Yesterday, I spoke to a tutor who focuses on providing one to one tutoring to University students. Her insights were interesting, and the purpose of this blog post is to share her tips with you.

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So how are University students different to students still at school? Well, they tend to be more driven and generally keener than the typical student whose parents may have hired your services after one too many disappointing school reports. They also have higher expectations and demand a far more specialised level of knowledge from their tutor, which means that there is generally a lot more pre-lesson preparation involved.

Below are a set of tips to help you make the most of your tutoring sessions with University students:

  • Make sure you are the right fit for the student: Once a University student is past their first year of studies, chances are, if they are seeking a private tutor, it is because they require specialised support in the more complex topics in their subject area. Find out the specific areas where they require support, and make sure that you can deliver it. Ensure that your hourly rate properly reflects the hours of prep work required.
  • Try to be flexible when it comes to scheduling tutorials: Many University students have rather irregular schedules, with free hours interspersed between long blocks of classes in the morning or afternoon. In order for your student to do well they will need to be effective time managers and make the most of their free time – sometimes, this will be late at night or early in the morning. If you cannot get away to a student when they need you, schedule in a online tutorials and see if your student is happy to work this way.
  • Use software and programmes that will enable you and your student to work together on a project at different times. If you are working as a group, you will benefit greatly from the myriad of available project management software for remote teams, which will allow you to set goals for individual students and receive notifications when your students have updated a project.
  • Be helpful, yet encourage independence. If a student is seeking help with essays, rather than rewrite crucial passages for them, point out flaws in the grammatical structure, flow or style of particular sentences and ask the student to learn to edit their own work. This skill will stand in good stead for much longer than the tutoring relationship lasts. If your student is not a natural writer, refer them to good books on essay writing, such as Keith Folse’s Great Essays. If students make frequent grammatical errors, refer them to a book like Vocabulary in Use (a Cambridge series). Explain that while getting through the books may take a few hours, it will definitely be time well invested since the lessons they learn from these publications will be of great value not only while they are at University, but also during their professional lives, when they may be called upon to put their writing skills to the test in e-mails, memos or the drafting of documents or marketing material. If you are tutoring a journalism or media studies student, then good grammar is particularly important; talent means little if errors constantly interfere with the flow of sentences.
  • Prepare them for the big moment: Many University courses have mainly exam-based assessments. Try to obtain past exams and simulate exam-style conditions for your students in the weeks leading up to the day of the exam. That way, while you tutor your student, you can teach them the importance of allocating specific times to each section of the exam and teach them a few tricks that will help their exam stand out – e.g. using interesting quotes, introducing and concluding arguments with effective phrases, etc. If the exam is based to a greater extent on memory, teach your student established techniques that will help them recall a large body of facts at will. You would be surprised at some of the tactics used by successful students – these can include anything from arranging facts into songs or building anagrams which embrace both basic concepts and details. You should also teach them to use visual aids like mind maps and thinking/learning maps, which enable users to digest large amounts of information and retain the information more efficiently.
  • Invite your student into the real world: Ensure that some of your classes take place outside an artificial classroom setting and within as realistic a setting as possible which is relevant to the subject or skill you are tutoring. For instance, if you are tutoring a student on languages, suggest seeing a film in their target language or take them to a venue where there are likely to be speakers from the country whose language they aim to master. There is little point spending every moment of a tutoring session on grammatical rules and theory when fluency is perhaps the cornerstone of successful expression in a foreign language.
  • Broaden your student’s horizons: Be prepared to offer counselling to your student on matters which may lie beyond the specific subject you have been hired to tutor. If you are tutoring a student in Psychology, for instance, you may find that he/she displays a keen interest in medicine. Ask the student if he/she has considered enrolling in a couple of subjects which offer credit for the department of Medicine. Many University students change their original course completely after a year or two of study, which is logical, considering that at the age of 17 or 18, most students are simply too young to make a choice about what they wish to dedicate their entire life to.
  • Learn how to tutor, if you are new to the field: Many Universities offer courses on how to tutor, my eye was drawn to Oxford’s Effective Online Tutoring, which focus on the social, administrative and pedagogical techniques that make a good tutor. These courses are particularly interesting for those who are not too technologically savvy, since they normally run through the most interesting software for the subject you are tutoring. Moreover, they provide excellent lists of suggested further reading.

I hope that you have found this blog post illuminating, and hopefully there are some tips here that you may be able to apply when you tutor University students. If you have some techniques that have worked for you, then why not share them via the comments on this post.

We have been blogging advice for tutors for a while now – our ‘Tips for Tutors’ series. Just in case you missed any, you can find them at:

How to ensure that the first lesson goes really well

Structuring your lessons

8 ways to become a better tutor

12 teaching strategies for more effective tutoring

Developing critical thinking in your students

The importance of teaching values

How to market yourself

Your tax as a self employed tutor

How to set up your website

Helping a reluctant student

Using learning maps

The importance of teaching values




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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.