A Beginner's Guide to Hiring a Tutor

Raising a smart kid is a team sport. That's why parents often seek tutors to help their children overcome academic challenges. Here's a cheat sheet on choosing the right tutor—and how much to budget. 

An image of a teenage girl using studying tools online.
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Everyone wants their child to excel in school—and their studies—however, no kid is going to be a genius in every subject all the time. It's common to call upon a trusted educator for specific subjects or tests that require extra support. According to July 2015 research conducted by Statista, 26 percent of U.S. parents have paid for additional tutoring and 43 percent would consider it. But with so many options out there, how do you know what tutoring is right for you (and your child)?

We asked Eric Kim, co-owner and program director of LA Tutors in Los Angeles, and Rachel Horwitz, tutor and manager of Scholastic Achievement with the Massachusetts-based JBG Educational Group, to break down the four primary options and to explain whether or not a tutor is right for you. Here's what they had to say.

Should I Hire a Tutor for My Child?

Deciding to hire a tutor is a very personal decision with no right or wrong answer. Usually parents will consider tutoring if their child needs additional academic support. Some choose to enroll them in online tutoring, while others enlist the help of an older student or sibling, and still more hire a private instructor. The decision is contingent on your child's academic needs.

"There isn't a 'right time' to hire a tutor other than when it is right for your student," Horwitz says. "However, additional educational support is best sought out when students would benefit from one-on-one instruction to improve a specific subject or skill."

How Much Does Tutoring Cost?

The cost of tutoring varies widely, depending on the type of tutoring you're seeking, the subject matter, and where you live. Informal tutoring is usually free and/or low-cost. Online courses generally have a set rate or fee, and one-on-one sessions can be hundreds of dollars an hour.

"Prices range anywhere from $30 to $200 an hour, depending on the quality and caliber of your tutor," Kim says. "Independent tutors usually charge less, but working with a company comes with perks, like a satisfaction guarantee and the knowledge that a reputable company has vetted and trained your tutor already."

What Types of Tutoring Is Available?

There are different types of tutors for different needs. Homework help tutors, for example, assist students in homework completion. Test prep tutors help students with exam preparation, and general education tutors offer overall coaching and support. There are also learning disability tutors, ESL tutors, college admissions tutors, and subject-specific tutors—to name a few—with each type of tutor falling into a very specific category.

Informal tutoring

Informal tutoring is not one-size-fits-all. In fact, the term can be applied to any and all teaching that takes place outside of a formal classroom setting. This may mean asking older students who are strong in a subject to help your child with their homework. "Working with an older sibling or cousins can be an option, if they are willing to donate their time," Kim says. It could also mean talking with your child's teacher about additional study time. Many districts offer after-school programs for help with homework, essay writing, and more. Similarly, most public libraries and YMCAs offer programs to assist, too.

Online tutoring

If your looking for a more formal or in-depth approach, online tutoring can be a highly attractive and affordable option. Online tutoring takes place over the internet. It's flexible, convenient, and can be catered to your needs. Most online courses tend to be self-paced, which means that your materials and coursework are accessible at any time. These programs are (in most cases) pre-written and pre-structured. Your child will be following a specific curriculum and course.

While online tutoring programs work well for self-motivated kids, they aren't right for everyone. Some children hide behind their screen. Others need more individualized care. Be patient, versatile, flexible, and listen to your child. You should also explore your options.

Outschool, for example, is a platform that has over 140,000 interactive online classes and camps, while Learn To Be, UpChieve, Varsity Tutors, and Tutors for Change offer low-cost tools to improve children's academic performance and learning skills, many of which are one-on-one.

Private tutoring

If informal and/or online tutoring are not working, you might need a tutor who is willing to have regular, in-person sessions. Some students need more personalized (and individualized) care. One-on-one tutoring, or private tutoring, is ideal for students looking to focus on a specific subject or task, like reading or math. It's also fully customizable, a huge benefit to those working toward a specific goal, and private tutoring is interactive. Your student is engaged at all times; they cannot hide or sit silently in the back.

However, it's important to note that one-on-one tutoring—or private tutoring—can be cost prohibitive. The average cost of a one-on-one tutor is $50 an hour.

Still, one-on-one sessions are best for some, and they might help diagnose other learning difficulties that can be overcome by working with a specialist. Children's Dyslexia Centers can help parents find reputable resources, for example, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) list of learning disorders in children can help parents, educators, and students recognize patterns that will require ongoing modifications, rather than short-term fixes.

Standardized test prep

Standardized test preparation may require a huge financial commitment for parents of college-bound kids. The alphabet soup of SAT, ACT, MLAT, GMAT, MCAT, and more can feel so overwhelming that hiring a tutor often feels like a must. Horwitz recommends that families find someone who can specialize their approach to each student, as different people struggle with different sections—and different exams require different experts. "A one size fits all approach will not be helpful to most students," she advises.

You can also look for online test prep courses. Khan Academy is a trusted resource for free learning tools. Varsity Tutors has a free course, and students can take free practice tests and/or access low cost tools before resorting to pricier programs, like Princeton Review.

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