Finding a Tutor the Smart Way: Avoid These Common Traps

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These days, students are under more pressure than ever, so it’s not surprising that most parents will, at some point, wonder how to find a tutor for their child. However, most parents don’t realize that there are hidden drawbacks to the most common methods of finding a tutor. Luckily, these traps are easy to avoid, if you know to look for them.

Here are the three most common paths to finding great tutors, and the pitfalls parents encounter along the way.

Family or Friend Referrals

Getting referred to a tutor by someone you know is probably the most predictable of the three methods, as chances are that your friends or family members won’t lie to you about the quality of the tutor (unless you’re asking a particularly vindictive frenemy). So if you can get your co-worker to cough up the name of the tutor who helped their Harvard-bound student, that’s a great place to start. The issue with these kinds of recommendations is that a tutor who was effective with a friend’s child may be the wrong fit for yours. Even two students with similar grades may be facing completely different sets of challenges. So don’t just get one recommendation and stop there! The big trap of getting personal referrals is being afraid to try out a few other tutors or feeling like you have to work with a tutor you’ve been recommended. Don’t get caught!

School Suggestions

Your school guidance counselor and/or college admissions department are good places to look for suggestions as well. They have a built-in incentive to get your child the best grades (in order to make themselves look good), and they probably know the local tutoring and education ecosystem extremely well. The downside to going through schools is that, as members of this “edu-system,” they sometimes have relationships with tutors and companies that can impact which resources they recommend. This can come in many forms: teachers who tutor the SAT or ACT, local organizations that have ties to PTA’s or guidance counselors, and entrenched test prep and tutoring companies (many of which offer free tests through the school). Although these connections may not necessarily lead to a bad tutor, it’s always important to take them with a grain of salt. So remember that while your guidance counselor's tutoring recommendation may be in your best interest, it may also be in there’s.

Online Research

A third way to find the right tutor for you is to simply do your own research on the world wide web. The downside here is obvious – you can’t trust anything you read online to be 100% true. The upside? You will have access to many more potential tutors, and have a lot more flexibility when it comes to teaching-style, price and lesson format. To find tutors in your area, you can start by turning to (the almighty) Google, and searching with your town or zip code. Depending on your area, you can also look on Yelp or Angie’s List for highly reviewed companies. There are also tutoring marketplaces like my company, Smart Alec, that will allow you to find vetted, local private tutors. When searching for tutors online, you’re going to want to pay extra attention to a tutor’s academic background (did they go to a great school?), their experience (how long have they been tutoring, is this what they do as their main source of income, how many hours a week?) and student and parent testimonials. Chances are if a tutor has an impressive background, seems like an expert, and can produce actual recommendations from students and parents (either quotes or, even better, references for you to call), they’re actually as good as they seem. When looking online, just be sure to be careful; if something doesn’t smell right, it pays to stay away!

All three of these methods are perfectly good ways to find great educators in your area. While getting a recommendation from a friend or family member is in some ways the most reliable, there are plenty of cases when asking your school or doing a little bit of online digging can yield academic gold. Regardless of how you find a tutor, you should always trust your instincts - because no matter who recommended a tutor, how much your guidance counselor loves them or how great their website looks, no one knows your child better than you do.

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