How to earn extra income through private tutoring

Are you looking for a way to earn some extra money? Did you do well in school, or on standardized tests? Offering tutoring services may be a good bet for you.

I’ve been a private tutor for the better part of seven years now. It kept me in spending money as a part-time job in college, and it has turned into a full-time gig for me over the last few years. The best part about it, though, is that it’s an easy concern to keep going whether you have three or thirty hours a week to devote to it.

What to Tutor

I’ve taught everything from high school writing to college calculus to professional certification exams for public school teachers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: there’s a market for tutors for every standardized test in existence, and probably every academic subject at every level, too. Heck, much of this article probably applies to things like music lessons, as well.

If you have a strong academic background, but aren’t comfortable opening for business without some kind of certification, it might be worth taking a job with a tutoring service, particularly one of the big-name test prep companies such as Kaplan or The Princeton Review. They’ll train you, you’ll get valuable in-class experience, and after a few months you may feel better about setting off on your own.

Finding Students

The standard advice for would-be tutors is to post flyers at strategic locations such as universities. In my experience, though, that doesn’t work.

Ideally, your business would come via word of mouth. Every time you work with a student, make sure they have your contact information, and encourage them to tell their friends about you. The less effort it takes to get business, the better!

Starting out, though, referrals will be hard to come by. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try: family and friends may be able to help out early on by spreading the word.) The easiest way to reach prospective students is through Craigslist. Better yet, set up a simple website in addition to your Craiglist ads so that you appear to be more than some guy or gal with an e-mail address.

Ultimately, though, Craigslist is just the 21st-century version of flyering the local university. The best way to find students is to go to the source. If you’d like to help elementary school children with reading, introduce yourself at the local elementary school. Teachers and counselors are the absolute best source of referrals for K-12 students.

Nuts and Bolts

The most important operational question you’ll face is how to set your rates. At the high end, you’ll find SAT, LSAT, and GMAT tutors in New York City charging several hundred dollars per hour. The range is huge: Even in New York, for the same services, you’ll find other tutors for as little as $20 or $25 per hour.

As with most services, acceptable rates are tied to the level to expertise you bring to the table.If you’re offering math tutoring for junior high students, don’t expect to command $50 per hour: High school students can do the same thing, and they’d probably do it for a whole lot less. This is one reason to consider becoming a test-prep tutor through a major company: As soon as you finish training, you’ll have skills that set you apart from the vast majority of would-be instructors.

While it’s important to consider what the market will bear, it’s also crucial that you consider your time investment. One of the drawbacks of tutoring, compared to other part-time jobs, is that it can be difficult to string together more than an hour or two at a time. If you’re charging $20 per hour and driving across town to meet with a student for one hour, is it worth it?

One partial solution to that problem, at least once you’re working with multiple students, is to have people come to you. (Perhaps even for a discounted rate.) Before I found a shared office solution, I would set up shop at a Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan. It was convenient for my students, and on some weekends, I would tutor four students for two hours each, straight through from 9-5. One commute is much better than four!

Final Words

As I mentioned in the beginning, one of the benefits of tutoring as a side job is that there are no real minimum time requirements. It can turn into a full-time job, as well, but don’t count on that happening in short order. Be especially careful about the actual number of hours you’re spending: if you have a dozen students and you’re traveling to them, an 8-10 hour per week job can suck up quite a bit of time and expenses.

Warnings aside, there are plenty of benefits I haven’t mentioned. You’ll meet all sorts of people you never would otherwise, and you’ll help students meet goals they may not have reached without you. You’ll be your own boss, and hey — you might even have some fun!

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