Getting Schooled

Tips on choosing a tutor.

Choosing the best tutor for your child is a challenge, given the vast number of tutoring options available. While your child’s academic future is on the line, tutoring is also a significant investment of your time and finances, making it essential to find the best match.

Yet, tutoring is becoming an indispensable component of many students’ educational experiences. Along with seeking tutoring services for students who are struggling in classes, parents today hire tutors to give their children an advantage in an environment of increasing academic competition. Moreover, many parents employ tutors well in advance of required standardized test dates to ensure that their children are as prepared as possible come test day. In short, tutoring has become a way of life for many students seeking to maintain high grades and achieve top scores on standardized tests such as the SAT.

Personalized tutoring services are offered primarily by large educational services programs, “boutique” tutoring services and individual tutors. Keep reading for insight on the different types of tutoring services to consider for your children.

While many large-scale educational services corporations provide one-to-one tutoring at learning centers in towns and cities around the globe, some offer in-home tutoring for an additional fee. In most cases, the company recommends a tutoring program based on the results of a series of diagnostic tests, for which the client pays. Most of these companies use a proprietary curriculum for subject tutoring, skills development and test preparation. Some companies directly address your child’s school curriculum.

A benefit of working with a large-scale educational services company is that it often grants you a grade improvement guarantee on the condition that you purchase the recommended tutoring program. These tutoring programs are a good match for parents looking for highly-structured instruction with frequent progress assessments.

Boutique tutoring companies employ a small number of tutors who deliver customized assistance. Such companies frequently rely on a parental assessment of a student’s needs, a student’s current grades or other educational assessments, including psycho-educational evaluations, to determine the amount of tutoring needed and appropriate instructional methods. Boutique tutoring companies rarely provide diagnostic testing, administer their own curriculum or use pre-packaged lesson plans. Tutors directly address the student’s school curriculum or standardized test, like the SAT or ACT, and create customized instructional approaches throughout the session.

Tutoring is typically conducted in a small tutoring center or in the student’s home. A benefit of working with a boutique tutoring company is the high level of individualization and professionalism. Parents looking for flexibility, both in scheduling and instruction, should generally first consider boutique tutoring companies.

Many teachers and other professionals with expertise in certain content areas or skills offer one-to-one tutoring. Some individual tutors are certified learning specialists who have an extensive background working with students with learning disabilities. Some are people with a degree in a particular subject area who have experience tutoring or preparing students for standardized tests. A large number of individual tutors are graduate students or professionals in other industries who are looking to make extra money.

Individual tutoring is conducted almost exclusively in the tutor’s or the student’s home. In some cases, the tutor will meet the student in a public space, such as a coffee shop or library. Individual tutors are easy to find because they frequently advertise services with local online databases or put up flyers in the neighborhood. These tutors tend to charge much less than other tutoring services, making them a good match for parents on a strict budget.

An important part of determining the best tutoring option for your child is identifying your goals and priorities for the educational assistance. Some questions to contemplate are:

  • How important is scheduling flexibility? Can I cancel at the last minute with no additional charges?
  • How much does cost affect which service I choose?
  • How crucial is it that my child’s grades improve?
  • Do I only want a tutor with a degree in the subject he or she is tutoring?
  • Do I want long-term or short-term tutoring sessions, or just enough help to prepare my child for the next test?
  • How soon do I want my child to start having tutoring sessions?

Answering these questions helps you narrow down your options. In addition, most companies and individuals offer a free consultation, which can aid you in determining whether the particular service is a good match. During the consultation:

  • Confirm that tutoring is conducted one-to-one and that the tutor is with the student for the entire session. Some services equate tutoring with small group instruction or have the students work independently, without the tutor’s assistance, for periods of time.
  • Ask to see a tutor’s resume or client recommendations. Keep in mind, however, that a degree in a subject area does not guarantee that the tutor can effectively instruct the material. Ask if the service or tutor provides an hour of free instruction to determine the tutor’s competency.
  • See if the tutor can address more than one subject or skill per session. This is one way to maximize your investment.
  • Discuss fees and payment policies in detail. Confirm the service makes all fees clear. For example, does the company or tutor charge for time spent talking with teachers, preparing for sessions or mock testing for standardized tests? Ask if discounts are awarded when you purchase a package of tutoring sessions. Review the cancellation policy, preventing you from getting charged with an unexpected fee for a cancellation.
  • Ensure that the company or individual has safety policies in place, regarding performing background checks, being alone with students and e-mailing students without cc’ing parents.
  • Make sure the company you choose has an academic integrity policy. In other words, the service’s tutors do not complete assignments for students, do not use unauthorized materials and do not allow or encourage cheating.

One way to narrow your tutoring options is to ask your child’s school or other parents for a referral. The best services and tutors typically have a loyal following, and their clients gladly offer recommendations.

Because some services provide a complimentary first hour or session of tutoring, you can access a low-risk opportunity to ascertain whether a tutor is an appropriate fit. If your child comes back from the trial session saying “Wow! I finally get it,” then you have likely found a tutor who knows the content and knows how to instruct your child.

Keep in mind that one of the most important ingredients in tutoring is your child’s connection with the tutor. Research shows that when students experience positive emotions while learning, they learn more. A positive connection to a tutor benefits your child academically, helps develop an excitement for learning and builds confidence— priceless lifelong qualities.