As college admissions become more competitive, parents are turning to private tutors to improve their high schoolers’ GPA and standardized test scores.

The $8 billion industry has grown 5% each year, according to the Education Industry Association. At the same time, college costs have also increased.

“Parents recognize that for students to compete in our global economy, they must be prepared for success at a higher level,” says Mark Elgart, president and CEO for Advance Education (AdvancED). “Whether they are using a tutor to improve their grades in an advanced class or to build greater knowledge than they are gaining in their classes, the focus is on high achievement.” 

In the past, parents were the driving force behind hiring a tutor when a report card showed less-than-acceptable performance in a subject. But now, it’s students proposing the idea, says Steven Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association.

Students are feeling the pressure and are increasingly taking higher level courses, competing for scholarships and trying to stand out to admissions officers, and are turning to private tutoring to give them an edge. 

“What has changed is that the kids themselves are saying college is competitive and I want to get into the best school I can,” Pines says. “They’re engaged, they’re looking around, they’re meeting tutors and deciding whether they want to go online, do I want to meet my tutor in the kitchen, or do I want to go to a retail location?”

To ensure their effort, time and money is well spent, here’s what experts said families should consider when picking the right tutor.

Tip No.1: Seek Out Credentials and Referrals

Seek out referrals about individual tutors or tutoring companies as well as their credentials before hiring one and keep in mind a doctorate or master’s degree doesn’t necessarily make them a good tutor, warns Pines.  

“The level of credentials by itself isn’t the guide of a good or bad tutor, it’s important that they’ve learned to individualize instruction as opposed to teaching to a class--totally different set of skills,” he says. “You want to know if they’ve gone through any tutor training process.”

If families are considering a larger tutoring organization, Pines suggests checking with the Better Business Bureau for any history of complaints and guarantee they’re accredited by a legitimate regional accrediting organization.

Tip No.2: Set Expectations

Whether students are in elementary school or preparing for college, “whether it be an online course or a tutoring program, parents should know what they and their student are striving to achieve,” says Elgart.

Larger tutoring companies can help students pinpoint specific areas where they’re having difficulty and how to find the best approach, says Sylvan Learning CEO, Jeff Cohen. 

“Building a personal learning plan to address those challenges is a more effective way of tutoring a child…it really does help avoid further problems down the road because you’ve attacked the root causes of some challenges as opposed to the symptoms that are evidencing themselves at that particular moment,” he says.

Because some tutoring companies are better equipped to work with children with learning disabilities, Pines recommends families inquire about those services before signing up.

Tip No.3: Discuss Details

Families can pay an average of $45 to $55 an hour for a tutoring company and $85 to $120 per hour for a private tutor depending on their geographic location, according to Pines.

“It’s an investment and it should be taken very seriously,” he says. “You think about a tutor that you might see two or three hours a week for six months and you’re paying an average of $50 an hour—it’ll add up.”

 Considering the price tag, it’s important for parents to have some sense of a timeline for gauging their child’s progress.

“Most tutoring companies do not have fixed contracts and I would be wary of those,” says Pines. “There might be incentive to prepay and usually there’s a discount, but you shouldn’t be pressured into signing a year-long contract if that seems not right.”

Tip No.4: Get Progress Reports

The experts say that both students and parents should expect regular updates from the individual tutor or organization on how the student is progressing.

“Some companies have frequent progress testing to show to the child you are making progress or we need to go back and work on this skill before we move forward,” says Pines. “It’s essential that the family of the student be updated regularly of progress and what the road forward looks like so everyone is on the same page.”

With the intention of making progress updates as data-based as possible, Cohen explains that their recently launched SylvanSync online program allows parents to see their child improving on their skills in real time.

“I may be able to point that parent to a worksheet, exercises or educational games to say, ‘here’s something you can do in between the times that we’re with your child to accelerate their learning,’” he says. “One of the objectives as this provider should be to move a child [towards what] they’re trying to achieve as fast as possible.”