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Paying a tutor to help Junior pass -- Page 2

Sylvan charges from $42 to $45 per hour for one-on-one instruction in test prep, academic and study skills. Tutorials are held at its 950 franchised learning centers in the U.S. and Canada. Sylvan recommends a minimum of 36 hours in twice-a-week scheduled sessions. That's a minimum cost of $1,512 to $1,620.

StudySmart charges $60 per hour for in-home, one-on-one tutoring in test prep, academic and study skills, with no hourly minimum. Its typical SAT prep program runs 15 hours over 10 sessions for a cost of $900. It's recommended that students work an additional 45 minutes to one hour outside of the 1.5-hour tutorial sessions for maximum effectiveness. StudySmart is available in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Inspirica charges $125 to $400 per hour for test prep, academic and study skills, and admissions advisory, and is available 24/7 anywhere in the world.

Some firms offer a student loan program through SLM Financial, a subsidiary of Sallie Mae, to help parents foot the bill for pre-college tutoring.

Costs are a bit lower for real-time online tutoring, a method that is gaining in popularity. Sylvan offers live, one-on-one eSylvan tutoring for $37 to $41 per hour. Other live online tutors include Advantage Education and Tutor.com.

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Frugal parents can get more bang for their buck by scheduling tutoring during the summer months. A summer "brain camp" approach is one of the best ways to minimize learning loss during the summer and prepare a student to get ahead come fall.

How soon should I hire a tutor?
Obviously, the longer you pay for outside educational help, the more it will cost you. But early intervention, especially when a child has specific learning problems, could forestall future costs.

Some firms, such as Sylvan, offer tutoring in reading at age 4½ so the little world-beaters can be ahead of the pack come kindergarten. Others, such as Inspirica, steadfastly refuse to do so.

There are some natural points in the K-12 journey where tutoring makes sense, however.

"Typically, we'll see kids start to come in because of what's happening in class in the second and third grades," says Magus. "Third grade is kind of a transitional year where things become more apparent."

Edwards recommends that parents inquire about SAT in November or December of the child's junior year, ideally after the child has taken the fall PSAT exam.

But Jacobson begs to differ: "It's better to talk about college in the ninth grade, have some plan and get your advisers in place. Then you can strategically spend your money. Schools don't even start talking about college until the 11th grade. By then, it's too late."

At whatever grade level, it is generally cost-effective to bring in a tutor earlier rather than later because deficiencies in academic basics (reading, writing, math) or study skills can hinder a student's performance in other subject areas as well.

And parents who look to tutors to help young Jimmy or Janie tend to see the costs as an acceptable educational investment. Many opened at least one college savings account before their child was born and they want to ensure that the money goes to good use.

"Parents start saving early for college, but if their child doesn't do well in elementary and high school, they might not be going to college," says Magus.

What results can I expect?
Do students and their parents get what they pay for? That answer generally depends upon expectations and the realization that evaluation of a tutor's cost-effectiveness is as individual as the kids who are enrolled.

Tutors aren't miracle workers. They can't turn a C student into an A student overnight or, in some cases, ever. But in most cases, they can make a child a better student, resulting in better grades and improved test performance.

With its 10-week SAT prep program, StudySmart says it raises student SAT scores on average by 130 points; the actual range runs from 90 to 240 points. The higher a student's level when they come in, the less room there is for triple-digit improvement.

"We normally pick up students who are between 1,000-1,200 who want to get over the 1,250-1,300 barrier," says Edwards. "Then, the SAT itself doesn't become a negative factor on their application."

The SAT is scheduled for a complete overhaul in 2005, a move many parents and educators hail as long overdue. Combine that with the fiercely competitive climate for college admissions that is forecast to continue until 2012 and chances are good indeed that tutoring in its myriad forms, from one-on-one to online, will remain an important option for students (and their parents) who want to simply catch up or shoot for the top.

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: Feb. 25, 2004
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Finding college funds
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Coverdell accounts help pay at many educational levels
Financial advice glossary
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