3 Ways to Get Better Bang for Your Buck When Hiring a Tutor

3 Ways to Get Better Bang for Your Buck When Hiring a Tutor

Maybe your child's grades have slipped or he's doing poorly on tests. Or perhaps you've seen how frustrated he is by homework. If that sounds familiar, consider a tutor. You wouldn't be the only parent doing so: According to a recent study, Americans spend between $5 billion and $7 billion annually on academic tutors.

Start by asking your child's teacher about your child's needs and learning style. If the teacher says a tutor could help, study up on your options—and let your child have a say in the path you choose. Make sure he knows that seeing a tutor isn't a punishment but a way to build self-confidence and improve performance.

Tutoring Option No. 1: A Learning Center

Tutoring franchises can be appropriate for children in grades K-12 who need help preparing for a particular test or with schoolwork in general. Typically, the centers administer diagnostic tests to determine students' skill level, then set up a few group sessions per week. This option typically costs less than private tutors.

• Cost: Price varies by company. Monthly tuition at Kumon ranges from $95 to $125 per subject. It averages $125 per subject at Eye Level. At Mathnasium, fees start at $250 per month. Tutoring Club charges $40 to $50 per hour, and diagnostic tests cost between $50 and $75. Huntington Learning Center and Sylvan Learning Center franchises, which set their own prices, might offer discounts if you buy a package of sessions.

• Best for: Children of all ages who enjoy learning in a setting with other students and aren't embarrassed about needing help, plus homeschooled children who would benefit from socialization.

• Questions to ask: Will my child work with the same tutor for each session? If my child doesn't get along with her tutor, can she switch to a different group? What is your cancellation policy? How do you measure progress? How do you deliver feedback to parents? How long do you estimate it will take my child to reach her goals?

Tutoring Option No. 2: Online Tutoring

You can't beat the convenience of live virtual one-on-one instruction. With this option, students connect with tutors through instant messaging or an audio hookup. Some companies, including Growing Stars, Tutor.com and Uzinggo, offer online tutoring exclusively, in a variety of subjects. Other chains, such as Sylvan Learning Center, provide Web-based tutoring in addition to their on-site programs.

• Cost: Growing Stars charges $80 for 4 hours of help per month; Uzinggo's basic plan costs $10 per month, and Tutor.com pricing starts at $40 per hour (military families might qualify for free sessions). Note that many libraries around the country purchase tutoring programs from Tutor.com and allow cardholders free use.

• Best for: Kids ages 8 and older who are comfortable using a computer, as well as those who are unable to travel to a center because of time, budget or distance constraints, or because of a disability.

• Questions to ask: Are the sessions recorded and monitored for security purposes? In addition to a computer, what equipment does my child need in order to work online? Does your company provide supplies that my child might need, and are they included in the fee? Do you run background checks on tutors who work from home?

Tutoring Option No. 3: Private Tutoring

It's the costliest option, but for kids who are really struggling, consider in-person, one-on-one tutoring. A private tutor can tailor a lesson plan to your child's needs. Check out Club Z and WyzAnt.

• Cost: Prices vary based on factors such as where you live and the tutor's qualifications. (As a point of comparison, the average hourly price of a private tutor through WyzAnt is $43.) Some tutors might be willing to take on two or more students at once, so ask other parents if they'd be interested in splitting the cost.

• Best for: Children of all ages who are shy about working in groups or need instruction from someone other than a parent to stay focused.

• Questions to ask: Do you have references I can call directly or letters of recommendation I could see? How often do you think you'll need to meet with my child? Do you give tests to assess progress? Do you provide ongoing feedback to me or to my child's teacher? How long do you estimate it will take to see improvement?

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