Tutor resources: Everything you need to know

For returning students, taking college classes can be like riding a bike: You never really forget how, but there can be a period of readjustment when you start again after spending some time away from it. Fortunately for late-life degree completers, grad school enrollees, professionals seeking certification and other students who've taken some time off, college tutoring programs can help you find your balance and get comfortable back in the classroom.

University tutors typically understand the difficulties of going back to college after a break from formal education, and there are both institution-based and independent tutoring services that can work with you to ensure that you're getting the most out of your return to higher learning. We'll take a look at some of the facts about tutoring at the college level and share some expert advice about finding the right tutor to suit your specific circumstances and learning style. You can also skip ahead to any of the following sections:

Data shows students benefit from tutoring

A few points jump right out from data sets provided by most university tutoring services. Data from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), for example, shows that the 14,675 students enrolled during the fall 2012 semester made a total of 17,716 visits to the university tutoring center, which works out to more than one visit per student on average.

Of course, not every student enrolled at UNR that semester made a visit to the tutoring center — the headcount of unique visitors to the center works out to about one student in five — but students who took advantage of the center's services tended to find the experience useful enough to make multiple repeat trips. According to the data, students who used the tutoring center averaged 7.35 visits per student in fall 2012 and 6.25 visits per student in spring 2013.

Another statistical reality from UNR may say even more about the value of college tutoring programs. Students who visited the tutoring center at UNR recorded an average GPA of 3.04 in fall 2012, while the university-wide mean GPA fell to 2.95. Now, by no means is it guaranteed that making use of tutoring services will on its own raise your GPA from a C average to a B average, but the numbers do tell a compelling story in support of tutors.

How do you know when you need a tutor?

There's an unfortunate perception among many students that university tutoring exists only as a last-ditch remediation measure, designed to help failing students nudge their final grades up, or as some oddball recreation for hopeless brainiacs. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually: Students of all kinds visit tutoring centers, and tutoring can enhance the educational experience of just about anyone.

With that in mind, though, there are some circumstances that might call for a tutor's help more than others:

  • If you're among the growing number of degree completers who have been out of college for a while, the tutoring center at your university can give you some tips for getting your legs back under you. Find out if you can book an appointment or attend a walk-in session that focuses on general tips for college success to help you hit the ground running.
  • If it's your first class in chemistry, economics, higher math or another fairly discipline, it can help a lot to book an appointment with a tutor in that specific subject and ask a few questions about effective ways to stay on top of the introductory material.
  • Many students who are unpleasantly surprised by a grade on a test or term paper go immediately to their professor to find out why. Your university tutoring center can also be a great resource for shedding some light on the subject, and taking a neutral route before going straight to the professor's office can help demonstrate that you're willing to work to succeed in their class.

Here's one of the most important things to remember about college tutoring: In no way does asking a tutor for help mean that you're not a good enough student to handle your classes on your own. In fact, there's a case to be made that students who know how to use various university resources to increase their ability to learn and retain knowledge are actually making more effective use of their time in school than those who lower their heads and charge forward unaided.

"Tutoring is not just for people who are struggling — it's a collaborative community to discuss and reinforce concepts with a peer tutor who has already taken the course you are currently enrolled in."

  - Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones, the Student Success Center Coordinator at Arizona State University, shares these words of wisdom: "Tutoring is not just for people who are struggling — it's a collaborative community to discuss and reinforce concepts with a peer tutor who has already taken the course you are currently enrolled in."

What can tutors help with?

College tutoringUniversity tutoring services do more than just help you with individual subjects or specific assignments. Tutors often know all sorts of valuable tidbits about how to succeed in school, from time management tips that keep your assignments manageable to memory aids for more effective studying.

For example, "we have subject area tutoring that assists students in reviewing content for specific courses in math, business, and science courses," Jessica Jones says. "We also have writing and graduate writing tutors that review student writing assignments for any course at any stage of the writing process. Finally, we have online academic mentors who can meet with students to discuss success strategies such as time management and study skills."

Here's a little info about of some of the non-subject skill categories you may be able to train at your university tutoring center:

  • Computer skills are getting more and more important in college and the workforce alike, and some schools may offer generalized computing workshops or tutoring sessions for students who could use a refresher.
  • Library skills are one of the higher-value areas of expertise in college, and many learning centers have tutors on staff who can help you get the most out of your time between the stacks.
  • Academic writing doesn't come naturally to all of us, and a significant percentage of college tutoring programs support a dedicated Writing Center for students who want to polish up their essay writing and research skills.
  • Organization and studying may be some of the least exciting things most of us do in college, but putting even a little energy into them can make a lot of difference to the outcome of your education. Most tutoring centers feature resources that can help you get your study game in shape.

What's more, tutoring services offer advantages to more than just standard undergraduates. Graduate school and vocational school students can also reap benefits from university tutoring services, whether they're after test-taking techniques, sheets of common formulae for applied mathematics courses or brushing up on their citation form for a big thesis project.

Of course, tutors aren't qualified to help every student with every difficulty they're having in school. Certain other areas of advisement might be better suited to an adviser or administrator than a tutor — stress management, for example, or student-professor conflict resolution — but just about anything that requires study skills can be addressed at a tutoring center.

Finding the right tutor

Once you've decided to give tutoring a try, the next step is finding the right tutor to meet your needs. Most institutions make their tutoring resources plainly accessible to both campus-based and online students, and you can either drop by, make a phone call or send an email to find out where and when you can get the help you're after.

Some tutoring centers make it even easier than that to choose a tutor. Some centers post tutor schedules in PDF form on their section of the school website, while others may allow you to find the right tutor in their database with a Web-based search tool.

If you can't be present at the tutoring center during the working hours of your perfect match, many college tutoring programs offer online sessions that can be completed from any computer with an Internet connection.

" I don't believe there are certain subjects that translate better in person or online. Any subject can be addressed in either way, just in different modalities using different tools."

  - Jessica Jones

Online tutoring 101

Even though each type of session can likely give you the help you need, Jessica Jones points out that there are a few differences between face-to-face and online tutoring services.

"Online differs in the sense that tutors and tutees cannot always use voice inflection or other non-verbal cues to communicate," she says, since some online tutoring may rely on text chat rather than speech.

That said, though, there are few other significant differences between online and in-person tutoring experience. "I don't believe there are certain subjects that translate better in person or online," Jones says. "Any subject can be addressed in either way, just in different modalities using different tools."

What's more, if your school's campus or website doesn't seem to offer what you're looking for, there are options outside of the institution that might do the trick. Professional organizations in such disciplines as engineering, law, finance and management may offer mentoring or other academic assistance services as a membership benefit, and online resources, such as Chegg and 24HourAnswers, exist for students whose schedules keep them away from their college tutoring programs altogether.

Tutoring + effort = success

"The biggest misconception is that tutoring is only for smart people, or that it's only for people who are struggling. Tutoring is for EVERYONE!"

  - Jessica Jones

The value you can get out of higher education typically depends on what you put into it, and a few hours a month at your university tutoring center can go a long way toward ensuring that you don't miss out on the wealth of learning opportunities accessible to you as a returning student. After all, you wouldn't be back in college if you didn't want to succeed, so why not take every available step to encourage success?

Remember, tutors are much more than homework helpers and academic catch-up aides, though they can be great resources for both. If you're nervous about transitioning back into college after some years spent in the workforce, attending to family responsibilities or serving in the Armed Forces, don't hesitate to sit down with a tutor for an hour or two. Here's a final thought from Jessica Jones:

"The biggest misconception is that tutoring is only for smart people, or that it's only for people who are struggling. Tutoring is for EVERYONE!"

1. Tutoring and Writing Centers, Arizona State University, https://tutoring.asu.edu/
2. Jessica Jones, Student Success Center Coordinator at Arizona State University, Interviewed by the author on Jan. 28, 2015
3. "University student population on the rise with students increasing course loads," Nicole Shearer, Nevada Today, University of Nevada, Reno, Sept. 16, 2013, http://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2013/2013-fall-enrollment
4.Enrollment Comparisons, Fall 2012 vs Fall 2013, Spring 2012 vs Spring 2013, University of Nevada, Reno, http://www.unr.edu/ia/enrollment
5. "Tutoring Center Report, Fall 2012 - Spring 2013," University of Nevada, Reno, http://www.unr.edu/Documents/student-services/tutoring/Final%202012-13%20Complete%20Year%20Usage%20Report%20for%20Website.pdf