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Paying a tutor to help Junior pass

Want to put your child on the fast track to top grades, the best college and the brightest future? Increasingly, parents are looking to tutors to help give their kids the edge in today's highly competitive educational climate.

Just a generation ago, tutoring was strictly a remedial tool to help students conquer difficult coursework. Baby boomers were stampeding through America's colleges and universities in unprecedented numbers and everyone, it seemed, could make the grade.

Today, however, the children of those highly educated boomers find themselves in just the opposite situation. There's more intense competition, not only for the best schools, but for all post-secondary programs. As a result, the admissions bar has risen dramatically for both grades and SAT scores.

To help their kids clear these educational hurdles, more and more parents are willing to pay the tutoring expense. And getting outside study help no longer carries the cultural stigma of even a few years ago, thanks to:

  • Tougher admission competition even, in some cases, at the preschool level;
  • More students per classroom;
  • Shrinking public school resources;
  • Increased awareness of mentoring; and
  • Improved diagnosis of learning disabilities, some form of which may affect one-quarter of school-age children today.
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"Your intelligence does not equal admission today," says Lisa Jacobson, founder and CEO of Inspirica, a New York-based tutoring firm. "Let's say that you have a school that you want to reach to and 20 years ago you might have been able to get in. You're never going to get in now; it's not going to happen. Then let's say you have a school that's sort of a stretch. That's probably not going to happen either. The one you're probably going to get into is one of your safeties."

The new realities of college choice
According to Inspirica, of the approximately 12 million students who will apply to college this year, only 100,000 of them will be accepted to the nation's top schools. Where an SAT score of 1,200 was the median for entry to an Ivy League school 20 years ago, you'll need a 1,400 or higher for admission to those same schools today. Even valedictorians with 4.0 grade point averages are being turned away.

Technology has further compounded the challenge. Where students a generation ago might have applied to five or six schools, some college-hunters today apply online to 25 or more, resulting in even more competition.

"Usually, parents are frustrated," says Wendy O'dell Magus, spokeswoman for Sylvan Learning Center. "They may have tried some things already and haven't been able to get their child where they want them to be. We still see the majority of our business for kids who need to catch up, but we're seeing an increasing number of students coming in to get ahead."

It's not just the students who need tutoring, according to Paul Edwards, director of business development for Boston-based StudySmart.

"A lot of the SAT work we do involves educating and involving the parents as much as the students," he says.

"Sometimes we act as buffers between the student and the parents," says Edwards. "The parents may have high expectations of the student, and the student's confidence can really be affected by parents who basically have no understanding of why a student is currently a C and not a B+ or an A. We serve as a buffer for those kids and certainly help enable them to gain the confidence in their own ability and build themselves up again."

How much does a private tutor cost?
Outside assistance as a complement to public, private and even home schooling is underscored by the inclusion of free tutoring for low-income students in the federal No-Child-Left-Behind education reforms. But most middle-class parents looking for additional educational help for their children will have to pay.

The bill for a tutor can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending upon the scope of the student's needs and how early in the child's educational career the help is enlisted. Costs also are affected by where you live, where the tutoring will take place (at your home or in a more structured setting) and whether you use an institutional tutor or a freelancer, such as a local college student or schoolteacher who tutors as a sideline job.

If you opt for one of the national educational services, the program and costs tend to be more fixed. Tutoring generally begins with a meeting between the tutor, parents and child, in which specific needs are discussed, goals are set and a schedule of sessions is proposed. The student then takes some form of assessment test to determine his or her current skill level and pinpoint areas that need work. Progress reports are issued periodically, and students are sometimes retested to measure their progress and identify weaknesses.

 

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-- Posted: Feb. 25, 2004
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