UAE: To study abroad, some students spend up to Dh250,000 on higher education consultants

As their children approach sophomore year, parents start seeking professional guidance for their mentoring and profile building


Nandini Sircar

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KT file photo
KT file photo

Published: Thu 4 Jul 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 5 Jul 2024, 2:27 AM

As a large number of students in the UAE are keen on studying in the West, particularly the UK, Canada, and the US, with many aspiring for Ivy Leagues, their parents start planning for their admissions well in advance. When these students are close to sophomore year, the parents not only set aside funds but also begin seeking professional guidance.

It is learnt that many students are spending up to Dh250,000 in building their profiles as they approach professional education consultants for mentorship programmes.

However, students often begin the college application process on an uneven playing field, with differing amounts of financial, social, and cultural resources at their disposal.

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Aanya Rajput got in touch with a consulting firm towards the end of her Grade 10, which, her mother, Poonam Chhotelal, believes is somewhat late.

“These institutes help in the application process of colleges, and also make a student understand what subjects they need to choose in their later years. It is good for a student to have this focus right from Grade 9. Institutes like Hale are really good as they find a counsellor based on the subjects a student has chosen. They also conduct psychometric tests to gauge the skill sets of a student and identify courses on the basis of their strengths,” said Poonam.

Aanya Rajput
Aanya Rajput

Online, in-person sessions

At the consultancy firm, Aanya participates in classes twice weekly, alternating between in-person sessions and Zoom meetings. Each session is of 45 to 50 minutes.

“Starting in Grade 9 is much more cost-effective because the expenses are spread out over four years. For example, planning for 12 universities in the US could cost around Dh40,000 in Grade 9, Dh42,000 in Grade 10, and between Dh45,000 and Dh46,000 in Grade 11. Besides, every university’s admission form costs $500. Therefore, beginning to build your profile early is highly advisable to better identify your niche. There was another counsellor that I got in touch with but we didn’t choose them as they were offering only Zoom classes.”

Poonam said these firms also advise students on choosing extracurricular activities (ECAs), internships, summer programmes, and important associations to join. “Summer programmes play a crucial role in enhancing a student’s portfolio, and they carefully select universities worldwide for your ward to apply to. Some of the counsellors have worked in those universities and have a network there.”

“In fact, my daughter is being motivated by her counsellor to go for a change of subjects based on her skills.”

Poonam said the education consultants also advise parents to do university visits, if possible. “We are planning to do exactly that this summer. It helps you understand the way colleges function... the healthcare systems and safety aspect there.”

Personalised advice

Jacob George, an Indian-Turkmenistan expat in the UAE and current Aerospace Engineering major at UC Berkeley, found it challenging to get personalised advice for US applications at his British curriculum school.

Jacob George
Jacob George

“Therefore, this made the counselling that I received a lot more useful to me as I was applying only to US universities. Initially, my biggest challenge was where do I even begin and what exactly do universities want to see in an application. Through meetings and workshops set by Hale, I was easily able to navigate the process,” said Jacob.

He said the education consultant helped him choose universities based on what he wanted to major in and helped him rank those universities into three categories.

“These categories were ‘reach, target, and safety’. By categorising universities I was able to make sure I had a balanced list of schools that I applied to, increasing my chances of acceptance.”

He added: “When I got rejected from Cornell, I initially felt very disheartened. However, this setback led me to get into UC Berkeley, which is arguably considered to be more prestigious and a better fit for me and my goals."

Non-UAE residents also avail services here

Notably, even residents settled in other countries are turning to education service providers based in the UAE.

Mohammed Saoud
Mohammed Saoud

A Syrian high-school graduate, who has recently been accepted at Brown University and is set to start his freshman year this fall, said he applied to a non-profit that helps Syrian students with the application process of foreign universities.

“They connected me with Hale and their pro bono programme for a scholarship,” said Mohammed Saoud. “They helped me locate schools that are a right fit for me and see where my interests lie. They helped me understand what a particular college looks for and evaluating myself to see if I am the right candidate who would thrive on their campus.”

Meanwhile, certain international education organisations also provide free study abroad and overseas education counselling in the UAE.

IDP, for example, works on helping students with various study opportunities. However, as this institute registers massive volumes, many opt for tailored attention.

Big financial commitment but no guarantee

Indian expat Sheetal Sebal said, “We haven’t done anything for the profile building so far and I think I should approach a counsellor to guide us properly. This would help my son have clarity. Profile building is particularly important for the top US universities.”

Sheetal Sebal
Sheetal Sebal

Sheetal, however, is in a dilemma. Her son, who is entering Year 10, said if he decides to pursue Economics and Maths, they will prioritise the UK.

“If he chooses a technical line, then we will prioritise the US and seek the services of such counsellors. Currently, I am in a fix. I want to utilise the summer properly. Individual counsellors charge Dh15,000 a year and if you go to big companies like Hale and Crimson, they charge around Dh40,000- Dh45,000 depending on the package. After all this exercise, there is no guarantee of admission. While some feel there is no need of all this, there are some who are confused and need clarity. At the same time, there are others who are very ambitious and don’t mind spending on these career counsellors.”

Costs and competition

Education consultants said given the significant financial investment and the planning required, discussions on the part of the parents should begin early on.

“Location is a critical factor, especially for international students facing additional costs and competition on a global scale,” said Chafic Mekkaoui, Education Consultant at Hale Education Group.

“The cost of profile building can vary significantly based on the student's proactive involvement and the opportunities they pursue. This could include summer programmes, tutoring, courses, and research opportunities. The financial commitment can range from Dh50,000 to Dh250,000 over the high school years, tailored to the unique journey of each student. It's essential to remember that this process is highly individualised, and the value of different experiences will vary.”


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