Parents hire online tutors to help students with a range of needs, from keeping up with elementary school lessons to preparing for the ACT or SAT.
With the widespread social distancing brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, online tutors are drawing more interest. Finding the right tutor can take some time, however, because there are many options.
As you research online tutors, consider what is most appropriate for your student, what you can afford, and the track record of the tutor or tutoring service, among other factors. Are you looking for a long-term coaching relationship to provide academic help for your student or some quick assistance to boost test scores in a difficult class? Would an educational website or software program be enough to prepare a student for the coming year or does he or she need a personalized tutor?
Use this guide to determine what type of online tutoring you need and where to find it.
An online tutor can provide the boost your student needs to succeed in the classroom.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed education across the country, moving classes designed for an in-school environment online. That change has put parents in a more active role in their child’s day-to-day learning, and some might seek online help.
The right online tutor uses expertise and technology to provide just what the student needs, whether it’s guidance for a particularly challenging Spanish lesson or overall help with study and test-taking skills.
Some tutoring services provide ongoing one-on-one meetings between tutors and students, while also offering 24/7 on-demand services to provide help before tests. The larger a company’s roster of tutors, the more likely a student can get personalized help from experts in a particular topic.
“Many people have the misperception that online tutoring is a software program where the student interacts with a computer program,” says Rich Enos, CEO and co-founder of StudyPoint, which offers online and in-person tutoring. “In reality, it’s identical to face-to-face tutoring where your child works with a private instructor in a live session, except that rather than meeting over a desk or kitchen table, they’re meeting in a virtual classroom with a whiteboard and shared screen that enables them to work together through the subject matter at hand.”
Online tutoring also has a logistical edge over in-person tutoring – instead of requiring a parent to bring a student across town for a session, no one has to leave home.
“With online tutoring, getting a student to a session is very literally as simple as a click of a button,” says Brian Galvin, chief academic officer of Varsity Tutors.
Online tutoring can range from weekly one-on-one sessions between a student and tutor to a website or software program that a student can engage with at any time.
An independent tutor might be a current or retired educator with expertise in a particular subject area. Some tutors might simply set up a video connection to communicate with students, as that might be all that’s needed for lessons. Larger tutoring services offer online platforms that allow for enhanced interaction between students and tutors, including whiteboardlike technology.
While software programs can benefit students – especially if they are geared toward their grade level – parents need to decide whether these programs can keep their students engaged with academics between school years. However, online videos from free services such as the Khan Academy could be just enough for a student who needs help with a tricky math concept. Also, many libraries have been offering online tutoring options during recent school closings.
Personalized Study Plan
Number of Subjects Offered
|Private Online Tutor||$||Yes
|Online Tutoring Company||$$||Yes||Yes||Many||Yes|
|Educational Apps, Websites and Games||Free/$||No||No||Many||No|
A private online tutor could be a local retired teacher referred by another parent or a tutoring expert in a particular subject who lives across the country or the world. Given that range of options, make sure the tutor has the necessary credentials, materials and technological savvy to help your student.
“When online tutoring is done poorly, it looks a lot like tutoring by phone, with minimal visual aids and not a lot of interaction, Galvin says. “And therefore there’s a lot lost in translation by not being in the same room.”
You can see whether the tutor has acceptable credentials, such as a degree in the area in which he or she is tutoring as well as past teaching experience. You may also want to look at the tutor’s track record.
Your student’s needs could influence whether you hire a private online tutor for personalized one-on-one instruction instead of a tutor through a major online provider. For example, a private tutor who lives in your community might be highly experienced in a particular subject, with a track record of helping local students in similar situations.
Parents can choose from a variety of companies that offer online tutoring. Some companies also focus on in-person tutoring, so they might provide access to locally based tutors as well as experts from around the country.
“You’re not limited to whoever’s available in your town but instead can work with truly passionate and experienced experts from anywhere in the country,” Galvin says. “The pool of available tutors is exponentially increased, making it easy to find someone who’s free at the exact times you want, who shares interests with your student to make lessons engaging and who has deep experience teaching that subject at that level.”
Many companies also rely on their own online platform and course materials – and possibly their own curriculum – for tutoring programs. Some services are available online 24/7, to help with last-minute preparation for a test, for example.
To make sure the tutor is a good fit, companies will ask about the type of help your student needs and try to match him or her with a professional tutor who specializes in that area. Some, like Varsity Tutors, make an educational director available to students and parents during the tutoring engagement.
Educational Websites, Apps and Games
There are many resources available online that are either free or require a membership for access. But the efficacy of educational sites depends on the student’s academic goals, whether the student is ready for self-study, and whether the software or website provides enough relevant information.
For example, a free online instructional video could assist a student stuck on a particular theory or problem, but its ability to provide constant, personalized academic help is limited. A fun education-focused website might entertain an elementary school student for a few hours each week, but it might not provide the specific academic support the student needs.
Parents looking into self-paced instructional options can compare websites to see which ones might be most valuable for their students.
Here are some of the pros of hiring an online tutor:
Personalized expertise. Rather than limit your search to tutors living nearby, you can choose from tutors across the country who have the precise educational experience that’s most valuable for your student.
Availability. The flexibility of online tutoring, which might include on-demand sessions, allows busy families to schedule a time and day that works for them, without leaving the house.
Structure. During the summer and other times when students are not in school, a regular tutoring appointment with a study plan can help students stay on track for their grade level.
In-home technological learning. Advanced learning platforms let students study in a collaborative workspace and record the session for later discussion with the tutor or for self-review.
Here are some of the cons of hiring an online tutor:
Lack of engagement. An online tutoring experience might not prove effective, whether it’s because the tutor isn’t a good match, the teaching format is not conducive to the subject matter, or the website or software isn’t engaging or relevant.
Technological difficulties. Many people do not have strong broadband connections or the appropriate computer equipment, which can make it difficult to build engagement with and learn from a tutor online.
Paying too much. Parents should avoid purchasing more services than they really need.
Lack of personalization. Certain online learning tools such as websites and software might not give students the specific assistance that’s best for them.
Online tutoring pricing will depend on the types of services needed. For example, a series of weekly one-on-one meetings with a personalized tutor will be more expensive than a few quick sessions to prepare for a test.
Some companies will put together a personalized package for each student that also includes online resources. Generally, tutors and companies bill by time or access.
Hour: For students in sixth through 12th grades, The Princeton Review offers packages that can range from $60 to $75 per hour.
Month: Juni Learning programs start at $179, and there are two packages for tutoring based on monthly pricing: $250 for four classes and $450 for eight.
Database access: Chegg Study offers access for $14.95, allowing students to review materials that help them solve tough problems and also to pose questions to experts.
“The costs are pretty straightforward – you will typically pay hourly for the tutor’s time, and you may incur a few one-time costs for things like education materials or a pen tablet to enhance instruction,” Enos says.
There are also free websites that can provide help, such as the Khan Academy, which is a go-to site when students need to quickly figure out an academic problem. Also, students can review thousands of online tutoring videos on HippoCampus and get free reading and math lessons on SmartTutor.
Hiring an online tutor is worth it for parents if they have a good idea of what their students’ academic needs are and set reasonable expectations.
A common goal of online tutoring is for a student’s grades to improve by the time the tutoring is finished. Some companies highlight their ability to do that. For example, The Princeton Review says 96% of students it worked with improved their grades, based on a 2016 survey. Varsity Tutors offers guarantees related to some standardized tests and has a satisfaction guarantee for personalized grade-school tutoring. Also, many tutoring services will provide testimonials from satisfied students and parents.
Other examples of specific tutoring goals set by parents, students and tutors include:
- Preparing a student for the next grade level.
- Improving certain study skills to prepare for Advanced Placement classes.
- Exhibiting test-taking success, including preparation skills and overall confidence.
- Building writing or reading comprehension skills.
A tutoring engagement might not work well if:
- There are unrealistic expectations, such as anticipating a student will get perfect grades in all classes or a rarely achieved high standardized test score.
- The student is not engaged and doesn’t participate in the sessions or complete prep work.
- Some of the student’s difficulties are related to issues the tutor cannot address, such as emotional challenges.
Online tutoring needs to be a partnership between the tutor and student, with both committed to achieving the goals set at the beginning of the session.
New students are matched with a tutor, a process that incorporates background information from parents and students. For example, Juni Learning, which focuses on computer science and math, talks with parents about a child’s previous experience with coding or math, learning style, and personality before matching the child with a tutor, says Vivian Shen, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
Parents should make sure the student has a dedicated computer – a desktop or laptop is best – to use during tutoring sessions, which could be run through the computer’s web browser. A webcam, working microphone and high-speed internet connection make the video chats possible. Some companies also offer phone apps, but those are likely best for scheduling and other communications if a larger computer screen is available.
Before tutoring sessions begin, the tutor develops a personalized lesson plan that guides future sessions. For each session, tutors put actionable plans in place to make sure students know what is expected from them, Galvin says. Tutors also anticipate whether to ask leading questions to guide the student or to let the student lead.
“Quality online tutoring begins with a tutor’s plan to make each minute and each example count,” Galvin says.
Technology plays a vital role in academic success as well. It’s best if students and tutors can work together on solving a problem, so students can see how it’s done and do it themselves.
Parents will need to make sure their students complete the schoolwork assigned by the tutor before each session, which might mean more hands-on work for younger students. Tutoring companies encourage feedback during the process to ensure both parents and students are satisfied.
Elementary school is an important time for students to learn the basics in reading, writing and math, and a tutor can help them keep pace so they can build a foundation for future learning.
For example, if a student is struggling in language-related classes in elementary school, tutoring could focus on improvements in reading comprehension and word recognition.
Tutoring for elementary school students can provide needed structure while allowing them to work independently between sessions.
For younger students, it’s important for tutors to concentrate on building passion and excitement about subjects that students might find discouraging, such as math, Shen says.
“Building confidence and interest in the fundamentals is critical since it is the foundation for honors or advanced courses,” Shen says.
Parents can expect tutors to work with students to master concepts important for math and reading, which can help students get through homework, quizzes and tests more successfully. Also, good tutoring can help students concentrate better and build their confidence.
Online tutoring is a perfect fit for elementary school students, Galvin says, because students can participate in short high-energy lessons instead of the longer 45- or 60-minute sessions that might be required by in-person tutoring.
“The streaming video and interactive whiteboards make online tutoring engaging,” which allows younger learners to have educationally focused screen time, Galvin says.
Tutors should have experience with teaching elementary school students as well as with the particular subject areas. They also need to understand how technically savvy young learners can be.
“Kids were born into these technologies, and they’re incredibly comfortable with them – way more so than their parents,” Enos says. “In our experience, online tutoring is applicable to kids across the age spectrum.”
Students face increasing academic responsibilities in middle school and might struggle as they deal with tests, quizzes, and reading and writing assignments.
Tutors should cover study skills to help students improve note-taking and test preparation expertise that will help in high school and college as well.
Likely subjects covered in middle school tutoring include:
- Math. Keeping a student on pace at this stage is important to prepare for algebra, geometry and higher-level work in high school.
- Science. The introduction to scientific concepts can be difficult, and tutoring can help the student adjust to a new way of thinking.
- Reading. A tutor can help build a love for reading, as reading skills and learning new vocabulary words is crucial at this time.
- Writing. Students are expected to organize their thoughts in a logical way while also using correct grammar, and a tutor can help with practice essays and critiques.
- Social studies. Help is available for students who are being introduced to classes that cover history, geography and similar topics.
As academic expectations change from elementary to middle school, they will be different in tutoring sessions as well.
Students will likely be asked to do more work between sessions, “allowing tutors to hone in on specific concepts that need work and the causal factors for why they’re not clicking,” Galvin says. “And they should prepare to do at least half of the work in a tutoring session too, as two of the great benefits of tutoring are personalization and diagnosis – when tutors can react to students’ thought processes and dig deeper into them, that’s when breakthrough moments are most possible.”
A tutor’s experience with middle school students as well as with more advanced math, science, and writing and reading topics are important to consider when selecting a tutor.
High school is a pivotal academic time for students, who need to keep their GPAs as high as possible to prepare for college.
The academic pressure that many students feel can build year after year. AP and honors classes require more homework and test prep, and standardized tests, college tours and the college application process soon dominate everyday conversation.
Study skills are an important part of high school tutoring, as students might be getting their first exposure to high-pressure tests, more intense homework assignments in multiple classes and higher academic expectations overall. Note-taking and organizational skills are a couple of the areas a tutor can work on with a student.
Specific topic areas that could be covered in tutoring include:
- Math. Students need to understand algebra and geometry as preparation for higher-level classes, such as calculus and trigonometry.
- Reading. As reading assignments get more complex and detailed in high school, students will be expected to provide critical analysis and a point of view.
- Writing. Whether they’re writing persuasive or creative essays, students can benefit from feedback and support from a tutor who provides practice assignments.
- Science. Students will likely need to learn principles of chemistry, biology, physics and related topics, which can be challenging.
- Social studies. From the basics in a freshman-level history class to advanced courses in American history, politics and world history, a tutor can help you focus on what’s most important.
High school students will likely have an active role in the tutoring program, completing assignments between sessions and participating quite a bit in the sessions themselves.
“A quality tutoring session means that the student is working and talking every bit as much as the teacher,” Galvin says.
At this stage, students can think critically about what they want to study in college or pursue as a career, “so exploring real-world applications of subjects is critical,” Shen says. “Tactically at this stage, tutors are there to set goal posts and unblock students on problems, but students should be able to work independently on larger amounts of homework and practice for tests.”
Parents could look for a tutor who has experience teaching the subject that’s giving the student trouble and who can assist with study skills.
Standardized test scores are important for students who want to get accepted to their top choice college. There are many tutoring programs available to help students getting ready for college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT, or an AP test.
Tutoring companies offer one-on-one packages for the SAT, ACT or both, often tied with access to online materials – such as practice tests – and recorded videos and classes. Some tutoring programs focus narrowly on particular test topics while more comprehensive ones guarantee a specific minimum score or score improvement.
Some parents prefer to get word-of-mouth references for locally based test tutors, but they need to make sure independent tutors have the curriculum and the technology to make online tutoring successful. Tutoring companies can offer a variety of tutors from across the country, as well as exclusive preparation materials.
Independent tutors and test prep companies also offer AP test tutoring, which could range from a short review to a more comprehensive package.
Tutors and tutoring companies cover a variety of subjects in online sessions, including:
- Math. Pre-algebra, algebra, algebra II, geometry, pre-calculus, calculus, trigonometry and statistics
- Science. Earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology
- English and writing. Reading, literature, essay writing and English as a second language
- Foreign language. French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Russian
- Study skills. Test-taking, organization and note-taking skills
- Computer science. Coding topics, like web programming and app development
- Social studies. U.S. history and world history
- AP courses. Several, including history, science, English and social studies
- Business. Accounting, finance, economics and Microsoft Excel
Choosing an online tutor is a multistep process. Parents must understand what needs their student has and determine which method – whether self-directed or private tutoring – is best. Then, parents must check the credentials and methods of possible tutoring providers.
Here are several factors to consider when choosing a tutor:
Qualifications. Ensure that the tutoring company or an individual tutor you’re considering has experience that’s relevant to the needs of your student. Does the company have a track record of success in the level and subject your child needs?
Check testimonials, get references and see if any statistics back up the company’s claims. Also, how does the tutor lead sessions, work with students and communicate with parents?
Finally, make sure the tutor is adept at teaching how to study – such as by improving organizational skills – not just the subject matter.
“It’s important to make sure that a tutor has been vetted for quality,” Galvin says. “While schoolteachers need to be trained and certified, just about anyone can put up an ad or website and call themselves an online tutor.”
Lesson plans and materials. The lesson plan your tutor creates should be easy to follow and designed to reach your student’s academic goals. Talk to the tutor about how his or her study materials and curriculum fit into the lesson plan.
“Ask how the tutor or program thinks about long-term student success, how they set milestones for students and look at the student’s growth holistically,” Shen says. “Ideally, a great tutor should proactively have a path set out versus reacting to every new project and just patching for students.”
Use of technology. Unlike with in-person tutoring, technology can be vital to the success of online tutoring programs.
“When researching a company, really probe on how much online tutoring they have completed,” Enos says. “Many companies have recently been forced to move online because of COVID-19, but they have very little experience making online instruction effective. Ask what percent of their programs last year were online – that’ll give you a good sense for whether it’s really a core focus of theirs.”
Not all online tutoring is the same, “so it’s important to choose the technology that capitalizes on the power of online interactivity,” Galvin says.
Scheduling. One of the advantages of online tutoring is flexible scheduling. Some services offer a combination of private tutoring with on-demand sessions where a student can ask a few questions while studying for a test.
Parents should ask how scheduling works and what kind of support they can expect outside of a session, Shen says.
Tutor match process. If you are looking to hire an independent tutor, make sure that he or she virtually meets your student and that there is a good rapport. Tutoring services should be able to discuss how they match students with the ideal tutor.
“So much of successful tutoring, like successful teaching and education in general, is student engagement, and a key to success with tutoring is finding the right instructor match,” Enos says. “A strong connection between your child and his or her tutor can drive significantly better results.”