Become An Online Tutor: the Ultimate Guide (2020)

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You have every right to wonder how to become an online tutor, because the online tutoring industry is booming. According to the Technavio’s online tutoring market research report, the industry is expected to grow 15% each year (And this prediction was made before the pandemic lockdowns). Recent lockdowns introduced the option of online tutoring to numerous new students, parents, and teachers.

In addition, the continuous development of new technologies allowed online tutors to provide an experience that is similar to, or in some cases even better than in-person tutoring. Both tutors and students started preferring online tutoring to in-person. Therefore there is no doubt that industry is going to keep booming. As a result, the question of “How to become an online tutor” is more important today than ever.

In this comprehensive article (written by an experienced online tutor) we will cover every aspect of becoming an online tutor, and provide all the practical knowledge you will need to start tutoring online. As a result, it will be a bit of a long read. You may prefer reading the whole guide, or you can use the table of contents below to skip to the part you are interested in.

1. Advantages of Becoming An Online Tutor: A Summary

Flexible Work Schedule - Become An Online Tutor

Almost every article on the internet which claims to explain how to become an online tutor, should instead be titled “Why become an online tutor”. They explain the advantages of tutoring online in detail, but suddenly the article ends and we find ourselves thinking “Ok I agree that online tutoring is amazing, but what I need to do next to become one!”.  We will put an end to this frustration and provide tons of practical information in detail soon, but let’s talk about the advantages shortly before we start the hands-on part.

1.1. Flexible Schedule and Location

All you need is a decent internet connection and you can practice online tutoring anywhere, anytime you want! You can travel to the other side of the ocean, but as long as you bring your computer with you, no one will notice. Also, you set your own hours, which gives you an enormous planning power and makes maintaining the work-life balance much easier.

1.2. Become Your Own Boss

I realized how amazing this is, only after I started tutoring online. In a typical workplace, there are people who supervise us. When we make a mistake and things go wrong, it usually gives rise to stressful conversations. Many mistakes are irreversible. If you are an engineer and make a design mistake, it may have catastrophic consequences and you may lose your job.

Online tutoring has a much lower risk level! First, you are an expert on what you are teaching, so things rarely go wrong. But even if they go wrong, you always have the option to refund that specific session, and maybe stop working with that specific student, which solves the issue indefinitely. An engineer, or a surgeon, does not have the option to say “Let me refund you the last hour of my salary, and we can forget about this issue”, but an online tutor can do this. And believe me, the peace of mind that comes along with this is a huge blessing.

1.3. Make As Much Per Hour As in In-Person Tutoring

This may come as a surprise, because people typically are willing to pay more for in-person tutors. If people are paying more for in-person, how come you charge the same hourly rate when tutoring online? The answer is: Your audience is your local people if you are a traditional tutor. Your audience becomes the whole world when you become an online tutor.

If you were providing your online services only to your local neighbors, that’s correct, you would most likely have to charge less for online tutoring. However, that is not the case. Online tutoring means that any person on the planet who has access to the internet is a possible student of yours. Many of them are going to be willing to pay more for your services compared to your local neighbors. For example, I am based in California but some of my highest-paying students were based in Florida. Every online tutor you meet is going to have a similar example.

(Our 5 reasons why tutoring online is great article provides even more reasons to feel grateful for online tutoring!)

2. Big Picture: How Does Online Tutoring Work

Big Picture: How Online Tutoring Works

Before diving into practical details, let’s understand how online tutoring works by having a bird’s-eye view. Details are going to depend on what particular subject is being taught, but online tutoring for most tutors works as follows:

  • The tutor has a computer, a piece of hardware helping with digital handwriting (mostly a graphics/drawing tablet) and a headset with a microphone.
  • Student does not need anything other than a computer or a tablet. It is a plus if student has a handwriting device as well, but not obligatory.
  • Tutor and student connect with a video-chat software. Software allows screen-sharing. Tutor shares her screen with the student and uses her favorite note-taking software as a board to teach the student. Student watches as the tutor writes and instructs. When needed, student is encouraged to collaborate on a real-time shared online whiteboard.

There are valuable details that add to the quality of your online tutoring sessions, like creating publication-quality PDF end of session notes. We are going to mention those little but important details as we continue, but the big picture is pretty much as we have described above.

3. Obvious Prerequisite: Be Good at Teaching

Needless to say, for this whole plan to work, the number one requirement is we should be good at teaching at least one subject. Online tutoring is not going to work if we cannot effectively tutor in-person. Now, this sounds obvious, so why we are dedicating a section to this observation?

Unfortunately, many resources on the web talk of online tutoring as if it is a get-rich-quick scheme that can be done by anyone. “Ways to make money from home: You can become an online tutor!”. We wanted to emphasize that it is not that simple. Not everyone can become a successful online tutor. In addition, money you can make on online tutoring is directly proportional to the time you invest. Therefore even though it has a very high earning potential, online tutoring is not a get-rich-quick scheme, online tutors make money with hard work and dedication.

Even if you study and apply all the great online tutoring tips we share in Online Tutoring Mastery, your students are going to be willing to pay you happily only if they think you are a good teacher. Therefore what we share is not a recipe for success for all, it is a recipe for people who are good at teaching. If you are one of them, this article is your introduction to a new profession! Welcome to the club!

4. Hardware For Online Tutoring

To tutor online, we need some extra hardware in addition to the obvious requirements of a computer and internet connection. It is technically possible to tutor online with a smart tablet like an iPad, however, tutoring requires more than being able to start a video chat and overall, online tutoring using computers is much more effective compared to smart tablets (for sharing documents, switching between different software, etc).

Here in Online Tutoring Mastery, we want you to become one of the best online tutors, therefore we are going to recommend the method we ourselves are using: Using a computer combined with required extra hardware.

Therefore, the first requirements are:

  • A decent computer. Does not have to be high-end.
  • A decent internet connection. Download and upload speeds higher than 10 Mbps are recommended, but slower speeds will also work. Expect connection problems below 1 Mbps. If your data is limited, roughly you are going to need 0.5 to 1 GB data to do a one-hour high-quality video session (Sources for Zoom and Skype).

And we will also need hardware to be able to use our handwriting on our computers.

4.1. Graphics and Drawing Tablets for Online Tutoring

Graphics tablets are the devices that help you write on digital notebooks with your hand, as if you are writing on an actual notebook with a pencil. As you probably already know, it is very hard to handwrite using a mouse or a touchpad. For this reason, graphic tablets have electronic pens we can use just like actual pens, to handwrite comfortably while tutoring online.

There are two types of graphics tablets, ones with screen, and ones without screen. Both types come in small and large sizes. Larger sizes allow more precise handwriting, but are more expensive.

4.1.1. Graphics Tablets Without Screen

graphic tablets without screen

These tablets typically have a black surface. You move the pen on this black surface and your cursor on the computer screen moves accordingly. When you touch on the black surface with your electronic pen, computer interprets this as a click. Therefore these graphic tablets are similar to using pen-shaped mice.

We are used to writing by looking at the place we are writing. However, graphic tablets without screens require you to write on the tablet while looking at the screen, therefore require extra hand-eye coordination. They take a bit of time to get used to, but once familiar, many online tutors use them with success.

One popular choice among tutors is Wacom Intuos, which sells around 70 USD on Amazon.

4.1.2. Graphics Tablets With Screen

Graphics Tablet with Screen

These graphics tablets work according to the same principle, when you click on the surface with the pen, computer interprets it as a click. Their difference is, they mirror your computer screen on their own screen. Therefore, different than tablets without screen, this time you are looking at the surface you are writing at.

These graphics tablets require almost no practice, and they do not require more hand-eye coordination than writing on an A4 paper. All else equal, almost everyone prefers a tablet with screen to a one without screen. However, graphics tablets with screen are typically more expensive.

A large-screen (15.6 inch) Gaomon graphics tablet is selling for around 290 USD on Amazon.

4.1.3. Which One You Should Buy?

This question does not have a universal answer and ideal beginning graphics tablet changes from person to person. Question pretty much reduces to “is it worth paying the extra to get a tablet with screen?”

Since we are not graphic designers, and our intention is to use tablets for handwriting only, typically the cheapest options in each class work well as long as they are durable. We do not need any fancy functionality. Therefore we can think of a tablet without screen as 50 USD, and a tablet with (a large) screen as 300 USD. To pick which one is ideal for you, you can ask these questions:

  • How affordable the 250USD difference for you? Depending on how much you make or where you live, if a difference of 250 USD is not affordable, you can prefer putting in the effort to get used to the tablet without screen, rather than paying 250 USD difference.
  • How serious are you taking online tutoring? If you are determined to do long hours of online tutoring, then it may make more sense to invest the extra 250 USD. If you are just testing the waters, you can take less risk by going for the cheaper option.
  • Are you going to be using the graphics tablet for another reason? For instance, if you are a classroom teacher, you can also use your graphics tablet to create notes/videos for your students. Even if you stop doing online tutoring, your graphics tablet would still be useful. This could justify paying the extra to get a tablet with screen.

Your answers to these questions are going to help you decide which is the best first-tablet for you.

4.2. Headset And Microphone For Online Tutoring

Tutoring Headset

You are going to need a headset with a microphone. Earphones would work as well, but typically their microphone performance is worse compared to headsets, and sound quality is an important factor in online tutoring thus we recommend getting a headset with microphone.

You can search for headsets on your favorite online shopping website and decide on one based on the ratings and reviews. You can search for gaming headsets, since the criteria for a good gaming headset and a good online tutoring headset are almost identical (Should be comfortable when worn long time, good sound quality, good microphone quality). Author of this post had done all his tutoring with this 30 USD headset (The one seen in the image above). When we do our due diligence, cheap headsets work perfectly as well.

After you start tutoring and earning from your new profession, you may decide to upgrade to a better headset. If you decide to do so, we would recommend prioritizing the microphone quality, since it affects how your student hears you and is much more important than how you look in an online tutoring session. This video on Youtube compares the microphones of various gaming headsets. Logitech G Pro (Around 100 USD) and Sennheiser GSP 300 (Around 70 USD) sound better than other models, so you can consider them depending on your budget.

There are tutors who use standalone microphones as well, but their use is a bit more involved and in general they are pricier, thus we recommend a headset with a microphone to start with. In time, you can upgrade to a standalone microphone if you want of course.

4.3. (Optional) Webcam for Online Tutoring

Tutoring webcam

In most online tutoring sessions, unless what you teach has to be shown to camera (like yoga etc), your student is going to be watching your screen and not your webcam. Therefore how you look on webcam is not that important. We can easily conclude that the best budget webcam for tutoring is what you already have.

Seeing each other with the student at the beginning and the end of every session helps build a personal connection, however, this pretty much is the only use case for webcams for most tutors. Many online tutors teach without even turning on their webcam, and only by sharing their voice.

Still, if you would like to get a good webcam that is going to provide a HD video at a high frame rate, a very popular webcam model is Logitech C920 that sells for around 70 USD. Since this webcam is widely popular, there is a lot of documentation and video tutorials about using it, therefore it is easy to learn how to use your webcam effectively by surveying the internet.

5. Software For Online Tutoring

Now that we have discussed what hardware we need for online tutoring, we can discuss the software. For any software we discuss, there are going to be (possibly better) paid versions and subscriptions, but we are going to stick to free software throughout this article.

5.1. Video-chat Software for Online Tutoring

best video chat software for online tutoring

We obviously need a program to connect with our student via a video-chat, this is how online tutoring is done. Some online tutoring marketplaces provide their own video-chat services, so you may not need an external program. But if you don’t have access to such tutoring marketplace video-chat solutions, you can still use various (and probably better) programs.

Skype and Hangouts are popular video chat solutions that allow you to share your screen with the student. Therefore they can be used for online tutoring. Typically, you connect with the student, share your screen, and start writing on your digital notebook to teach.

Zoom is a solution designed specifically for online education, therefore it has extra features. For example, your students can annotate on the shared screen, which allows you to collaborate with the student (ask her to pick an option, or solve a problem) on the shared screen. It has this and various other advantages compared to Skype and Hangouts for teaching, however, it is possible to tutor online using any one of these software.

5.2. Software to Use as Your Online Tutoring Notebook

Onenote software

You have your graphics tablet, you connected with your student through video-chat, and now you need a medium (a notebook) to write your notes on. A popular choice is Microsoft OneNote (can be seen in the image). It provides good-looking notes with the ability to add as many pages to a notebook as you want. Also, you can share the notebook with your student so that she can have access to the notes whenever she wants.

OneNote has plenty of advanced features that are beyond the scope of this article, and it is the choice of many online tutors. You can definitely give it a try as your online tutoring notebook.

5.3. Shared Whiteboards for Online Tutoring

Shared whiteboards are the solutions that provide boards on which both you and the student can write simultaneously, and changes made by all the participants (even if more than two) are reflected to everyone watching the board. Thus it literally is like sharing the same board, but online.

It is possible to share Microsoft OneNote notebooks and they also serve as shared whiteboards, therefore you can use Microsoft OneNote for this purpose as well. Some alternatives are Ziteboard and AwwApp. If you are interested, you can read our article about which free shared whiteboard is the best option.

5.4. (Optional) Software for Screen Recording

OBS best screen recording software

Even though it is not a must in online tutoring, many online tutors want to be able to record their screens, so that they can create video content like problem solutions. For this purpose there are various paid options like Camtasia Studio. However, interestingly enough, the best screen recording software in our opinion is the free one: OBS (Open Broadcaster Software).

This program is mostly used by game streamers but works for any kind of screen recording. Since it is widely used, tutorials about how to use OBS for screen recording are available on both Google and Youtube. To prevent our already long article from getting longer we will not describe the details here, but feel free to Google “screen recording with OBS” to learn about this amazing free software.

6. Marketing Your Online Tutoring

So far we have covered how to become an online tutor. Even if you manage to become a great online tutor, marketing your tutoring business and helping students find you is a challenge on its own. This is the case in every industry, unfortunately doing your job great does not automatically let people know about you. Marketing requires a different set of skills and focus.

After we had written this article, we have written another very detailed one about online tutoring jobs. Still, this section is going to serve as a big-picture summary of what can be done. The two main paths you can take are utilizing an online tutoring marketplace or marketing your business independently.

6.1. Marketing on Online Tutoring Marketplaces

wyzant marketplace

Online tutoring marketplaces are the websites you register as a tutor. Students find you either by applying to your profile directly, or you find the students by applying their “job postings” in which they describe their tutoring needs. In short, online tutoring marketplace introduces you and the students to each other, and when you do a session together they also make money (in the form of a commission).

In time, as you do more and more sessions, you accumulate ratings and reviews which encourage even more students to book sessions with you.

Two popular examples are Wyzant (Wyzant is US only) and Chegg. On Wyzant you set your hourly rate but Wyzant takes 25% of your tutoring earnings. And Chegg pays tutors a flat 20 USD/hr. Thus online tutoring marketplaces are pricy, you either lose a big percentage to commissions or are not able to set your own rate.

(If you are interested, you can check out the guest posts on our blog regarding becoming a Wyzant tutor and becoming a Chegg tutor.)

Still, if you build a good reputation on a website like Chegg or Wyzant, you will have a continuous stream of new students. This is the path some tutors take, they become a “master” in one online marketplace, they are OK with paying the commission, and they build a reputation in that marketplace. That way they are able to find numerous students without spending further effort on marketing their business.

6.2. Marketing Your Business Independently

Compared to the first path, this is more like a “higher effort higher return” path. Obviously, if you find your students yourself, you don’t pay anyone commission. However, finding students without utilizing online marketplaces is a challenge.

Some popular methods used by independent tutors to market their businesses are:

  • Creating a website: There they announce their tutoring services. Some also write blog posts relevant to their teaching, hoping that they will attract Google’s attention and Google is going to send students to the website through search results.
  • Facebook pages: Tutors create Facebook pages to promote their tutoring business
  • Posting websites: Tutors utilize websites in which they can post their services, like Craigslist, NextDoor, Thumbtack.
  • Posting flyers in the neighborhood: Yes online tutors do this too, because they can meet with the student in-person for the first time and then suggest doing online sessions afterwards.
  • Word of Mouth: Tutors ask happy students for referrals.

6.3. A Combination of Both

The two marketing strategies explained are not mutually exclusive, an online tutor can attempt at both simultaneously as well. For example, you can join an online tutoring marketplace, start building reputation there, while also working on your self-marketing independently. Then, when you find students yourself outside the online marketing place, you can refer to your ratings and reviews on the marketplace website to show that you are a successful tutor. You can use your reputation in the online tutoring marketplace to impress students you have found independently as well.

7. Get Connected: Online Tutor Communities

Online Tutoring Community

Not surprisingly, online tutors are good at using the internet, and there are great online tutor communities you can join. Online Tutoring Mastery has a Facebook Group exclusive to the students enrolled to the online course, and if you are enrolled you should definitely consider joining the Facebook group too.

You can find alternative groups you can join by utilizing Facebook search as well.

8. Conclusion: Time to Become an Online Tutor

Online Tutoring Mastery Icon

In this article we have covered the advantages of becoming an online tutor and practical aspects like required hardware and software. We also discussed marketing strategies, even though we had to keep the marketing part short since it is a topic on its own (It will be covered in more detail in future articles).

We hope that this article provides a good understanding of what needs to be done to start tutoring online. Please feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts in comments, so that we all can become better online tutors together!

A. Appendix

A.1. Become an Online Tutor: Frequently Asked Questions

How much can you make as an online tutor?

Answer depends on the subject you tutor. For subjects like elementary math, you can expect a 20 USD/hr starting rate, and as you build reputation you can charge as much as 50 USD/hr. For more advanced high school or college level subjects rates like 80-100 USD/hr are possible.

How do I become an online tutor with no experience?

You don’t need experience to become an online tutor, all of us have started at one point! In fact, the only prerequisite of becoming an online tutor is being good at teaching. If you are a good teacher and people are willing to pay for your teaching, you can be a great online tutor.

How do I teach online tuition?

You need to buy the required hardware but no need to worry, they are budget friendly. After you prepare your setup (probably with a headset and a graphics tablet), you install your favorite video-chat or e-learning software. You connect with your student and that’s it. In essence, the process is roughly like this.

Is online teaching profitable?

It definitely is. In fact, when done properly, online tutoring is at least as efficient as in-person tutoring in terms of both the quality of sessions and earning potential. Yes, a typical client is willing to pay more for in-person tutoring, but online tutoring makes the whole world your audience. This raises the rate you can charge.

Ahmet

3 thoughts on “Become An Online Tutor: the Ultimate Guide (2020)”

  1. Thank you for all of the information you provide here. It is very valuable. I am a former math teacher turned math tutor based in Los Angeles trying to find ways to expand my business to the online arena. One question I have is what hardware the student needs on their side. You say that it is not necessary for students to have a writing tablet or touch screen device. But, for me, tutoring is more than just showing students how to work problems. I’ll show a student how to work a problem, but then watch them do some on their own. That’s not possible unless the student has some kind of digital writing element.

    Another problem I foresee is that if a student has a physical, paper assignment to complete for school, if we use an online whiteboard, the student then has to copy the work from the whiteboard to their paper.

    Any clarification on these issues would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hello Chris,

      I agree, student participation is a well-known challenge for all of us online tutors. And many of us are a bit hesitant to tell the student that a graphic tablet is necessary (If you think your student’s financial status is well enough, you can suggest a 50 USD graphics tablet though, I guess this is a bit student dependent).

      Assuming we cannot ask the student to go get a graphics tablet, here is my favorite alternative:

      Almost everyone has a smartphone. And WhatsApp is a widely known application with billions of users.

      + Both tutor and student install WhatsApp
      + Student solves the problem/exercise on a paper, snaps a photo and sends to tutor on WhatsApp.
      + Tutor uses WhatsApp Web, which allows him/her to see the received photo immediately on the computer screen without even touching the phone.
      + By using the “copy & paste trick” I explain in another post (please refer to the link below) the tutor brings the photo to the whiteboard in a matter of seconds.
      https://www.onlinetutoringmastery.com/copy-paste-for-online-tutors/
      + From there, the student’s handwritten solution is on the board, and you are good to work on it further.

      After a bit of practice, seeing the student’s hardcopy-solution on the whiteboard takes like 10 seconds with this method.

      When a student does not have access to a graphics tablet, this is my favorite alternative. I will write a more detailed blog post explaining this method sometime in the future. Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention!

      Reply

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