Caveat Emptor

Educational Adviser, Rebecca Zeigler-Mano with Zimbabwean student Bernard Londoni and Lynn University Admissions Officer Juan Camilo
Educational Adviser, Rebecca Zeigler-Mano with Zimbabwean student Bernard Londoni and Lynn University Admissions Officer Juan Camilo

The ancient Romans coined a Latin phrase caveat emptor which roughly translates as, “Let the buyer beware,” warning the public to research their options before buying on the open market.  Zimbabweans would do well to heed this advice when exploring higher education options for themselves and their children.

The advent of dollarization in Zimbabwe two years ago brought with it an increase in individuals and organizations promising entry and scholarships to universities around the globe. They advertise in newspapers, at high schools and anywhere they think youth and their parents are likely to gather– career fairs, sporting events, even after church services. Some proffer what seem like reasonable charges, perhaps $100 for a full consultation, while others charge up to $3500 for their services– an amount that could finance an entire university education in Zimbabwe or a year of tuition in South Africa.  Unfortunately, in our Zimbabwean context, where bright students outnumber solid higher educational opportunities, many feel they need to pay someone else to guarantee a bright future for themselves.

Currently, one such local organization is embarking on a scholarship campaign more akin to a lottery– students are encouraged to deposit $10 into the consultant’s account and then send in the receipt and their educational qualifications in hopes of being the lucky one to “win a full scholarship” to an undisclosed American college.  Another organization flies in and meets with clients in a local hotel ballroom, charging them to complete and submit application forms.  These same applications can be submitted for free directly to the universities online.

The bottom line is no student ever has to pay to apply for a true scholarship.  In fact, the first symptom that you may be a victim of a scholarship scam is if you are asked to pay money in order to qualify.

In general, there is nothing wrong with paying an “educational consultant” to assist you to negotiate the maze of global educational opportunities.  Students in the U.S. and Europe do this every day.  However, digging deeper can help you decide if it is beneficial or limiting for you to do so.  Here our adage caveat emptor definitely applies.  How much are the self-professed experts charging and could you be accessing the same information they are providing for free on the internet? What is the level of experience, knowledge and integrity of the consultant?  What is their motivation?  Are they educators who are truly unbiased in whom they represent?  Do they represent an entire educational system?  Or do they work as agents for a few select universities?

An educational agent is paid a certain sum for each head they recruit; thus, s/he is trying to get as many young Zimbabweans to that institution as possible, regardless of whether or not it is an appropriate match for them.  Rather than helping a young person find the right university based on financial, academic and social criteria, agents scan their limited list of options and choose one for the student.  Thus, the student loses the ability to find the best option among a wide range of available options and can be jeopardized by a compromised or unsuitable choice.

Another area of caution in working with a paid consultant is to be wary of those who encourage students to cut short high school educations in order to take advantage of “once in a lifetime opportunities.”  These offers are usually pushed on athletes who leave high school in Zimbabwe after O levels or even earlier to fulfill their sports star dreams.  They come to realize too late that their opportunities would have been much wider and deeper had they completed their A level high school education in Zimbabwe and only then applied for a full athletic or academic scholarship.

Fortunately, Zimbabweans do have free information at their disposal.  Several embassies offer free information and consultations about higher educational opportunities in their countries.  The British Council at 16 Cork Road, Belgravia does this for the UK.  EducationUSA Advising Centers in Harare’s Eastgate Mall and the Bulawayo Public Library are free resource centers for Zimbabwean students accredited by the U.S. government. Most countries offer extensive information about application procedures to their universities online, such as www.studycanada.ca, www.ieasa.studysa.org and www.educationusa.info .

A university education is a tremendous commitment of time and resources.  It is a young person’s foundation for his or her career, economic prosperity and long term contributions to family, community and country.   Such choices should be made wisely after serious research and discussion about available options. Before paying a consultant, explore the many free information resources.  If after that, a consultant still looks promising, remember – caveat emptor!

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About the author: Rebecca Zeigler Mano works as the EducationUSA advisor at the US Embassy.  She can be reached at Harare@educationusa.info