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What Justifies $400/hour Private Tutoring?

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Academic tutoring and standardized test preparation rates in major metropolitan areas frequently run from $200 to $700 per hour. However, more stunning than the hourly rate is the healthy market of parents willing to pay it. In fact, companies like Advantage Testing and Inspirica -- the Louis Vuitton and Chanel of the tutoring world -- continue to thrive and expand. They claim their respective organizations provide the finest private tutoring available and many parents, intent on providing "the best" for their children, are willing to pay whatever it costs.

So, what is "the best" and why is it so expensive? The answer is less about company profit margins than one might expect. The rates are astronomically high because tutors with many academic degrees and professional experience are paid well. Very well. Their credentials demand it. At Advantage Testing, for example, your son can be prepared for the SAT by a tutor who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the premier national technological institution, has graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from a top-tier university and is presently a tenured Professor of Computer Science and a software developer in the finance industry as well as being the recipient of numerous teaching awards. Or your daughter could receive support in her high school geometry course from a tutor with an Ivy League M.B.A., who is also a graduate of an elite university with a B.S. in Industrial Management and Statistics and works as an actuary.

Those lengthy and impressive lists of degrees, honors, and professional titles seem incongruous with the job at hand. And they are. Aside from the obvious benefits for the tutor -- a tenured professor and developer of financial industry software is doing one-on-one SAT prep or an actuary with an M.B.A. from an Ivy League school is providing one-on-one math homework help because they're making nice chunks of supplementary income -- are there any advantages all those credentials bring to the students being tutored? Probably not. The truth is that ultra high-end tutoring companies have lost sight of whom their clients are -- primarily teenagers trying to get into the best college possible. While these "couture tutors'" qualifications are enough to make any professional envious, I'm confident they have little positive impact on an average 16 year old. To the contrary, their age and professional experience would likely work against them in attempting to establish rapport with typically shy high school juniors facing the most intimidating year of their high school career. It's also unlikely that an M.B.A. actuary will more effectively help a high school freshman turn his geometry grade from a C to a B than a twenty-something tutor who has some teaching experience and a degree in mathematics from a top under-graduate institution.

Successful one-on-one learning is heavily dependent on a tutor's ability to form a trusting relationship that straddles the line between teacher/advocate and friend. So, any parents who feel envious of others who can afford attorney-like tutoring fees, should not consider themselves at a disadvantage. In fact, the additional years of academic and professional training that command breathtakingly high hourly rates may actually hinder the effectiveness of the tutoring experience.