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How to Find the Right Tutor for Your Teen

How to Find the Right Tutor for Your Teen
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When I was first starting out as a tutor, I learned a very important way of filtering through tutors (on in my case, students) to find the best fit.

A method that could help you find your next subject/academic or SAT tutor.

I met with a mom and daughter at a local Starbucks for an initial meet.

Nothing unusual about that.

No, the unusual (to me) part came about 2 minutes in.

After doing the basic 2-minutes of polite “Hi, how are you?”, the mom left, leaving me with the 16-year-old.

At first, I was confused.

Now normally, we would all be sitting down and discussing what the teen needed help on, what her current math class was like, etc.

Instead, the 16-year-old jumped right into the topic she needed help with.

Actually, that’s not true.

She pulled out her latest homework and asked me to check it for mistakes.

Okay, I could do that.

I found a couple and used my pencil to lightly mark the questions we needed to go back to.

Then she said the magic words, “The tutor we talked to yesterday didn’t find any of those mistakes. She told me that it was ‘all fine.’”

Ohhh, she was testing me subject-matter knowledge…. aka my competence.


The tutor she talked to yesterday?

Um, what?

Was this family meeting with different tutors?

How many?

I wasn’t guaranteed this job?!

Up until then, I’d been used to either direct referrals or sort of the “you’re the first person we’ve met, and we get what we get, so I guess you’re our tutor now”- scenarios.

It turns out that the teen and her mom were looking for a long-term tutor, someone who’d work with her for the entire school year.

As such, they’d spent over a week interviewing different people to see who a good fit would be.

As scary as that was – because of course I wanted the job. The teen was awesome, very proactive, and willing to do the work…and because I wanted to get paid. – it was a great strategy to hire the best person for the job.

After all, it was the teenager who would be interacting with the tutor on a regular basis & her grades depended on her tutor-student dynamic, so doing trial runs with different tutors made sense.

With that said, I was compensated for my time.

Every previous person they’d met with had been as well.

We just weren’t promised a future tutoring session.

Thankfully, not only did I get the job, but I ended with working with her younger sister for about 3 years after that.

I still keep in touch with the girls, and even after years of memories, it’s still that first meet that stands out.

Honestly, once I learned the “interview your tutor” lesson, I started to use it myself to interview potential clients.

I started suggesting that we do an initial meeting or trial session then decide if we wanted to move forward.

It would give me an idea of just the type of student I could end up tutoring.

Because there were definitely types of students I didn’t want.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

See, a lot of times, parents want their teens to seek out extra help, however, the teen has zero interest in doing so.

They’re doing it because they’re pushed to.

Based on previous experience, those tutoring sessions would consist of teens doing the bare minimum, moaning & groaning/clock watching, while trying to have me indirectly do their homework for them.

That just wasn’t happening.

So, how can you find the right tutor for your teen?

Here are a few points you should be aware of:

1. Price does not indicate credibility.

An average subject tutor can cost anywhere from $20-90/hr, and an SAT or ACT tutor can cost twice, even 5x-10x the rate (test prep rates can vary dramatically).

It’s tempting to go only for the expensive tutors, after all, if they can charge that much for a session, they must be good, right?

Nope, not necessarily.

Does an expensive price tag provide instant validity?

No, not at all.

Tutors base their pricing on what the clients in the location are willing to pay. In larger cities, the prices may be on the more expensive side while smaller cities and towns provide more affordable rates.

Fun fact: In New York City, SAT tutors can charge as much as $700+ per hour.

Nope, I’m not making that up.

So, even if price isn’t the issue, how do you know that a tutor is good at what he/she does?

Check out the other factors to consider.

2. Not all those who claim to be tutors can teach/tutor.

It doesn’t matter if they’ve been doing the job for 20 years.

Now, that’s not to say they don’t know the content, because they probably do.

In fact, they may be masters at it, but they may not be the best at communicating it to another person.

On a scale of 1 (lowest) – 10 (best), their knowledge basis may be Level 10, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to take it back to basics and explain it to a student at Level 2.

That is a surprisingly common issue.

So, do what my student did. Walk in prepared. Have the topic(s) you want to work on ready to go, along with any homework, worksheets, etc.

I’ve had a lot of students who’ve pulled the “I don’t know what I want to work on” card, which then led us to spending (wasting) time figuring out what the upcoming topics, tests, and priorities were.

Make sure you use your time wisely.

Have a topic ready-to-go and have the tutor explain it.

Did you understand the tutor’s explanation?

Was it clear or did you both go around in circles?

If you’re a parent reading this, leave your teen & the tutor to their work. It might be a good idea to bring your own work with you and sit a bit of a distance away.

Give them space.


3. The tutor-student “vibe” is important!

A stronger tutor-student relationship means that a student will feel comfortable & proactive about asking for help.

I’ve had students text me 3-5 days before our session about the topics we needed to cover because they happened to come across it.

That’s great. I can make a note of it before my student potentially forgets.

I’ve also had students text just to vent about their math test, SAT hw, parents, etc.

While the work itself may not be fun, the dynamic allows students to feel comfortable asking questions, scheduling sessions, and increases the likelihood of them at least trying to complete their homework (primarily SAT-related)) amongst all the other work.

So, depending on just how long the tutoring process is meant to last, be sure to invest time (and money) in finding the right tutor-student chemistry.


4. Open communication among the parent, teen, and tutor.

In this whole interaction, it is very important that the expectations are set in advance. My students know that while we may joke around & talk about what’s happening in school, we have a certain amount of work that needs to be completed.

SAT students are also aware that if they want to reach their target scores, then roughly half an hour’s worth of homework needs to be completed almost every night. Doing it all last minute will not be as effective (think of it as training for a marathon, you don’t just do a 10-mile run once per week, but nothing on the other days. You train every day.)

On top of that, parents & students need to communicate expectations, and parents, you should feel comfortable reaching out to the tutor with questions, especially if you’re working on college-related stuff.

Bottom line: Find a tutor who everyone feels comfortable regularly communicating/updating.

It doesn’t have to be a formal method of communicating, like e-mail. It may be easier to just text. The point is to have open lines of communication.

I’ll admit, this used to be (and still is) my weakness.

I do really well with the students but more often than not, I tend to rely on the parents to reach out to me with questions, as opposed to reaching out myself to provide updates.

While I’m working on it, the tutor-client dynamics that tend to thrive are when parents text me once per month (or as needed) with questions. Then, I happily type out paragraphs or schedule calls.


5. Produces Results

This one is a bit hard to gauge because it takes time.

If a student has been scheduling regular sessions and putting in genuine effort, then you should see results within the first 10-15 hours of tutoring.

With that said, those hours involve consistent tutoring.

If you’re on a more sporadic schedule, then it’ll be more difficult to see immediate results, especially since the tutor never fully had a chance to set a schedule and a rhythm.

Those scenarios can actually be a bit rough (and scary), because while parents are expecting results, students who are seriously struggling and meeting every other week aren’t going to produce any.

I’ve had that happen with SAT students.

Since SAT prep follows a curriculum, if students cancel multiple tutoring sessions (due to schoolwork, sports, and other legitimate reasons), then they fall behind…and unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about it.

Of course, when trying to identify if a tutor produces results, you can always ask for references, and follow up with them.

So, those are the major categories to consider if you’re looking for a tutor. Now that we have that out of the way, the next question is inevitably “Great, now how do I find these tutors to interview?”



1) Word-of-mouth

Most of my students have either been referrals or we’ve met at one of the various presentations I’ve done at local libraries.

Referrals from a parent-teen perspective are great because someone has already vetted this tutor for you.


2) Online

Try It’s basically like a but for tutors. You can find tutors in your area (or online) who specialize in the subjects that you have questions in. Hourly rates also vary, so you can generally find an affordable tutor.

Again, meet with a couple of them before you decide.


3) Tutoring Centers

Tutoring centers or companies are definitely an obvious option, however, DO NOT consider them to be done deals.

Same as I mentioned before, interview the tutors.


Because tutors, even those who work for private companies, are NOT generally provided with any sort of training. They simply get to exercise the knowledge they walk in with.

In fact, for a lot of companies, “qualifying” may simply mean taking a paper-based test on a certain subject- which while helpful, does not mean they are good communicators of the subject.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider test prep companies or private tutoring companies, I’m simply stating that you still have to “interview” your tutor to see if he/she really is a good match.


4) Near universities

College/grad students are always looking for extra cash, and while it’s tempting to get a tutor with the most experience but don’t discount college/grad students.


Because they’ve recently been through the same experiences/classes so on top of tutoring, they can help curb some of the anxiety and stress that comes with the process.

So, check out the job boards around the local universities – at the coffee shops, grocery stores, food places, etc, near universities.

As for how this “interview” or first meet should go, here’s a recommendation: 




 1. Spend 5-10 min getting to know one another. Remember, you are both strangers to each other at this stage.

Questions to ask: teaching/tutoring style, if the tutor will assign homework, session length, subject matter knowledge, communication style (text/call/email).

2. Information to provide: any medical information that can impact student’s engagement in the tutoring (ADHD, ADD, anxiety, etc), learning styles, previous grades/scores in the subject.

3. Let your teen be the judge. He/she has to do the work so it’s crucial to have their buy-in. Otherwise, I’ll get a student who repeatedly shows up with incomplete homework. It’s a lose-lose for everyone.

4. Get straight to work. After the 5-10 min intro, I recommend that the parents leave the teen-tutor alone to work. Parents are welcome to sit somewhere nearby but give them space to figure out their dynamics.

Also, teens should walk in prepared with the topic that needs to be worked on.

Killing time while you figure it out is just awkward…at least the first time we meet. After that, it’s no big deal.



Finding the right tutor can be a process. If you’re planning to establish a long-term working relationship with the tutor, then it’s important to find the right person.

As such, it’s important to start looking for a tutor right when you feel that a particular subject could give your teen trouble. Don’t wait until you’re in deep trouble and struggling because then you might be “stuck” with the most obvious tutor – and their pricing.

Remember, you can always find a good tutor then continue on an ad hoc (as needed) basis, so be sure to take your time, interview multiple individuals, and find the best fit for your teen.

Hope this helps, and good luck on your search =)

Talk soon!