Often the sources of information that a prospective US-bound student has about the application process is limited, or incomplete. These seem to be the two main limitations that I have encountered in recent weeks when providing advice to students.
The first problem (limited information) is easy to combat. Several members of your school's graduate community may have studied or lived in the US, and these should be your very first port of call. The second place to expand information should be those non-profit centers (like EducationUSA) who do not represent any specific colleges. They are a great source of unbiased information, and can provide an excellent bird's-eye-view of the general application process and eligibility requirements. Another source of information are educational consultants, who may provide free information sessions, or paid private consultations. Finally, online resources are a fantastic, free way to find a great deal of information. However the quality of information provided by paid consultants and internet sites can be incomplete, not appropriate, or in some cases, misleading.
Incomplete information is a tough nut to crack. How do you know when a source is reputable? A great deal of trust is required, but you can protect yourself by bearing a few things in mind. When, as a prospective student, you're approached by a coach or recruiting agent from a college, responding with enthusiasm is completely appropriate, and I'd encourage it. However, you should bear in mind that a recruiter is first and foremost a sales-representative. Their aim is to sell the benefits of their college, or their college's sports program, or the financial deals available, to prospective students. Their primary motivation is to make sure that they have better recruits, relative to their competitors and rival colleges. So don't necessary believe everything they say, especially about their rivals.
Similarly, a private consultant may be motivated by his or her paycheck. Now, many consultants out there are motivated by experiences that they had in the US. Or they may get satisfaction from seeing students fulfill their academic potential, and thrive in an appropriate environment (for more on this, see last week's post). But if a consultant is being paid, you should think hard about whether they are motivated primarily by the satisfaction that comes with seeing a student paired off with an appropriate college environment. If in doubt, reach out. EducationUSA (https://www.educationusa.info/ and firstname.lastname@example.org)is available to provide clarification and accurate information, as am I (email@example.com). We are both eager to help students get the information they need to make fully informed decisions.