From my own experience as a tutor I have noticed the characteristics and credentials listed below are the ones that students and/or their parents usually consider and ask about when they contact me in their search for a tutor:
1) Price: When I started my tutoring business in San Diego, nearly every phone call I received started with questions like: “How much do you charge?” or “What are your fees?” Obviously budget considerations are important (even more so during challenging economic times), and I realized this pretty quickly. I soon added a separate page to my math tutor web site, where I listed all the details related to my fees. My advice here to you: Do not be shy, ask about possible discounts but, if the tutor does not offer a fee within your price range, look elsewhere. Many tutors raise their fees over time as the demand for them increases but there are always good tutors who are just starting out in the field.
2) Available times: Another type of question I get very often goes like this: “What times do you have available for tutoring?” or “Do you tutor in the morning?” or “Do you tutor on the weekend?” or “What is the latest you can tutor me in the evening?” and so on and so forth. Many tutors are college students who are busy taking classes themselves, and many of them also have part-time jobs. Other math tutors are teachers, or engineers; again, people who can tutor only a few hours a week because of their work or school responsibilities. Many of my students have been genuinely surprised when they learn I am a full-time tutor. Clearly, the more a tutor is able and willing to work around your schedule, the better this is for you.
3) Meeting location: I get a lot of questions in this regard, like: “Do you have your own office for the tutoring sessions?” or “Can you come to our house?” or “Where do you meet your students?” or “Do you know a library around this area where we can meet?” At the beginning I used to go wherever my students or their parents wanted me to meet them but soon I found myself driving all around town, oftentimes stuck in traffic. Now sometimes I charge a travel fee depending on how far I drive (Interestingly, one of my newest competitors includes in his ads the phrase: “I come to you!” as part of the ad’s title). Make sure you feel comfortable studying in the location where you meet with your tutor. In my opinion coffee shops are good because you get to exercise your focus capacity and concentration abilities, thus reinforcing them. However, I am always willing to meet at a library or at my student’s homes if they or their parents indicate they prefer so.
4) Trust: Before having a tutor come to your house, make absolutely sure you feel comfortable with that tutor. For this, use your own criteria, and ask plenty of questions until you are satisfied. This may include asking for references, and verifying them. Some parents have requested a preliminary interview, in person, before making the decision to hire me as a tutor.
5) Academic credentials: This is another type of question that regularly comes up: “Do you have a degree in math?” or “Are you a credentialed teacher?” or “What college did you graduated from?” Many tutors offer tutoring in subjects outside their main area of expertise. For example, it is common for college students to tutor middle or high school math, even if their major is not math but science, or engineering, or a discipline in the humanities. It is very important that your tutor has a broad, deep, and solid knowledge of the subject he or she is helping you with. However, it is even more important that they know how to explain to you the things you need to learn, in a way that you can actually understand them. Experts may be aces in their field but that is no guarantee they know how to explain the topics to you, and this is what you really care about. Given the wide variety of learning and teaching styles, plus the personality factors, the only sure way to find out if a given tutor is actually going to create or facilitate some improvement in you academic performance, is to try out a few sessions with them. The vast majority of my students see an effective improvement since the first very session, and they usually keep me as their tutor until they take their test or they finish their course.
6) Experience: This is another important factor, although you have to remember that experience does not necessarily equate with talent. These are some of the questions I most often hear regarding this topic: “How long have you been tutoring?” or “Are you currently teaching at a school or a college?” or “For how many years did you teach before becoming a tutor?” Tutoring is quite different from teaching. Teaching, in most traditional settings, involves broadcasting a prescribed content to a group (often large). Tutoring, by contrast, involves engaging in an active dialog with a single student, one-on-one. The tutor can focus 100% on the learning needs of one student for the full length of the tutoring session. The teacher has to constantly split his or her attention among the many students in the group, each one having a different attitude, and a different degree of motivation. So an effective “teaching mode” is definitely different than an effective “tutoring mode.” However, for a good tutor, all the prior or current time spent teaching is an invaluable resource when it comes to understanding students, and understanding the difficulties students have with specific topics.
7) Specific, targeted experience: Test takers are often very careful in selecting a tutor they can believe is actually going to help them in getting a good score. The questions of this type I hear the most are like: “Have you ever tutored anyone for the CSET math subtest III?” or “Do you tutor a lot of students in Statistics?” or “How many students do you regularly tutor in Vector Calculus?” or “Are you familiar with the Data Sufficiency questions in the GMAT?” For me is very important to answer these questions with confidence, addressing in detail all issues raised by the students, so they realize I know what I am talking about, and they feel comfortable having found someone with a solid background who can really help them. If a tutor does not answer all your questions clearly, or if you somehow feel the communication in the initial phone call is confusing, cumbersome, or unsatisfactory in any way, look for another tutor better suited to your own communication style.
8) Other characteristics: Anything not mentioned above but that is important for you, is definitely important, and it is worth taking the time and effort finding out whether a given tutor is able and willing to accommodate your request in that regard. One parent once asked me that I tutored her son for half-an-hour, then her daughter for the other half-hour, once a week. Sometimes parents ask for group sessions so their child’s classmate can attend, too. Another parent asked me that I helped her daughter with Calculus, and/or Physics, and/or Spanish, or any combination of those three subjects, depending on the student’s school activities for that day. Some GMAT takers have asked me for three-hour-long sessions. Some students need very flexible schedules, especially if they work shifts, or odd hours. Whatever your learning needs and goals are, make sure your tutor is in agreement with you, so he or she can deliver an effective tutoring service for you.