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Tutoring for fun and profit: a starter guide

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“I became a teacher for the money.” Said no one ever. 

Teaching is a fantastic job with many perks, but lavish compensation is not one of them. This leaves many teachers interested in ways to make additional income. 

Tutoring can be a good way to use your teaching skills to make some extra money. 

But how do you get started? What’s it like? We’ll go over everything you need to know about this side hustle, so you can decide if it’s for you.

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How do I get started?

When thinking about becoming a tutor, there are many ways to go. The easiest way to start is with a well-established online tutoring company or one in your area. 

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Online client providers

Varsity Tutors is the first place I started when becoming a tutor. The process to become a tutor was extremely easy. First, I completed an online form with my credentials. Next, I took some basic skills tests to prove I was well versed in the subject matter I could tutor in. This service offers online and in-person tutoring clients. 

I also found a smaller company that did more or less the same thing, Grade Potential, which had a similar online registration process. This one is only available in certain places and only offers in-person tutoring. 

I also tried care.com, but this required me to pay in order to consider clients and I determined that was not worth the money. 

In addition to these services, there are also completely online tutoring opportunities including VIPkid which is a service that allows you to tutor Chinese students in English. The process to apply to this one is much more complicated and requires you to teach a lesson using their materials in order to be considered. Although I started the application process, I didn’t actually end up finishing. That’s because you need to tutor during the hours students are awake in China. In my time zone that meant working between 7 pm- 3 am, which was not ideal with my strong desire for sleep. 

Depending on the size of your city or town there may be many other options to start tutoring. 

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Physical tutoring locations

I did not try to work with Kumon or Lindamood-Bell, but these businesses are also an option for starting a tutoring side hustle. They are usually open after school and have the added benefit of being physical locations that provide you with materials and supplies.

DIY
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DIY

Finally, if you are tech-savvy and industrious you can start finding clients on your own, through a website or by word of mouth. 

Each of these options has its own perks and challenges.

Photo by Zhu Peng from Pexels

The perks of being a tutor

Money

Tutoring has many benefits, but let’s start with the obvious one: money. How much you can expect to make as a tutor is extremely variable. On the low end, online-only teachers, with US students, teaching basic subjects like k-8 math, make 15 dollars per hour. On the high end, those with their own direct to client tutoring who teach an upper-level subject (like calculus) can make 250 dollars an hour. When you start out, unless you are well connected and have special knowledge you will likely be closer to the lower end. 

Teaching math to elementary students was my main client base though the online client providers and I made 18-26 dollars for most clients I accepted. 

Pick your own clients

That’s the other nice thing about tutoring: the clients I accepted. 

When you tutor (unless you work for VIPkid or a physical tutoring location) you get to accept or decline a student for whatever reason you want. If a parent is unreasonable, or the student and you don’t click, it is acceptable to choose not to work with that client. 

Compared with teaching where you must help every student who enters your room, it can be very freeing to say a polite “no” when a situation isn’t working for you. 

Set your own schedule

In addition to that control, you get to choose your own hours and schedule (again, not really with physical locations, but still somewhat). You can decide what clients you take based on when you have extra time. Your clients can request you work certain hours or days, but ultimately the scheduling decision lies with you. 

The joy of directly helping someone

Finally, the touchy-feely benefits. It is incredibly fulfilling to work one on one, uninterrupted with a student. Many times, in class you are paying attention to your whole class. You may not be able to be fully present with your students individually. 

With my tutoring clients, I was able to really pay attention to their reactions. I could see when they got something and when they were unsure. I was able to read their mood and change plans based on their needs.

It’s also amazing how much progress a student can make when someone is identifying their specific weak spots and helping to build them up. It really did feel amazing to work one on one with these wonderful people. 

frustrated man with laptop
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The pitfalls of being a tutor 

Sadly, tutoring is not all unicorns and rainbows. There are some things you need to be aware of that can make it less than ideal. 

Driving

First of all, there’s drive time. Drive time can quickly make the whole endeavor very unprofitable. 

I had three long-term clients. The closest drive from my location was about 25 minutes, the longest was 45. Most of my tutoring sessions were an hour. That meant that I was driving around an hour for every hour tutoring. That was driving I wouldn’t do if I weren’t tutoring. So, my 20 or so dollars an hour was more like 10, since I was really working 2 hours. 

This is why online-only jobs pay less, as driving is part of the pay. 

Unpredictable environments

So where are you driving to? More often than not, someone’s house. This can present many challenges. 

Although I wasn’t concerned about safety, I could see it being a concern. I’d never met these people before, and companies don’t visit potential clients’ homes or do background checks. It could be unnerving. 

More difficult is that you have no control over the learning environment. I met with students in bedrooms on folding card tables, in the basement of an insurance agency, and on barstools on a patio bar, sometimes by myself with the learner, sometimes with people hovering around. I met with students in libraries, when no study rooms were available, in an out of the way corner of the romance section. 

The point is that you can’t control the conditions in these situations. Younger siblings and barking dogs can be a real hindrance to teaching. 

Planning and prepping – for free!

In addition to these difficulties, when you work as a tutor for yourself or these online companies, you are providing all of your own materials. 

This could be as simple as a trip to the dollar store to get reward stickers and flashcards, or as intricate as writing up detailed lesson plans and making your own practices. 

This often took me hours of time outside of tutoring, which was not included in my rate. I was never compensated for that time, so with driving and the hour or so of prep, I was down to a little over 6 dollars an hour. 

Of course, if you work for a company that uses its own materials you won’t have that issue, but you also lose the freedom to teach using your own preferred methods.

Losing a big chunk of your income to the service that you work for

If you are working for a company, they are profiting from you. Parents and students may be shelling out hundreds of dollars for tutoring and most of the time, you are only getting a portion of that. How much the company that provides you with client leads takes, is different from company to company, but 50% is standard. 

Or, a bunch of extra work to do it for yourself

If you are working for yourself, you get to keep it all and negotiate your own price. 

That sounds ideal, but it also means you are in charge of sending your own invoices, scheduling your own session and taking care of everything on your own, including finding more new clients. You might also have to put up a website and market yourself to find those clients.

Cancelations

The last thing about tutoring that is sub-optimal is cancelations and re-schedules. 

Even my favorite, most trustworthy clients did this to me more than a few times. I would sometimes go all the way to the location only to find that they forgot to call me to cancel when a student was not well. Some clients forgot they booked me at all. 

You can charge a cancellation fee if you are on your own, but you may upset the client and lose them. It’s a bummer but it’s part of the gig.

Is tutoring for me?
Graphic by Courtnay Hough

Is tutoring right for you?

What I’ve outlined above is a few of the main ways you can try out tutoring on your own. 

There are some parts of tutoring that make it fun and rewarding and others that can make it quite troublesome. 

I would suggest trying it for yourself if you’re interested. Your experience may be totally different and you may love it. If not, at least you know for sure that it’s not for you. 

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