A Guide to Hiring a Tutor for Your Children

Selecting the right tutor for your child and knowing how much to pay can be daunting. Here are some of the key factors to consider.

child and tutor
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On the heels of a global pandemic that saw children across the country learning remotely for almost two years, it's hardly surprising that parents are now finding it necessary to hire additional academic support to help their kids recover academically.

McKinsey & Company found that American primary-age students are, on average, five months behind where they would usually be in math as a result of the COVID pandemic—and four months behind in reading. Amid this discouraging reality, The Economist reports that private tutoring worldwide is skyrocketing.

As a parent, the idea of selecting a private tutor can be an intimidating prospect, one fraught with many unknowns. How much is a reasonable price to pay a tutor? How do you find a tutor you can trust? Not to mention finding one who will be a good fit for your child's personality and needs? I myself faced these very questions when seeking to hire a tutor for my son who was floundering once onsite learning resumed in 2021.

To help sort through some of these questions for parents, we asked industry experts to provide insights on everything from the cost of tutoring to how best to select someone who will be the right fit for your child.

How much can you expect to pay a tutor?

Let's start with one of the most stress-inducing questions first: the cost of private tutors. The hourly rate you pay a tutor is a difficult number to pin down because it varies significantly based on numerous factors, including your geographic location, the level of expertise a tutor possesses, and even things like the number of sessions you're signing up for.

"Tutors can charge a variety of rates, depending on their qualifications and experience," Claire Westbrook, founder of LSAT Prep Hero, tells Parents. "The hourly rate of a tutor can also vary by location and by subject taught. For example, the hourly rate for a tutor in New York City may be higher than the hourly rate for a tutor in a rural town. Tutors who teach more specialized subjects, such as music or calculus, may also charge more per hour than tutors who teach general subjects, like math or English."

The price you pay may also be impacted by such issues as whether the tutor has a specialized degree or whether you opt for in-person or online tutoring sessions.

With all of these factors in mind, the website Care.com estimates that parents can generally expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $40 per hour for a high school student who offers tutoring services and as much as $100 per hour, if not more, for an experienced teacher or certified tutor.

Is it better to hire a tutor through an agency or word of mouth?

Reaching out to friends and family when we need to hire an expert is a natural tendency. After all, what better reference for a tutor than hearing glowing reviews about the individual from someone you trust. But not so fast: There are pros and cons to finding a tutor from your personal network of contacts versus reaching out to a professional tutoring agency.

"With word of mouth, you get a personal connection with the tutor and can ask questions directly about their qualifications and teaching methods. However, it can be more difficult to find a tutor through word of mouth who meets your specific needs, such as finding a tutor who is skilled in specific subjects," explains Westbrook.

When working with a tutoring agency, on the other hand, you will likely have a much larger selection of tutors to choose from and the expertise of the tutor will already have been vetted by the agency, including background checks and fingerprinting.

"Unlike jobs like doctor, lawyer, or even teacher, anyone can just call themselves a 'tutor' without needing to be screened or certified. That's where the benefit of a tutoring company or agency can be quite useful: They're able to filter for both subject-matter expertise and teaching ability, and also objectively monitor student and parent feedback and progress so that the most effective tutors are the ones getting assignments," Brian Galvin, the chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors, tells Parents.

Working with an agency also gives you a greater selection of experts at your disposal, depending on the size of the agency in question. This can be helpful if, for instance, your child initially utilizes tutoring for help in math but then later needs help with other subject matter.

"It can be easier to add a second teacher or to get an expert for each subject [when working with an agency,]" Ruth Wilson, a board-certified educational therapist and founder of The Polytech, a private high school in Seattle, Washington, tells Parents.

One last note on this point: It's also important to do your research before selecting an agency, ensuring that it's reputable. Check out reviews online and via social media to find out what other parents are saying about the agency in question.

How to select the right tutor for your child?

When searching for a tutor to work with your child, it's not only important to find someone who's knowledgeable in the subject matter, but it's also essential to find someone who is patient and good with kids, says Westbrook.

To help get to the bottom of these types of questions (especially the second one) schedule interviews with potential tutors and ask them specific questions about their teaching style.

"During the interviews, ask the tutors how they would help your child improve in school," explains Westbrook. "Ask them about their teaching methods and what strategies they would use to help your child understand difficult concepts."

Wilson, of The Polytech in Seattle, Washington, suggests asking some, or all, of the following questions during the interview process:

  • Describe your approach when working with someone who procrastinates or gets frustrated trying to complete assignments, or who has never excelled in a particular subject
  • How long do you estimate it will take to develop this skill? (Note: It's never just one session and no educator should promise this.)
  • What do you look for to know that a student is improving?
  • Why do families choose you?

Achieving the right balance

Ultimately, effective tutoring blends three important factors: subject matter expertise, teaching experience and ability, and a good working relationship, says Galvin, of Varsity Tutors. As a parent searching for a tutor, it can be easy to get sidetracked by one or two of these important factors at the expense of the others.

"When it comes to subject matter expertise, what's most important is that the tutor has taught the subject at the level and in the style that the student is learning day-to-day," explains Galvin. "An MIT-trained mathematician or local valedictorian might be brilliant, but may not be a good fit for a struggling third-grader who needs to understand the visual representation of multiplication."

Relationship is another easy-to-overlook factor. A primary benefit of tutoring is the one-to-one connection, and parents should think about what type of connection would be best for their student. In other words, does your child need someone to keep them organized and accountable? Or is their biggest need related to motivation and encouragement?

While for some students a similar-aged "study buddy" may be the perfect fit, for others a more professional elder is the best way to keep the student on track.

"A good indicator that the tutor is a good match is when the student feels lighter and more confident at the end of a session," says Wilson. "If a student has confidence that the tutor can help them improve, they generally look forward to seeing the tutor even though they might complain of missing time with friends or being tired after school."

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