3 Qualities to Look for when Selecting a Tutor

Elementary school teacher helping pupilAnyone can call him or herself a tutor, so finding a good one can be difficult. You don’t want to trust your student’s academics to just anyone. Personality, academic competence, and reliability are all essential. When looking for a tutor for your student you want to look for these 3 qualities and ask the appropriate questions to determine whether the tutor is a good match.

Education Background

Tutors do not necessarily need to be experts in the subjects they tutor. I have worked with numerous students in math and science even though I was an English major. I was able to do so because I could open up the Chemistry book, turn to the appropriate chapter, and engage in collaborative learning with the student so that we were teaching each other. These were oftentimes the most productive tutoring sessions I held. I believe that well-rounded tutors who do not necessarily specialize in any particular subject can be as good, if not better, than tutors who do specialize. Do not hesitate to ask the candidate which courses and subjects he or she feels comfortable and confident tutoring. Finding a tutor who can help in a wide variety of subjects, even if not on an expert level, will pay dividends when your student inevitably needs help in other subjects down the road.

The exception to this belief is for students who are working on higher-level subject matter. For instance, students who are taking Calculus, AP-level courses, or studying for the SATs will usually benefit from a tutor who specializes in those areas. When interviewing potential tutors for these high-level subjects, it is important to ask the candidate what his or her approach will be. Collaborative learning at this level is not typically appropriate as students need intensive support to master this material.


Students’ needs are not always clear cut. It’s easy to schedule consistent tutoring times, such as Mondays/Wednesdays from 6:00-7:00, but those aren’t necessarily the times that students will always need help. I like to be consistent and establish a routine for students, but there will be times when a student has an emergency and needs some flexibility in the scheduling. When I first meet with parents I am very upfront that we as a tutoring service can be flexible. This may mean that we change session times to fit around a basketball game or to add an extra hour into a session to help on a very tough project. Having flexibility is important for students, and as long as they do not take advantage of it, I’m happy to help.

When interviewing a potential tutor, make sure to ask how flexible his or her schedule is. As a parent you will want to know what your options are. However, you must also be realistic and not expect the tutor to change or reschedule sessions on a regular basis. Establishing set times is critical to academic progress, but allowing some flexibility to meet the inevitable emergencies is a service that good tutors should provide.


The absolute most important quality for a tutor is personality. It does not matter what the education background or amount of flexibility is if the tutor does not have the personality to work with your student. When I interview potential tutors to work for me I can usually tell within 5 minutes if they have the right personality to work with our students. As a parent you should have a good idea as well. A good tutor should speak to you respectfully but confidently, hold eye contact, answer any question you have honestly, and create a positive atmosphere. These qualities will rub off on your student and make the learning process much more enjoyable and ultimately successful.

After hiring a tutor, your student and the tutor will begin building a working relationship. The goal is to make that match work well from the start, but on occasion, the tutor/student relationship might not work perfectly. In the event that the first session does not go as well as you had hoped, I suggest giving it at least 2 more sessions before considering a change. Sometimes it just takes a few sessions to understand learning styles and get to know each other. However, if the relationship still isn’t working after 3 sessions, then I would recommend looking for a different tutor. In our case I am always happy to help find a better match.

Finding a good tutor to satisfy both short- and long-term needs will help your student on the path to academic success. Looking for the above qualities will help ensure that you are using your resources efficiently to identify the best possible tutor.