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The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Tutor

Sometimes college students need a little bit of extra help with their coursework, and they may turn to the services of a tutor. But not all tutors are created equally. Find out how to hire the best tutor for your needs and the qualities you should look for when selecting one.

Author: Timon Kaple
Editor: STEPS Staff
Reviewer: Dr. Kaple

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When it comes to school work and academic progress, students across the globe now find themselves in a tough situation because of the pandemic. As if school wasn’t challenging enough for young learners and college students, there are now school closings, travel restrictions, and complex home school/virtual classroom technologies that introduce new variables. Many students are now getting extra help from tutors, whether online or in-person, to make sure they’re meeting their school’s demands. Aside from pandemic-related issues, tutoring also helps them learn concepts and subjects more thoroughly, better preparing them for their future.

These COVID-19 challenges come on top of an already tenuous situation. Khan Academy reports that nearly 617 million children today lack basic reading and math skills. Luckily, there are many tutoring options out there to help you or your children excel during these tough times. This guide offers support, guidance, and resources to make sure both students and parents know where to start when looking for a tutor, tips for finding the right tutor and knowing where to look, and ways to find low-cost or even free tutoring services.

Assessing Your Own or Your Student’s Needs

The need for a tutor can manifest in virtually any number of ways. You or your child might need assistance with one particular subject or want to learn how to improve your academic performance more generally. You might also be struggling with a learning disability and could use some extra help. Here’s some topics to consider as you’re assessing your own or your student’s academic needs and the possibility of a tutor.

Needs a Little Academic Help

Some students just need a little guidance or a push in the right direction to earn higher grades across the board. Tutors can give them that extra boost by helping them understand the nuances of a particular subject, think through complex ideas, or locate the best resources that will result in top-notch work.

Needs Significant Academic Help

Learners can have significant issues in one or more subjects and need some serious support. A tutor can serve as a lifeline for them, making sure they get through a particular class or even a whole semester or academic year successfully. In this way, tutors keep students from falling behind, acquiring poor grades on their academic record, or having to retake a class. The investment in a tutor for this demographic is well worth it, as repeating classes or whole semesters is a costly detour en route to graduation.

Needs Assistance with Technology

With the prevalence of technology in the classroom today, learners can get overwhelmed when using multiple learning platforms, various computer software, participating in online discussions, and other online requirements. Tutors can assist students in navigating the digital learning domain and offer help in both academic subjects and learning strategies. Similar to more traditional coaching in study skills and test-taking strategies, tutors can also help remote students be more effective participants in nontraditional online settings, meet the demands of online coursework, and get the most out of their remote learning experience.

Learning Styles

It’s widely known and well-documented by education experts that students have different learning styles. Some learners may need some more one-on-one learning or facetime with an instructor than others, and this is difficult to get in nontraditional settings. This especially holds true for learners who do not have family members or friends available to assist them with their schoolwork while under COVID-19 restrictions. Effective tutors are skilled at determining and catering to students’ learning styles and significantly improve their academic performance and morale. Students may also not know which learning styles actually work for them. Again, tutors can be quite effective in these cases, and provide students with the skills to succeed in all of their academic endeavors moving forward.

Procrastination or Avoidance

It’s difficult to work from home for just about anyone. It can be especially challenging for younger students who have a hard time prioritizing tasks and avoiding distractions or general procrastination. Tutors can keep you or your student stay on-task and offer time management techniques that will make your remote learning efforts more effective and productive.

Steps to Finding the Perfect Tutor

There’s no one-size-fits-all tutoring program out there. You’ll need to follow a few steps so that you or your child can locate the best possible tutoring scenario that meets your personal and academic needs. Also, you’ll want to find something that fits your budget. Here are the vital steps you’ll need to take to find a rewarding and practical tutoring experience.

Step 1 Understand what you need and are looking for in a tutor

One of the best ways to get started on your search for a tutor is to know what you’re looking for. It can be helpful to make a list of what a good tutor would look like for you or your student. Consider asking yourself:

  • Is there anything in particular that I can identify as a specific need or problem for the student?
  • What are my goals for this endeavor?
  • What details can I provide about my or my student’s learning styles and any potential ailments, disabilities, or obstacles that might play a factor in their performance as a student?

Whether the tutor is for you or your student, some good questions will come to mind quickly. During this time of COVID-19 restrictions, you’ll also want to gauge your level of comfort with in-person tutoring options. While many learners are still pursuing their education and tutoring support entirely online, you might be the kind of student who would like to have at least a few in-person tutoring sessions. This is important information that you need to know in advance before trying to secure a tutor.

Step 2 Know where to look for the right tutor

You’ll be able to locate tutors in a variety of locations, both online and through local resources. Your options may vary a little bit depending on whether you’re looking for K-12 learners or for college students. Here’s a list of places to consider searching:

Colleges and Universities

  • If you are a college student, one of the first places to look for tutoring help is through one of your school’s student support centers. These offices go by any number of different names, but keep an eye out for those that advertise as a counseling center, academic support center, academic achievement center, or tutoring center.
  • You might also find that specific academic areas sometimes receive dedicated tutoring centers, including math, writing, chemistry, and foreign languages.
  • Be sure to contact your student support center to get more information on specialized tutoring options.

In-School Tutors and Other Students

  • For K-12 learners, some of your best academic resources might be right under your nose. Check with the guidance office or someone in the school administration on how to find out more about tutoring services that are provided by the school. Both public and private institutions will either have someone on-staff or hire an outside service to make tutoring readily available to students in need.
  • Alternatively, you can ask other students in your class to give you a hand. Many students enjoy helping others and will offer tutoring for free or a small fee for their time.

Online sources

  • There’s an overwhelming number of online resources for tutoring out there. To start, stick with those that are hosted or endorsed by time-tested companies in education such as the Princeton Review’s Tutor.com.
  • There’s also good lists of online tutoring websites by trusted companies like Good Housekeeping.

Community Resources and Nonprofit Organizations

  • Many parents and students have success finding local tutoring co-ops in their communities. Since there are multiple tutors working in these co-ops, this often a great affordable option that usually comes with some scheduling flexibility.
  • Local universities may offer tutoring services for younger learners and students who aren’t enrolled in the school. Alternatively, college students in your area might offer tutoring services and advertise through a university’s online community board or classifieds.
  • Nonprofit organizations and public libraries in your area might offer free or discounted tutoring services for students of all ages. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America offer a variety of academic success programs, from tutoring in specific subjects to studying skills coaching and more. Find a Boys and Girls Club near you.

Step 3 Research Your Options

Now that you’ve determined who you need and where you can look, it’s time to find those tutors. Narrow down the above info based on your student’s needs, then do some digging to find out the following:

  • Tutor’s Credentials: What level of education or experience do you want your tutor to have? Bear in mind that expertise like a Ph.D. in one field does not necessarily prepare someone to teach students in another area. A tutor with an excellent track record and at least a few years of experience is a good start.
  • Teaching philosophy and methodology: We’ve all had teachers that we really connected with, and many of their words continue to come back to us years later. This effectiveness comes down to their teaching philosophy and methodologies. Find out what’s important to your prospective tutors, what teaching methods and strategies they employ, and if they have the flexibility within that to meet the needs of each unique student.
  • References: When possible, check a tutor’s references. Most tutors who work for established education companies, schools, or colleges and universities have passed a background check and other screenings. In less formal situations, be sure to ask prospective tutors for a list of references.

Step 4 Choose Your Tutor

Once you decide on the tutor, you’ll need to agree to the following:

  • Desired Outcomes: It’s important that you and your tutor are on the same page about what needs to be accomplished. You’ll need to discuss this before the first session.
  • Scheduling: How frequently, and for how long, will you or your student meet with the tutor? Usually tutors will have recommendations on this.
  • Lesson Plans: Find out what the format of each tutoring session will look like. Will this change per meeting or is there an expected format you’ll follow? The tutor should give you at least a general idea of what this will look like before you begin.
  • Meeting Place: Will tutoring sessions take place in-person, online, or in a combination of the two?
  • Cost: How much does each session cost, how frequently do you need pay (per session, weekly, monthly, etc.).
  • Supplies: Find out what materials you’ll need to make progress each session. Will you need a book, specific software, other specialized items?

Step 5 Monitor Progress

How will you know if the tutoring is helping? Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

For Parents:

  • Communication: If your child is attending tutoring sessions, how will you communicate with the tutor on their progress and receive updates?
  • Attend a session: Whether online or in-person, you can sit-in on a session to get a good feel for how it’s going, check out the teaching methods they’re using, ask your own questions, and more.
  • Ask for feedback: It might not seem like something you should have to ask for, but never be afraid to ask a tutor for an update on your student’s progress.

For Adult Students:

  • Progress discussions: In addition to asking for updates, it can be helpful to have a separate phone call or meeting that is meant for discussing your progress and any other details outside of learning the content for school. This dedicated time is usually quite helpful because it’s more relaxed and not focused on learning something for class or preparing for a standardized test.
  • Grades: Openly discuss grades with your tutor. They should be kept up to date on any changes in your grades, for better or worse.

Tutoring FAQ

Q: Where can I get free tutoring?

A: Depending your tutoring needs, you can likely find some free options out there. Many organizations with volunteer tutors such as Learn to Be, local libraries, and some YMCAs, to name a few, offer free online or in-person tutoring. You can also find free homework hotlines, which are available by phone or text, like this one in Tennessee. Ask teachers and school administrators in your area if you’re having a difficult time locating a free tutoring service.

Q: How much does a tutor cost?

A: The cost of a tutor varies, depending on your academic needs, how long you meet with them, and how frequently you meet. While some services are free, private tutoring can range from $45 an hour and higher.

Q: Will I be getting extra homework, on top of what I already have for school, from my tutor?

A: This depends on the tutor and the subjects you need help with. Oftentimes, tutors that are helping you with a particular subject area or concept that you’re working on for class will not give you additional work. For those learners who are preparing for standardized tests of some kind, such as the ACT, SAT, GRE, etc., you can expect to have additional work to complete between your tutoring sessions.

Q: Will my teachers be notified that I’ve gone to see a tutor?

A: In most cases, no, your teachers will not know if you’ve met with a tutor. Some parents request that their student’s tutors keep their teachers up-to-date on their progress. Also, if you happen to locate a tutor for your child through the school, there’s the possibility that, depending on the school’s policies, that the teachers will know. For college students, tutoring services are separate from academic departments, and your professors will likely have no knowledge of your work with a tutor.

Q: What if I want to get ahead in a subject that I know I’ll be taking next semester; can I get tutoring help now in preparation?

A: For college students, this is usually not an option when you seek out tutoring services through your school. Those learners who meet with tutors that aren’t associated with their college or university certainly have the freedom to work on topics they anticipate encountering in the future.

Nine Qualities of a Great Tutor


Patience: One of the most important qualities a tutor can possess is patience. Great tutors understand that students come from different backgrounds and educational histories, so all of them work at different paces. They need to be calm and display patience in their teaching methods, ability to listen to students, and through their body language.


Flexibility: Tutors need to show some flexibility with their students, especially when it comes to learning styles and the rate at which they progress through content. Great tutors are able to adapt their instruction methods to meet the needs of their learners. Students who feel like they’re forced to change their learning approach entirely are much less likely to have a valuable learning experience with a tutor.


Creativity: For many learners, especially young students, school can feel monotonous and less engaging than other things in their lives. Skilled tutors come up with ways to make subject matter more interesting and even fun.


Professionalism: Whether they’re working with young students or learners in college, tutors need to maintain a strong level of professionalism and a teacher-student dynamic. While there’s certainly a social component to their interactions with students, effective tutors keep good boundaries and focus the majority of their energy on making their sessions with students focused and productive. At the same time, students often enjoy working with tutors that they can relate to on some level. With this in mind, great tutors offer a good balance of relatability and a relaxed demeanor while offering firm guidance through lesson materials.


Confidence: All skilled and effective teachers, whether online or in-person, can display very palpable confidence without seeming arrogant. A tutor’s confidence in their abilities to support their students goes a long way and generates a level of trust.


Resourceful and Tech-Savvy: There’s a vast amount of resources out there today, both online and in hard copy formats, that can help students progress more quickly and effectively. A great tutor knows where to locate new and valuable resources given each student’s needs and can incorporate multimodal technologies when the tutoring situation calls for it.


Humility: Especially when it comes to working with older students on complex topics, great tutors know when to say they’re unsure about an answer or academic problem. Responsible tutors are then able to investigate the problem on their own time and report back to the student with an educated answer or follow-up. This shows students that the tutor is honest and wants to take the time to find the correct answers instead of guessing.


Enthusiasm: Students of all ages typically respond well to tutors who have great energy and a positive outlook. Especially during tough times like the COVID-19 pandemic, students can benefit greatly, both emotionally and academically, from a tutor’s enthusiasm for their work together.


Attentiveness to Emotional Changes: Great tutors know that a student’s mood and behavior will change from session to session. It’s important for tutors to be sensitive to these variables and adjust their teaching and communication styles accordingly. Students of all ages can feel serious pressure to perform well in school, on top of additional social and familial pressures, and tutors can be supportive while helping them progress through the necessary material.

Insight from an Education and Tutoring Expert


Dr. Kaple

Dr. Kaple is a writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in the humanities from Indiana University-Bloomington. He has worked as a private tutor and possesses over 15 years of experience as a teacher and student mentor.

1. What are some of the lesser-known advantages of tutoring, besides working to better understand singular subject areas?

When students or parents look into tutoring, they often have one or a couple subjects in mind that they want help with. That’s great, and that’s certainly a reason to pursue tutoring. Often overlooked, however, are the additional benefits that come along with guidance from an excellent tutor. In addition to sharpening their skills in a particular subject area, students will also develop better time management, critical-thinking, organizational, and communication skills. All of these things positively affect other academic subjects and general study habits, but they’re also helpful tools for life outside of school.

2. Our guide here talks about some of the personal traits and qualities that really matter in a tutor. What matters to you on this subject?

A holistic approach to teaching and tutoring goes a long way. In my experience, it’s always beneficial to approach a tutoring session as a two-part challenge. Firstly, there’s the challenge to address the particular scholastic issues in question, whether that’s writing, math, social studies, or ACT test prep. Secondly, tutors are in a unique position to offer a mode of education that will help inform students’ work in other school subjects and their life outside the classroom. I know this can be difficult for some tutors based on their teaching styles, but even a personal anecdote or a creative analogy can help students make valuable connections between their studies and personal or social lives when they go back out into the world. This is an oversimplification, but there’s ways to help students make practical connections like this in many scenarios and topics. When young students learn how to count money and make change with fake coins and dollars, for example, they see that there’s a real world application for this thing they’re working on. It’s helpful when students ask, “When are we ever going to need to know this?” Well, why would you need to learn how to write a coherent and effective argument in English class? A well-written argument can make all the difference when you’re applying for a job, applying for a grant, trying to get a spot in international studies or exchange program, applying for graduate school, and the list goes on.

3. What can parents and students do to make sure they find a good tutor for their needs?

With so many tutoring options out there today, it’s okay to do some shopping, take a few sessions with several different teachers, and choose the best one for you. I know that’s not always an option, since sometimes students are in a time crunch and need some help immediately. Also, it can be fairly expensive to try out a handful of tutors if you’re going that route. That being said, if you or your student wants to try working with a few different tutors to see what works best, I’d run with that impulse, check out some recommendations, and do your best to make it happen.

4. When I sign up with a tutor, will I need to follow their lead or will I need to bring them new work to assist me with each time?

This depends on your tutor and goals. Some of those established organizations that specialize in tutoring and standardized test prep have pre-determined curricula that you’ll follow, especially if you’re preparing for a standardized test like the ACT. If you’re getting one-on-one help on a particular academic subject, the schedule or curriculum depends on your tutor and the agreement you have about progress, new material, reviewing old material, etc.

5. What advice would you give to students who are new to receiving tutoring help?

This might seem obvious but, as the student, you really need to keep up with work. Whether it’s something you tutor assigns for you as extra work or it’s your regular school work that you plan to discuss with them, do your best to stay on top of it. Of course, there’s situations when you won’t be sure how to complete something, but it’s the best practice to make an attempt and try to work it out on your own before presenting it to your tutor.

Tutoring Resources

  1. Sylvan Learning: Sylvan offers online and in-person tutoring for learners of all ages. They have learning centers across the country and offer both personalized tutoring for school subjects and test preparation.
  2. VeryWell Family: This recently updated list offers several options for free and low-cost tutoring.
  3. KTS Tutoring Services: Offering test preparation and tutoring services, Cindy Kaplan offers one-on-one, small class, and online tutoring in most academic subjects.
  4. Kumon: Kumon provides math and reading programs for several age ranges. Students can participate in these hybrid programs, which is a mixture of online and in-person tutoring.
  5. Tutor.com: Operated by the Princeton Review company, tutor.com boasts well-credentialed tutors, personalized one-on-one tutoring options, and special programs for military families.
  6. Tutor Doctor: Tutor Doctor offers a wide range of classes and one-on-one tutoring for most age groups and students with disabilities.
  7. American Library Association: This ALA site contains a list of cooperative programs between schools and public libraries across the country, many of which offer tutoring services.
  8. Khan Academy: This nonprofit provides free online tutoring for K-12 learners in most academic subjects. They also offer a variety of standardized test preparation courses.
  9. Learn to Be: Students can get one-on-one tutoring through this nonprofit. Learners can also participate in online classrooms. Learn to Be is a pay-what-you-can service.
  10. TutorMe: Get live one-on-one tutoring help using TutorMe’s online lesson space. Your tutors will use the latest technologies to help, including a virtual white board and audio-video chat.