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Why is Tutoring So Expensive?

By December 11, 2014September 28th, 2018About Tutoring

When I first started tutoring, I had no idea what to charge my clients. $25/hr? $50? $100? Less? More?

I scoured the internet for individual tutors, called tutoring companies, and even browsed Craigslist in an attempt to understand the tutoring market.

After many years as a private tutor and 3 years of running my own agency, I thought it might be useful to share what I have learned about tutors, the rates they charge, and the factors that go into those rates.

Although the hourly tutoring rate can run the gamut from minimum wage to that of a corporate lawyer, tutors can be [roughly] split into three categories based on their rates and experience: junior tutors, professional tutors, and boutique tutors.

Junior Tutors: Up to $70/hr

Most tutors in this rate bracket are young – either still in college or recently graduated.

Since they do not have much experience working or tutoring, clients are not willing to pay them as much as tutors with more experience. Likewise, most young people (even those with good degrees!) don’t value their time as much as those with more work experience. A gig paying $40 an hour is quite good compared to most of the other options available to recent grads.

Junior tutors also rarely rely on tutoring for their main source of income – it is usually either something they enjoy that brings in some extra cash or a career that they are trying out.

Like I mention in my other articles, 90% of effective tutoring is about social skills, and people either have them at this point in their life or they don’t – it’s not something that develops with experience. You can find many good (and some great) tutors at a low price if you are willing to try out a few different people and take a chance on someone green.

Unfortunately, cheap and effective junior tutors quickly find their services in high demand and start raising their prices.

Professional Tutors – $70 to $150/hr.

After a few years of experience, successful junior tutors become professional tutors. Those who make it tend to be a fairly select group.

First, they almost always possess impressive credentials, including advanced degrees, high test scores, and various other accolades. Although it is true that these things don’t necessarily make a good tutor, they can definitely make a tutor appealing to customers.

Second, besides the more obvious academic credentials, successful private tutors possess a wide array of generally applicable social skills. They have to be excellent communicators, patient, empathic, enthusiastic, friendly, social, very good with all types of people, self-motivated, and extremely organized. Once all this is combined with their academic talent, the people who choose to become professional tutors have many well-paying options at their disposal if they choose to enter the job market.

Finally, professional tutors get results.

Despite all of the impressive qualifications a tutor possesses, paying $100 for someone to spend one hour with your kid doing high school math might still seem excessive – I certainly thought it was when I first started tutoring. After working as a tutor myself, however, I started to understand why those rates were neither excessive nor unreasonable.

What are you really paying for?

While it may seem like you are paying for the tutor’s credentials and experience, you are mostly paying for the tutor’s time. Although in-home tutoring is billed on an hourly basis, your tutor commits significantly more time to each session than the hour he or she spends with you.

In my personal experience, I found that for every hour I spent working with a student, I would spend another hour traveling. Scheduling clients throughout the week was always tricky, and even the most optimal schedule rarely allowed me to see more than 4 students on a particular day, or fit in more than 16 hours worth of sessions per week, weekends included.

Other tutors that I’ve spoken to or worked with face similar constraints. Even at $100/hr, after figuring in self-employment taxes, the cost of private health insurance, and the fairly dry summer months, the average tutor’s yearly income is not that impressive.

Most tutors, and certainly all good ones, love working with their students and don’t choose to tutor to become wealthy – the rates they charge are, more than anything else, an economic necessity to keep doing the job that they love.

Boutique Tutors – $200/hr or more

What about those hyper-expensive tutors, the ones that charge hundreds of dollars for each hour of their time? Are they worth it?

I can’t answer this definitively since I haven’t worked with any of them personally, but it’s hard for me to imagine that they are.

Working with a tutor is a process of learning that takes time, and, like the old analogy, learning is much more like baking a cake than running a race. A tutor can motivate, support, and help, but ultimately each person learns at their own pace. Just like how setting your oven to 1200 degrees won’t bake your cake three times as fast, a boutique tutor that charge three times as much as another simply can’t make you absorb a difficult concept three times faster without performing some sort of Vulcan mind-meld.

My Recommendations

It is often said that you get what you pay for, but the tutoring market doesn’t quite work that way. If you don’t live in New York City and can’t hire us, make sure you consider what is really important to you when hiring a tutor.

If budgeting is a concern, know that there are many talented junior tutors out there with rates you can probably afford. You’ll just have to do the legwork and find them before they get established.

For those that can afford them, professional tutors are established, competent, and they get the job done. Make sure you hire them early in the year, as their schedules fill up quickly.

For those with unlimited budgets, there are many boutique tutors out there that claim to perform magic. If you find one that truly can, I’d love to hear about it!

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Alex Friedman
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