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Find a College Test Prep Tutor

Sheila Szabo
July 17, 2017

From private tutors to online programs to testing centers, explore your tutoring options with this step-by-step guide.



When your kid is college bound, it all comes down to those crazy exams every family dreads. For San Diego, California dad Gilbert Vasquez and his daughter, that meant it was time to find a tutor.

"My daughter needed one-on-one help," Vasquez says. "I knew it wasn't going to be cheap, but as a parent and college graduate, I know that we live in a highly competitive market. I felt an obligation to help."

If you know your kid needs a little extra boost, or you just want to set him or her ahead of the rest, tutors are a great option. Knowing what type to look for, from online to private tutors to full-on classes, means your kid will have every advantage on test day. Vasquez received offers for college test prep tutors and courses through bulk mailings, but ultimately went with word-of-mouth tips from other parents. He found a highly reputable tutor in his area that other students recommended, and his daughter was set for test day.

Use these nine helpful steps to find the best tutoring method for your child and family.

  1. Talk to Your Child
    If your child has been juggling advanced classes all year without much help, online tutoring could be the cheapest, easiest option for the whole family. And your child knows the subjects in which they are confident and where they need extra help. They should voice an opinion about what they think the best prep strategy is for them. Colin Gruenwald, director of pre-college programs for Kaplan Test Prep in New York, suggests that parents allow their children to be in control of their future plans.

    "At the end of the day, it is the student who will be taking the test, writing that essay, getting that letter of acceptance and moving on to college," Gruenwald says. "Doing well on college admissions tests and searching for scholarships are things students do for themselves, not for their parents, their teachers, their guidance counselors or anyone else."

  2. Evaluate an Early Practice Test
    Having your child take an SAT or ACT practice test can give you a good idea of how much test preparation he or she will need. It can also give you a snapshot of strengths and weaknesses you may have missed. Handbooks are available for practice exams, and the more your child takes them, the better, as familiarity is the key to doing well on these exams. If a tutor doesn't offer this option, move on.

  3. Prepare to Spend Some Money
    If you decide to pursue assistance such as tutoring or classes, you will have to spend some money. Although many companies have a money-back guarantee if they don't increase your child's scores, you are still likely to spend hundreds of dollars. Most private tutors don't offer that option, but they tend to be cheaper. Even some SAT prep software can cost more than $200. However, your child's school or a local community education center may offer discounted classes, and there are free online services such as Number2.com that offer test prep at no cost. If your child has scored well on practice tests, this may be a better, and less expensive, option for you to try out first.

  4. Decide How Much Time Your Child Can Commit
    If your child's life outside of school is filled with extracurricular activities, such as after-school sports, jobs or volunteer work, you need to realistically figure out how much time he or she can commit to preparing for the college tests. Perhaps a summer prep course or weekend class makes more sense than tutoring sessions after school. Assess the calendar before adding something this important into an already busy mix.

  5. Evaluate Your Child's Study Habits
    Is your child a self-motivator or do you have to remind him constantly to crack open the books? A self-motivator may benefit from a self-paced, online course, while that same program would not work for a procrastinator. A super procrastinator may struggle even in classroom-taught prep courses, so private tutors may be the most beneficial option. "Some [students] do better learning online, and some do better with both live tutoring and online courses," says Richard Bavaria, Ph.D., the senior vice president for Education Outreach at Sylvan Learning and a blogger. Determining how your child studies and how he or she best learns will help you make a better-informed decision about which method to pursue.

  6. Consider Your Child's Temperament
    Examine each tutoring option based on how it fits with your child's personality. "The student who benefits from a collaborative classroom environment--listening to other students' questions, speaking up when they need more guidance on a topic--will find a classroom course to be a more engaging, interactive group experience, where they can learn from others while still getting one-on-one support," recommends Gruenwald.

    Also ask whether a tutor will allow multiple students to study together, because social interaction can improve results for test takers. "Making it a group effort with other students is more encouraging," advises Bavaria. "It builds confidence and competition."

  7. Access Each Tutor's Strengths
    Find someone with experience and a good vibe to fit your child's learning abilities. Read online reviews of tutoring centers and look into an individual tutor's background. "A great teacher or tutor needs personal success, a mentoring teacher disposition and the background to know where to lead the student to improve their chances of success," says Gruenwald. Check for what their experience and track record shows. How many points has the tutor raised for other students? What books, material or software is the tutor using? "If you can get the material on your own, then you probably don't need them," suggests Bavaria.

  8. Consider All of Your Resources
    Look around you for help. People who have been through this process already, or are currently thinking about it, may be great sources and put you in touch with specific tutors you might not find otherwise. High school guidance counselors are paid to guide your child through choosing the right test-prep option. They can offer advice about college test prep courses, practice tests and which tests, the SAT, SAT II or ACT, your child should take. Depending on your family's relationship with the counselor, these tips may even be given with your specific child in mind. Make sure your child takes time to stop in, and feel free to give the counselor a call yourself. Also talk to other parents; you're not alone in wanting to seek the best approach for your child when it comes to preparing for college tests, so chat with others to find out what they have learned about your area's options.

  9. Follow Up
    Once you've selected an option, check in regularly with your child and tutor to make sure things are progressing well. The best preparation for taking college exams is a combination of being present for classes or tutoring sessions, taking notes, participating in discussions, having "study buddies" and getting help when needed, says Bavaria.

Sheila Szabo is a freelance creative writer in San Diego, California. Her work can be found here.

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