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Tutoring services: Is a tutoring center or private tutor best for your child?

Tutoring services: Is a tutoring center or private tutor best for your child?

You’ve determined that your child will need supplementary tutoring to help them realize their full potential in school. Now, you’ll need to figure out whether you’re better off hiring a tutor or joining a tutoring center.

A private tutor will provide one-on-one instruction between your child and the same tutor every meeting. The tutor will generally focus on one area of expertise to give your child the most comprehensive overview of the subject. Private tutors will often come to you or will tutor in one specific location, like a library. Tutoring centers provide myriad tutors and subjects. If your child needs more general help, this may be a better solution than a more concentrated single-subject tutor. Students may also find peer help and social benefits from tutoring centers.

Each option offers its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Oftentimes, the choice between the two is determined by your child’s needs and/or your financial situation. As with any service, there’s a balance when it comes to finding personal attention and cost-effectiveness. For example, consider how you’d go about fixing a problem with your car. You might decide a private mechanic is more appropriate vs. a dealership service station. As a parent, you’ll need to consider every angle when determining the best tutoring fit for your child.

First step: Determine cost

It’s important to know rates up front. Once you have cost out of the way, you can make a more informed decision based on the needs of your child.

Tutoring costs can vary widely, depending on a host of factors. Typically, private tutors and tutoring centers charge an hourly rate that is primarily based on three important factors: where you live, what they’ll teach, and how experienced and qualified they are. A private math tutor in Los Angeles with decades of teaching experience, for example, might charge $75 an hour, while a college student in rural Minnesota might charge $20 per hour. Similarly, large tutoring centers might charge $50 an hour for personalized tutoring in suburban Houston, yet the same program would cost $60 in Los Angeles or $80 in New York City.


Sample Per Hour Cost Comparison by Location


San Francisco, CA

Columbia, MO

New York, NY

Private Tutor




Tutoring Center




But the cost of tutoring isn’t limited to just the hourly rate. Other charges and fees should be considered, including:

  • materials and supplies (ex. textbooks, specialized workbooks, etc.)

  • individual assessments to determine what tutor or program is most appropriate  

  • travel time and expenses for the tutor and/or the student

  • agency fees, if a tutoring agency is used to find the private tutor

Now that cost is a bit clearer, consider the pros and cons of tutoring centers vs. private tutors.

All about tutoring centers


  • Tutors are highly trained and qualified. Tutors employed by tutoring centers are selectively chosen based on their expertise and training. They generally possess a great deal of knowledge in their field. Dr. Alicia Holland-Johnson, author of Becoming A Better Tutor and a tutor consultant, said many tutors at centers have higher degrees and more experience tutoring. “The more experience the tutor has will be the first [thing to look at],” Holland-Johnson told

  • Tutoring centers are well-stocked with textbooks and materials. Each center typically has its own curriculum, with corresponding worksheets and books for tutors and their students. Centers spend a lot of time and money creating learning materials and books proven to help students, while private tutors are more likely to plan as they go.

  • Tutors at centers may instruct on numerous topics. If your child needs a tutor in physics, math, and Spanish, a tutoring center can offer specialists in each of those areas, whereas one private tutor may not possess the expertise in each of the areas. This is great if your child is struggling in several subjects. “A lot of [tutors] are already teachers,” said Vashiti Du Bois, executive director at Tree House Books, a Philadelphia volunteer-based resource center for kids of all ages. “[Tutoring centers] assemble a group of professionals and train them to be great tutors.”

  • Tutoring centers offer structure and social interaction. Tutoring needs to be structured. There must be an outline of what kids need and how they are going to get it, and tutoring centers are often great at finding and addressing problem areas with planning and structure. Also, tutoring centers often include other kids, offering the opportunity for study groups and learning with others. As always, it’s child-dependent, but learning in a group or classroom setting may help more.

  • The level of personalization can vary. Kids might need different levels of engagement at different times. That’s why some centers offer a variety of program options to adapt to changing needs. For example, a center may offer highly personalized tutoring for kids who have fallen behind academically, as well as more hands-off encouragement and practice for teens preparing for the SAT.

  • Some centers offer tutoring programs online. College tutoring centers, in particular, will often have online tutoring options for busy students who might not be able to drop by in person. In some cases, tutoring is offered using a combination of on-site instruction and online resources.


  • Cost and convenience aren’t tutoring centers’ strong suit. Centers are generally more expensive than private tutors and typically include a commute. It usually comes down to pricing, and often tutoring centers cost more than an individual tutor, who may serve just as well.
  • Distractions come with the territory. There will likely be other children present during your child’s tutoring time, which may take away from one-on-one time. If there are a lot of students around, your child may not be focused and the tutors may not be able to provide their full-attention either.

  • Multiple tutors can result in a lack of consistency. When a child goes to a tutoring center, he or she could become paired up with whatever tutor is available that day. Make sure you get consistency with tutors to guarantee the best experience for your child. Discuss that tutor’s plan for your child. Just because you send a child off to an experienced center doesn’t mean they’re getting what they need.

All about private tutors


  • Private tutors are usually more convenient to your schedule. A tutoring session typically occurs in the home or library, at the convenience of the family. Family schedules are hectic and ever-changing, so having a private tutor allows a child to get the education he or she needs with the flexibility of staying at home or at least nearby.

  • Private tutors provide one-on-one attention. Private tutors allow students to be tutored on an individual basis without the distractions of other students. They provide the opportunity to develop a relationship with the tutor. If a student has focusing issues, putting him or her in a room with just one other person may improve that child’s attention. When kids go to school, they get books, materials, and lessons, but sometimes they need one-on-one face time to truly understand a subject.

  • Costs are generally lower compared to tutoring centers. Private tutors don’t come with a brand or center name, which often means they are a bit cheaper. At the end of the day, it’s about quality, and a private tutor who has the right credentials may provide a better experience for a much lower price than a tutoring center.

  • Private tutors provide more hands-on options. While a parent may trust what a tutoring center provides, there may be little way to know what goes on during sessions. Parents need to be attentive about what occurs during tutoring sessions, including what the tutor and child are working on and any kind of lesson plans or overall goals. Having a private tutor allows for more of a relationship between parent/child and tutor. If the sessions take place at home, mom or dad can keep a closer eye on progress.


  • General knowledge and expertise in multiple fields tends to be lower. Private tutors aren’t vetted professionally, like those at tutoring centers, and may not possess the expertise required to adequately tutor your child. If your child is struggling in more than one subject or faces a learning challenge, private tutors might not offer the all-around access to trained professionals and the variety of subject options that a tutoring center would provide.

  • Private tutors can sometimes lack training. While private tutors may have the expertise in the field your child is struggling in, they may not have the ability to teach it well. Tutoring centers often host training sessions and workshops for their tutors. It is important to carefully examine a private tutor’s resume and call references to see if the person would be a good fit.

  • Tutoring is done in a less organized setting. For some, having your child work on math problems at the kitchen table isn’t the best idea. Sometimes part of the problem is focus or organization, and tutoring centers help provide that. Atmosphere is crucial when it comes to learning, and tutoring centers understand how to create an atmosphere conducive for learning.

There is no magic answer that will tell you whether to go with a tutoring center or a private tutor. The decisions is entirely dependent on your family’s needs.

“You get different results with different kids,” Du Bois said.

It’s important to examine what kind of help your child needs and the kind of environment that would best suit those needs. Each tutor is different, whether he or she comes from a center or lives down the street. Quality and requirements should always take precedence when making your decision, but remember: Quality doesn’t mean you have to break the bank.

Tiffany Smith has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies — that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at tiffanyiswrite.

Robyn Correll updated this story on March 29, 2018.