A Working Mom’s Money: The Real Cost of Tutoring

It used to be something parents did only for their academically struggling students. Today, hiring a tutor is a whole different ballgame. Got a gifted child who needs more challenge? Want to help your kid ace a high school entrance exam? Looking to boost your high school student’s ACT or SAT score? There’s a tutor for all that.

Depending on your child’s needs, you can hire one-on-one help or sign on for a class like group. Generally, the more individualized the attention, the higher the fee. Here’s how to pick a first-class tutor for your child—and what you can expect to pay.

Private

This could be your most expensive tutoring option, but also the most individualized. Depending on your student’s needs, tutors can offer skill-building help, enrichment lessons, homework help, test prep and more. Most private tutors come to your home, which saves you time and lets the tutor see your child’s home-study environment and offer suggestions for improving it.

Good for: Time-pressed families and individual attention. Also a good match for reserved kids uncomfortable asking questions in groups or embarrassed to have a tutor. “Private tutors meet each kid where they are and help them master specific content, rather than following a predetermined tutoring plan,” says Ann Dolin, president and director of Washington, DC-area Educational Connections Tutoring.

Considerations: In addition to in-person help, private tutors might offer Skype sessions for extra help between meetings or in case of schedule conflicts. Picking the right tutor—someone your child likes and who motivates her—might take time. Dolin suggests asking like-minded parents for tutor recommendations. Teachers, she says, might not be plugged in to good tutoring networks.

Cost: Educational Connections charges $80 per hour for grade-schooler tutoring and $90 for high-schoolers. Private tutoring in some areas can run up to $250 per hour. A high school or college student (without professional teaching credentials) would cost less.

Group-Based

Large franchise-based tutoring companies (like Sylvan, Huntington, Kumon and such) tend to offer smallgroup classes, sometimes combined with individualized worksheets kids can do at their own pace. They might offer a proprietary curriculum, which all students follow.

Good for: Students who like the camaraderie of a small group while they learn or who don’t like the intensity of a personal tutor. Kids can benefit from hearing other participants’ questions and from working in teams to complete assignments.

Considerations: Curriculum can be a good fit for families who like structured methods and regular assessments/progress reports. Lessons might not always follow what your child is currently learning at school. You might pay an additional fee for “homework help” services. Sessions are typically held on-site at individual franchises’ learning centers at predetermined times.

Cost: Approximately $45 to $60 per hour, set individually by center.

Test Prep

Because of the increasingly competitive college-admissions process, many high school students sign on for group or private test-prep programs and take the ACT/SAT multiple times. “Even kids who have performed well enough on the tests to get accepted to their first-choice college might want to do a little better,” says Michael Boothroyd, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of college admissions programs. Why? “Colleges often award merit-based financial aid to students with both excellent high school grades and high ACT/SAT scores,” he says.

Good for: Students who struggle with standardized tests in general and need extra practice and support, as well as competitive kids who want to increase their chances of improving test scores.

Considerations: Various test-prep companies specialize in researching entrance exams and developing ways for students to improve their scores. Instructors must earn exemplary scores on the entrance tests themselves. Depending on the center, students may have access to live, online seminars and Internet-based extra practice sessions, in addition to in-person classroom instruction. Group classes are generally held on weekends at schools, community centers or dedicated test-prep centers.

Cost: Kaplan’s six three-hour, small-group classes start at $749.Students who want one-on-one help can work with a tutor through a Skypelike online connection starting at $1,199. Budget-minded families with motivated kids can use a self-paced study course starting at $249.

Online

This works almost like online chat support you may have used yourself. Once on a website like tutor.com or tutorvista.com, your child chooses a school subject, types in a question and is connected with an online tutor. Students and tutors can write and draw out problems on an interactive whiteboard, upload documents to share and more. Is your child a night owl or last-minute studier? Online tutors are typically available 24/7.

Good for: Students who need help on an as-needed basis—a single 10-minute question here and an hourlong study session there. Kids who need help right now can log in and be immediately connected to a tutor, from home or on the car ride back from dance rehearsal. Ideal for families/students with challenging schedules that make in-person tutoring tough.

Considerations: Some online services let students set up regular weekly sessions—“even at 10 p.m. after an away game or 6 a.m. before classes,” says Joan Rooney, vice president of instruction for tutor.com (The Princeton Review). Students do need to be reasonably good typists and have adequate computer/tablet/phone access—so this might not work for young grade-schoolers. Tutors might be different each time a student logs in, which could be good if kids benefit from more than one expert or approach. But it’s less personal than other methods since the student doesn’t see or talk directly to the tutor.

Cost: Tutor.com packages run from $40 to $115 per month, depending on hours needed.

When Tutoring Isn’t the Answer

It’s easy to assume that a child struggling with schoolwork needs an academic boost. But many students actually have habit problems, not learning problems. Says Ann Dolin of Educational Connections Tutoring, “Social media is a biggie. Many kids are more interested in Instagram than math-test study.” So before you hire a tutor, consider working on good home habits.

• ELECTRONICS Make sure your student is doing homework before spending fun time online.

• SLEEP Check that your child is logging enough hours of rest. Tired kids have trouble focusing.

• FOOD Is your kid eating healthy meals and snacks? Are caffeine and sugar limited?

• SCHEDULE Your child might have too much on his plate. Curtail some extracurriculars for a while.

If you try all of the above and tutoring, and still don’t see a difference, have your child professionally assessed for a possible learning challenge, attention issue or executive-function deficit.

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