approach that centers around making a placement with an affiliated school.

There is a growing feeling of being just a tiny part of a billion-dollar business among students, particularly from the developing countries where consultants have long been seen as the only path to a study abroad opportunity. This conflict of interest has prompted many students to opt for alternatives, leading to the rise of edtech startups that challenge the traditional admission model in many ways — from simply digitizing the process of school selection and eligibility evaluation to employing AI-based solutions to match students’ profiles and colleges’ requirements.

What is common for these solutions is the focus on bringing the university admission process in line with a rapidly changing world through technology, flexibility, and creating a place of belonging, whether in-person or virtually. That is the approach we have chosen at StudyFree, as we have put a student’s dreams and capabilities in the spotlight. We have created an environment that helps students achieve their educational goals by providing them insights from a large, diversified community and tools to utilize their potential.

Here are a few principles that differentiate the modern approach to college admission for international students.

Prioritizing students’ goals

At StudyFree, we consider students our clients, and not the product. Being not affiliated with any universities and earning from student subscriptions help us focus on the success of our students, regardless of the school or degree they choose to pursue. While a for-profit company, we have been helping thousands of students across the globe, including many of those who are not able to pay college tuition fees but still eager to study abroad. Offering a subscription model with fees times cheaper than tuition fees helps maintain high loyalty among students and boost company growth. 

Respect for privacy

Digitization has revolutionized the admission process, but as in any other industry, there are certain challenges related to data. Keeping students’ information secure, preventing data leaks, and respecting students’ privacy is key to successful operations and building long-term relationships. 

Providing flexibility

Students should have the flexibility to choose from a broad variety of programs and schools from across different countries, depending on their qualifications and test results, comfort level, and personal preferences. When it comes to funding, it’s also important to provide options, including scholarships, grants, and student loans. 

Creating a supportive community

For a modern company mostly catering to Gen Z students, it’s essential to create an inclusive community of people who have recently gone through similar experiences and are willing to share their insights with others. Community-based learning is the future of education and it’s important to support students and make them feel included throughout the entire process, from getting started with their application all the way through graduation and beyond.  

Being practically helpful

Relying on mentors and being guided by someone who is more mature is not a bad thing. But oftentimes it is not really helping you get the most relevant information on the admission processes, fresh opportunities available, or learn real-life hacks on how to get into a particular school. Such insights can only come from like-minded students having their own study-abroad experience in the recent past or studying at the moment.

Most importantly, it is not just a student and their mentor who are sharing insights. It is the entire community of thousands of people across the globe, many of them speaking a student’s native language and who are just a click away to help with information and emotional support in the process as well as throughout the course of education. A community-based approach to college admission mentorship is a long-term and dynamic relationship that is benefitting all the parties involved, making it fair and sustainable. 

In the end, higher education and student admissions are not just about the financial profit and making a sale. It’s about focusing on students’ needs, helping them achieve their goals, and supporting the next generation of leaders through affordable quality education.

About the Author
Author: Dasha Kroshkina
Dasha Kroshkina, StudyFree Founder & CEO, is a 28-year-old solo entrepreneur. Dasha has been officially selected for Forbes 30 under 30 and also recognized by the Global EdTech 800 list of the world’s most innovative EdTech startups and 200 Top Women CEOs and Founder leading Global EdTech Startups. In 2020, StudyFree became the winner of the Seedstars global competition - and its founder Dasha Kroshkina became the first female winner over the last 7 years of the competition.

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