Paying a tutor to help Junior pass --
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
Education and Tutor.com.
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
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.