Finding a good tutor is easy when budget is not a concern – you simply call your local tutoring agency, tell them about yourself, and they pair you up with a good, compatible tutor. If you or your child don’t get along with the tutor, they’ll usually send you another one (and another one) – until you are satisfied.
When budget IS a concern, things get more difficult. You can still find a good, effective tutor on a budget, however, if you are willing to do a lot of legwork – and throw away some common assumptions.
Skip the qualifications
When searching for an effective tutor on a budget, qualifications are an expensive and unnecessary luxury.
An effective tutor is the one who works best with your child and inspires him or her overcome their fears, catch up where they are struggling, and gain the confidence to continue their academic career on their own.
It doesn’t matter if the tutor went to Harvard, possesses an advanced degree, scored a perfect score on their SAT, is a state-certified teacher, or has decades of experience. None of the common qualifications that people look for effectively measure or evaluate the tutor’s ability to teach and inspire, but possessing impressive qualifications certainly raises the tutor’s demand and hourly rate.
This only applies to junior-high and high school level subjects, however – not advanced or uncommon topics. If you need help with, say, advanced computer science or astrophysics, you will need to seek out someone with an advanced degree in the field that knows this stuff cold.
Avoid Middlemen – Go Direct
To get the best possible price on tutoring, you must avoid middlemen – anyone that gets between you and the tutor, financially speaking. This includes tutoring agencies, both big (such as Princeton Review) and small (like ours), as well as tutor referral sites, such as Wyzant.com.
Agencies and referral sites take a significant chunk of your tutor’s pay for every session, usually at least 20%. In return, they provide support, advertising, convenience, peace of mind, and other useful services, but if you want to minimize your per-session cost, you will have to find and select your tutor yourself, without going through a 3rd party.
Here are three tried-and-true ways to find independent tutors:
1. Word of Mouth
Ask your friends, neighbors, parents, your kid’s classmates – anyone who knows anyone. Many cities and towns have local online mailing lists specifically geared towards parents. Sign up and ask for a recommendation.
2. Ask your teacher
If your child has (or had) a teacher that they liked a lot and got along with, the teacher may be willing to earn a few extra dollars on the side via private tutoring. If not, many teachers have go-to tutors that they are happy to recommend.
Don’t be afraid – many good tutors advertise and browse on Craigslist. Remember, good tutors are rarely good at marketing themselves, and although Craigslist has some stigma attached to it, most tutors advertise on Craigslist because it’s a simple platform to use.
Even better than looking for an ad is posting your own “Tutor wanted” ad, along with details and an honest budget. You will get MANY responses, so be prepared to sort through them.
Sort and Sample
All the tutors you get from these sources are candidates. Don’t settle for the first one, and don’t invite them to your home (certainly not the ones from Craigslist!).
In order to see if the tutor might be a good match, you’ll have to talk to them. Don’t settle for an email conversation – get them on the phone. Pay attention to how you feel talking to them and what they say.
It is a good sign if they are warm, curious, and you feel that they are genuinely interested in helping you and your child. On the other hand, if the prospective tutor does a lot of talking, bragging, or selling, but not a lot of listening, it is less likely that they have the empathy and sensitivity to be effective.
Feel free to ask prospective tutors to provide references. Good tutors will have many people who are happy to vouch for them.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of tutors to a few good candidates, invite each of them over for a trial lesson. Many tutors, especially less established (and therefore less expensive) ones, will offer a free trial lesson. Some will advertise this openly, while many others will be amenable to offering a free trial lesson if you ask politely.
Invite the tutors over, and see how it goes – after working with a few tutors, you and your child will quickly see which tutors you prefer and feel most comfortable with.
Negotiate a good price
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few desirable candidates, it’s time to negotiate the price.
Most tutors have a set rate, but that rate is not set in stone, and tutors are usually willing to be flexible – sometimes extremely flexible – under certain circumstances. As I mention in why is tutoring so expensive the main drivers of a tutor’s fee are their hectic schedule, and the large portion of time that they spend traveling, so anything you can do to make things easier for them can result in a lower hourly fee for you.
Here is what you can offer a tutor in exchange for a lower rate:
1. Make a Commitment
Tutors have unstable, unpredictable schedules, and as such, they value stable, consistent clients who meet them at the same time, every week. If you can commit to a set day and time for an entire semester, your tutor will be very happy, and can offer you a lower rate.
2. Pay In Advance
Everyone likes being paid upfront, and tutors like the certainty of knowing that a set number of sessions have been paid for – even if they don’t know exactly when those sessions will be. If you can pay for 4, 8, or even more sessions in advance, you can often negotiate a small discount.
3. Meet them Half-way
Or more – ideally 100% of the way. Tutors spend a large part of the time traveling, so if you can offer to meet them at or near their house, they will save a LOT of time, and you can save a lot of money. This is probably the most powerful way to get a lower rate.
The best thing, of course, would be to apply all of these suggestions at once. Here’s a sample script:
“Hi Tutor. The first session went really well and I’d like to commit to having my child work with you for the entire semester. You can meet on a set day and time every week, and I can drive him/her to a library/coffee shop/public space in your neighborhood so you don’t have to travel. Would you be able to accept $<insert price here> per hour if I could pay you for the whole semester up front?”
This script is very powerful. Give it a shot, and let me know how it works for you!