“I make $90,000/year on the side tutoring people for standardized tests”

by Guest Author - Published September 19, 2018

math numbers
68 Shares

[Welcome to Side Hustle #74! Where expert test taker, stops by to share his experience – and tips – on how to start your own tutoring business if it piques your interest. We’ve covered your basic tutoring as a side hustle before on this site (#14), as well as getting paid to write questions for standardized tests (#23), but this one takes it to a whole other level. So if you excel at the GMATs, GREs, or LSATs, and really enjoy teaching, this gig could be for you!]

********

I’ve always been a nerd. My nose has been continually in a book ever since I was 5, and the floor of my bedroom is piled high with novels, compendiums, and even the stray textbook.

I’ve always gotten good grades, too. I was never really a teacher’s pet, but school made sense to me. I didn’t have to try too hard to get A’s, even through high school. My teachers were always frustrated: they wanted me to “apply myself” more, but I didn’t see the point.

Once I got to college, I discovered a hustle which fit perfectly into my skills: being a professional test-prep tutor! Like any good nerd, I love being right about an obscure subject. When did William the Conqueror become king of England? 1066. What’s the chemical formula of glucose? C6H12O6. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Ask that crazy owl.

Being a tutor was like being able to be right about obscure subjects all the time and get paid for it! Whatever subject people were taking, I could learn the material, teach it to them, and get paid good money for it. Even in college I was charging $50/hr, which is no small change for a college student.

So after college, when I needed a job, I decided to go full-time into test-prep tutoring. First, I went to work for a test-prep company in Singapore. Singapore was awesome (and had amazing food), but I didn’t love the company. Their teaching materials sucked, and they kept like 85% of what they charged people to meet with me.

So then I figured: why not go into business on my own? I had the core requirements of being an independent, professional tutor down already, namely:

  1. Strong opinions about how tests should be prepared for
  2. A natural talent for taking tests, especially standardized ones
  3. A fiercely independent streak, which meant that I couldn’t last long with a company even if I tried

I quit my job, left Singapore, and ended up back in Boston on my brother’s couch. I posted an ad on Reddit, reading “GMAT tutor offering free tutoring in exchange for testimonials” . I got some replies, and the rest was history (and a lot of hard work, experimentation, failure, long nights, etc).

My Life As a Tutor

My life as a tutor now is pretty good. I have a system set up where I use advertising and web presence to get people to my website. People read my website, are impressed by my credentials and such, and send me an email. Then I talk to them, set up a time to meet, and we start tutoring.

I only tutor graduate exams which people are willing to pay a lot for (namely the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT). A good score on those exams means scholarships, a more prestigious graduate degree, and higher income after graduate school. Getting tutoring in them is a pretty good investment, if I do say so myself.

Because I only tutor graduate exams, I never have to deal with kids which is great. I never liked tutoring kids. The kids always ended up distracted, and I ended up feeling like an overpaid babysitter, desperately trying to get them to learn what their parents are paying me to teach. When I tutor adults, they’re usually spending their own money, which means our incentives are more aligned.

It took me a while to set up all of the non-teaching parts of my business, like marketing, office space, website hosting, etc… Now it’s all on autopilot, though. I don’t really pay attention to it. I tutor for like 15-20 hours a week, and spend the rest of my time on side projects.

How Much It Pays (and Some Cons)

In terms of money, I charge $100/hr for the easier exams (GRE and LSAT), and $160/hr for the harder exam (GMAT). Given that most people work with me for 10-15 hours, I make anywhere from $1,000 to $2,400 per client. Over the course of a year, I make around 6 figures. In 2017 I made $90,189 and I’m on course to hit $100,000 this year.

The only downsides to the work are really just the loneliness, lack of job security, and odd hours. I’m a naturally introverted person, but still: I have zero coworkers. The only people I interact with at my job are customers, which can get tiring.

I also have no job security. If I’m sick, I don’t get paid, period. And because I am tutoring adults who work full-time jobs, I am generally very busy during the evenings and weekends, and pretty free during the 9-5. My social life is a careful balancing act.

How to Start Your Own Tutoring Business

First off, this is only a life for someone who is a geek, and won’t mind teaching algebra, vocab, and other testable things for 2-4 hours a day, 7-ish days a week. Like, that’s the most basic requirement for this. If you hate tests, then being in this field is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood.

If you excel at this stuff, though, I actually made an entire website on . The short version is this:

  1. Find a niche. This would preferably be a test that you’re an expert in. If you just tutor “math”, you can charge $20/hr to parents of elementary school students. If you tutor “GMAT math”, you can charge $160/hr to those who actually want your help.
  2. Create an effective tutoring website. This website needs to portray you as someone that your clients can trust. Display your info, testimonials and reviews, scores, and affiliations prominently.
  3. Develop a web presence. You need to be on Yelp and Google My Business so that people can find you. Next up? Start getting reviews on those sites.
  4. Offer free tutoring for testimonials and reviews. It’s really hard to get clients without social proof. Those first few people who can offer you reviews and testimonials are golden.

After that, you just revise, improve, and repeat! It takes a while to get it down perfectly, but that’s probably to be expected with any business.

It’s a pretty sweet gig for only working part-time.

******
Trevor Klee is a , and the official GRE instructor for MIT’s Laureates & Leaders program. He blogs about the business of tutoring at , where he shares everything he’s learned over the years running a successful side business.

Liked this? Check out our full list of 70+ side hustles over the years here. Or the past three we’ve featured most recently (my favorite is that Trash one!! Brilliant!)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Accidental FIRE September 19, 2018 at 5:14 am

Wow, very interesting and that’s some good dough. I’m an expert in some specialized software that’s in demand and thought of starting tutoring now and then. Some of the ups/downs you bring up are interesting and also some that I might have suspected. But the flexibility is great

Reply

2 Trevor Klee September 19, 2018 at 10:11 am

Thanks! And yeah, the flexibility is really nice.

If you’re interested in starting tutoring for the software, I’d start by looking at what other tutors are doing on Wyzant. Wyzant tells you people’s hourly rates and also how many hours they tutor. It’s a good way to gauge demand (although don’t sign up through Wyzant, because they’re not great as a platform).

Reply

3 Joel September 21, 2018 at 5:23 pm

Hi Trevor, since Wyzant is not great, which do you think would be better platforms? Or should one just strike out on their own from the get-go?

Reply

4 The Family Escapes September 19, 2018 at 5:50 am

Well done Trevor, it looks like you’ve been able to carve out a nice business out of your expertise! What about scalability? I imagine you personally have to be in front of your clients, so there is a maximum number of students you can have at any given point?

Reply

5 J. Money September 19, 2018 at 10:10 am

I wonder if you can up your clientele too and target families of high rolling businessmen/CEOs and/or celebs? “Tutor to the Stars” has a nice ring to it! Haha…

Reply

6 Trevor Klee September 19, 2018 at 10:17 am

Yeah, I definitely max out on number of students with one-on-one tutoring. So there are basically three options for making more money:

1. Charge more
2. Be in front of more clients at one time
3. Hire people (or contract out)

I know people who charge more than me, but my guilt ends up coming into play at some point. I sometimes feel like…man, are you sure you want to pay me that much?

I’ve tried being in front of more clients at one time, although not seriously. I’d want to make sure that my classes (because that’s what they’d be at that point) are significantly better than the alternative. I’ll probably try it eventually.

Hiring people has the problems you’d expect. It’s a specialized skill, so not that easy to find employees (although easier here in Cambridge than probably anywhere else). I’d need to make sure that I’m actually training them well too. Quality control would be an issue again, because I’d need to make sure I’m actually training my employees to be good tutors. I don’t want to waste other people’s time with bad tutoring.

Reply

7 Josie September 19, 2018 at 6:20 am

Trevor,

Have you thought about teaching others to tutor and hiring people on? It would be a great way to get more social interaction and increase your earnings. They give up what you deem a fair percentage of their earnings and can ride your coattails, you get income from their work and some more intrinsic needs met, as well as increasing your earnings potential. Seems win-win!

Reply

8 Trevor Klee September 19, 2018 at 10:22 am

Yup, definitely thought about it! Agree on both counts: increasing my earning and also social interaction (sounds a little sad when I put it that way lol).

I’d need to find the right people, and then make sure they didn’t leave after I trained them. Both of those can be a bit tough, but I think would be worth it in the end.

Maybe that’ll be next year’s project :)

Reply

9 Joe September 19, 2018 at 10:00 am

That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing. Tutoring sounds like a great way to make money. Your niche is just about perfect. Hopefully, you can parlay your skill into a business. Of course, it takes different skills for that, but I’m sure you’ll be able to learn. Good luck!

Reply

10 Trevor Klee September 19, 2018 at 10:24 am

Thanks Joe. I have a bit of a small business right now, I think, but scaling it up will definitely require some learning. Fortunately, I’ve got a fair bit of practice with learning.

Reply

11 Michael Crosby September 19, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Trevor, I really enjoyed your post. Thank you so much.

I had my own appliance-AC business for 30 years so I know what you mean about the loneliness, though I’m an introvert too.

Seems to me, your next step would be how to get good long-term employees.

For me, I never minded the insecurity of running my own business. I actually liked that I was responsible for the money I made. Look at all your negatives as a , because they are.

Good luck, you’re an inspiration.

Reply

12 Trevor Klee September 20, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Thanks Michael. And I suspect you might be right. That might be my next project.

Reply

13 Mrs. Picky Pincher September 19, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Dangggg. I would almost classify this as a full-time gig with that kind of money! I’ve seen this before; tutoring is incredibly lucrative as a side hustle. And the more specialized, the higher the fee.

Reply

14 Mr. Pop September 20, 2018 at 7:57 am

Great hustle…scalability is always an issue for these types of businesses, but if you’re making 6 figures I’d say it’s scaled enough!

Reply

15 Mr RIP September 20, 2018 at 8:19 am

Extremely useful post, thanks for sharing it!

A question, 100k means 600-1000 hours of work per year (at the rate 100-160$ per hour), which seems slightly less than 3-4 hours per day 7-ish days per week.

Reply

16 Trevor Klee September 20, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Yeah, there are busier times and slower times. I was just trying to speak in averages about my work hours.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: