A Bankrate survey has shown that 39% of all US adults have a side hustle, be that walking people’s dogs, delivering Crunchwraps or Frappuccinos to hungry folk, designing logos for businesses, or something else.
Among these adults, those with a knack for teaching (or an aversion to chihuahuas) commonly pursue tutoring as a way to raise their income. Some even end up doing it full time!
If you’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a full-time or part-time tutor, this article should help you make an informed decision. Let’s look at what tutoring entails, what skills and qualities good tutors have, and what steps you must take to become one.
You can think of tutoring as a supplement to people’s educational “diets”. When someone is trying to master a subject (be that a student grappling with core math or an adult interested in learning Spanish), a tutor will often come to their rescue.
Tutors assess how much a person already knows about a given subject, put together lesson plans based on that, and provide guidance and feedback while their student progresses — much like teachers do. The main difference between teachers and tutors is that tutors work different hours and in different settings to teachers.
We’ve talked briefly about what a tutor does. Now let’s look at their duties and responsibilities in more detail:
- Creating lesson plans consisting of key learning outcomes, resource materials and activities
- Assessing students’ existing ability and knowledge in the subject area to create a tailored plan of action
- Assisting students with any homework, projects, test preparation and research tasks they were given at school or university
- Monitoring students’ progress to ensure they’re on track
- Testing students’ knowledge through quizzes and mock exams to help them prepare for the real thing
- Reviewing students’ homework and providing feedback
- Staying up to date with current curriculums and teaching trends
- Being lifelong learners themselves on the subject they’re teaching
Tutors may work with various age groups in various settings. Let’s look at the different kinds of tutoring services that exist, so you can consider which one would suit you best.
In-person tutors instruct small groups and offer one-on-one lessons to students in their area. They often teach at their own homes or visit their students’ houses for private tutoring. These tutors may work on a full-time or part-time basis and be able to teach more than one subject.
If you enjoy being in the same space as others over meeting online, then in-person tutoring might be a much better option for you.
According to IBISWorld, as of 2023, there are nearly 120,000 businesses in the online tutoring services sector in the US alone. That’s an increase of 17.8% compared to the previous year and, given the convenience of online meetings, we can expect to see the number of online tutors going up in the future.
Online tutoring can be done from the comfort of your home or that snazzy coworking space you’ve been eyeing just down the block. It can connect you with students anywhere in the world, allowing you to work any hours you please and set your own hourly rates.
Freelance tutors commonly make use of online learning platforms and work marketplaces, such as Upwork, to find potential clients to work with. They commonly see tutoring as a supplement to their overall income and teach on the side when they’re not busy with their day job.
If you envision tutoring being more of a side hustle for you rather than a main source of income, then freelancing may be the way to go.
Tutors for individuals with learning disabilities
Much like other educators, some tutors are certified to work with individuals with learning disabilities. Depending on the student’s needs, tutoring might take place in person or online and aid in specific subjects or broader abilities such as reading, writing and reasoning.
Common learning disabilities include dyslexia, which can impact reading, writing and comprehension; dysgraphia, which affects a person’s ability to convert thoughts into writing; and dyscalculia, which results in difficulty in understanding mathematical concepts.
Depending on their background and interests, a tutor may teach any subject, from drama and photography to computer science and physics. Let’s look at some of the most common subjects that tutors teach their young and older students:
- Languages, including English, Spanish and French
- Mathematics, including geometry, algebra and statistics
- Literature, including English, French, Russian and Classical Greek
- Design and technology
- Natural sciences, including physics, chemistry and biology
- IT, including networking and programming
- Music, including musical theory and instruments
Although in most cases teachers and professors are required to be physically present in order to teach a class, tutors don’t tend to have similar restrictions. Some may work from home, delivering lessons in person or over the internet, while others might work at learning centers alongside other tutors or meet their students in public libraries and cafés.
Besides having a flexible profession, tutors also have a relatively safe one. Occupational hazards include slip and fall accidents, repetitive strain injuries, and stress, which most workers regardless of profession are faced with. A more “unique” hazard to tutors are subject-related injuries: for example, a chemistry tutor might become exposed to harmful chemicals when demonstrating an experiment.
Just how their working environments tend to vary, tutors’ working hours vary also. Those who work exclusively in a learning center will have to be available during the hours in which the center operates. If they are self-employed and tutor students online or at home, they can pick their own schedules, working more on some days and less on others if they wish.
As many tutors teach private or group lessons in addition to working full-time jobs, it’s not uncommon for them to frequently end up working long hours and well into the evening.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tutors in the US have a mean hourly wage of $21.55, or an annual income of $44,820. The lowest 10th percentile, meanwhile, makes $12.52 an hour and the highest 10th percentile takes home $35.29 an hour.
While that seems low compared to the average nationwide salary ($59,428), bear in mind that many pursue tutoring as a side hustle in addition to their day job, and the fact that, if you’re freelancing, you can work as many or as few hours as you wish.
As with all professions, tutors’ wages can vary quite a bit depending on their location. This is due to local demand for said profession as well as the cost of living in the area. If you’re curious as to which are the top highest-paying states for tutors in the country, they’re the following:
- New York ($67,120)
- Massachusetts ($65,690)
- Alaska ($57,860)
- Wyoming ($57,070)
- Connecticut ($54,550)
In a snapshot:
If you’re a recent graduate deciding on a career path or a working professional considering to quit your job to pursue tutoring full time, you might be wondering whether the profession will continue to provide a viable income for you in the decades to come. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it should do: in the 2022–2032 period, job opportunities for tutors will rise steadily by 3.3%.
And, although aspects of the profession might get “eaten up” by AI and automation, tutoring won’t cease to require human judgment and interaction. In an interview with Education Week, Peter Stone, professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, shared the following view on the matter: “Jobs are going to be transformed. They’re not going to disappear. There’s always going to be a role for a teacher… Did a calculator replace the role of human teachers in math classrooms? No.”
We can certainly see his point!
Would you make a good tutor?
The National Career Clusters Framework divides all existing professions into 16 groups, or clusters, each one with its (multiple) subcategories. These clusters include architecture and construction, education and training, and human services, to name a few. Naturally, for some people, picking one profession out of the hundreds of options that exist can be tricky at best… And result in choice paralysis at worse.
To make things a little easier, our team has collaborated with a group of psychologists and psychometricians to create CareerHunter, a career-matching platform that matches young and older adults against 200 professions. So, if you still have some doubts about becoming a tutor, consider taking the science-backed reasoning and personality tests on CareerHunter to ensure that this is the right career path for you.
Unlike becoming a doctor or a lawyer, there’s no universal path to becoming a tutor. Having said that, there are still some desirables in terms of qualifications and training, and certain must-haves in terms of your soft and technical skills and personality.
In the “beneficial to have” category, we’ve got:
- A bachelor’s or postgraduate degree in your chosen subject
- An education degree or tutoring certification, as per your employers’ preferences
In the non-negotiables, we have:
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills, including active listening and the ability to provide constructive feedback
- Excellent time management skills to ensure the lessons run smoothly and finish on time
- Patience — when working with children especially, you can’t get frustrated every time someone asks a question (for the 20th time in a row)!
- Creativity — an out-of-the-box approach to teaching can be more memorable, thus boosting how well your students retain the information you share
- Commitment to keeping up with teaching methods and curricula — learning and relearning your trade is important if you want to stay in the game
If you’re setting out to work with children, then you’ll also need to have a clean criminal record. In the United States, federal law requires all paid and volunteer workers to undergo a criminal background check if they care for or supervise children or have unsupervised access to them.
Aspiring tutors have no “tutoring university” to attend and no “tutoring degree” to pursue. So, what must they do to land their dream career? Let’s get into it.
Step 1: Graduate from high school
Getting your high school diploma should be the first step you complete on your path to becoming a tutor. With it (and some additional training or tutoring experience), you should be able to tutor children and teens who are in school themselves.
In fact, tutoring is a very popular job with high school leavers and college students, as it’s flexible and takes less of a toll on the body than waiting tables or minding young children.
Step 2: Get a degree
Depending on whether you want to find an employer, such as a learning center or school, or want to go the freelance way, getting a degree may or may not be a requirement. It can still help you stand out, however, even if you decide to go solo!
As more and more people are taking advantage of the internet to teach, let’s look at the requirements listed on two popular platforms.
Tutor.com requires their online tutors to either be enrolled in a four-year degree at or have obtained a four-year degree from an accredited university. Preply, on the other hand, doesn’t require any specific certification; they’ll take you on if you’ve got outstanding communication skills and a passion for teaching. With over 32,000 tutors on the platform, however, you’ll still need to compete for potential students. A degree, therefore, could more easily set you apart.
Step 3: Consider getting a certification
Aspiring tutors who want to be able to teach in a traditional classroom setting are typically required to pursue education degrees. If this is an option you’d like to have, keep this in mind!
Besides that, depending on your specific employer, you might need to have a tutoring certification as well. Certifying bodies in the US include the National Tutoring Association and the College Reading and Learning Association, the latter catering to college tutors specifically.
Step 4: Do some volunteer work
Whether you decide to go down the self-employed route or apply for a job at a school or center, having some work experience is bound to help you stand out from among other candidates.
Doing some volunteer work online or in your community, therefore, is an excellent idea. If you’re a high school student flirting with the idea of a gap year before pursuing a degree or finding a job, volunteering abroad as an English teacher could also be a great option for you.
Not only will you acquire experience working as a tutor, it’s likely that you will also make lifelong friends and important connections that might open doors for you in the future.
Step 5: Build an online presence
Let’s face it: even if your goal is to tutor people in person, you will still benefit greatly from having a strong online presence. That can be achieved by building yourself a website that outlines your services and years of experience, being active on social media, creating an attention-grabbing profile on your tutoring platform of choice (if using one) or, ideally, a combination of these.
If you’re not sure how to best put together a website or create impactful social profiles, consider hiring a creative to help. It will pay off!
Still have some questions about the tutoring profession? Check out the answers to these FAQs below.
What are the differences between a tutor and a teacher?
A teacher typically works in a classroom setting and is in charge of large groups of students, sometimes as many as 30. They often work more than 40 hours a week, as, besides teaching, they have papers to grade and future lessons to prepare in the evenings or on the weekends. With salaries that don’t always reflect the effort they put in, teacher dissatisfaction in the US seems to be at an all-time high.
Tutors, on the other hand, work one-on-one or with small groups of students, often building on what’s taught in the classroom. They can usually decide their own hours as well as what to charge for their services.
What are the most in-demand subjects to teach?
In 2018, Cambridge University conducted the Cambridge International Global Education Census, providing insights into the most popular school subjects around the world. The survey was completed by nearly 10,000 students (ages 12–19) in various countries including the United States, Spain and India.
The results showed that English, mathematics and natural sciences were among student favorites across the board. In the US specifically, art and design, languages, music, and history also ranked high.
If you’re passionate about one (or more) of these subjects, you could make a living out of teaching it!
What are the best tools for online tutoring?
All around the world, online tutoring is on the rise. If this is the path you see yourself following, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the following tools and software. Tutors working online commonly use:
- Web conferencing platforms, like MS Teams and Zoom
- File sharing services, like Dropbox and Evernote
- Content creation tools, like MS PowerPoint and Canva
- Online whiteboards, like Ziteboard
- Audio recording software, like Audacity
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” said Irish writer William Butler Yeats. Indeed, skilled educators play a vital role in children and young adults’ lives: they inspire a passion for learning, instill confidence and often leave a lasting mark on their students.
On your way to pursuing this rewarding career, keep the following in mind:
- Where teachers instruct large groups, tutors take on small groups of students or one pupil at a time.
- Although not always required, tutor certifications can help you stand out from the crowd.
- If you’d like to offer tutoring services online, tools like Evernote and Ziteboard can enhance your lessons.
- To teach effectively, tutors need to stay up to date with various curricula across different grade levels.
Do you have any tips to share with fellow aspiring tutors? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Originally published on December 13, 2019.