The difference between tutoring and academic coaching

Does your child need academic help outside the classroom? Tutoring might be a good option. But you may also hear about academic “coaches” who help teach kids learning strategies.

What’s the difference? Which is best suited for your child?

There’s no official distinction between what makes one person a tutor and someone else a coach. Sometimes it’s just a matter of marketing.

Instructors may call themselves “coaches” because some students may not like the idea of being “tutored.” That’s because some students may associate being tutored with having some kind of weakness. But they may be open to being “coached,” like an athlete, to become “even better.” This is especially true for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers.

There tend to be some basic differences between the tutors and coaches, though. This chart can give you an idea of what they are.



Academic coaching

Basic approach

Tutors tend to focus on building concrete skills and helping students with what they immediately need to keep up with schoolwork.

Similar to a sports coach, an academic coach tends to work on more general strategies to help kids succeed. They can help kids develop a more organized approach to learning and schoolwork. They may also focus on strategies to help kids with motivation.

What a typical session may look like

A tutor may zero in on specific skills that are giving a student trouble. A math tutor, for instance, may focus on long division, going over assigned homework and helping the student get ready for upcoming tests.

Tutors can help kids work on specific skills during the summer, too. They may do practice drills so a student can keep up on skills and be ready for the new school year.

Coaches working with younger kids may help them organize their backpack. Coaches might also show kids how to create color-coded systems for notebooks and folders.

Middle- and high-schoolers may learn to create schedules that will help them tackle long-term projects. The coach may share tips and strategies about how to stay focused and take tests more effectively.

Who offers it

There’s no official credential for being a tutor. Many tutors are current or retired teachers who work independently or as part of a commercial tutoring program. But even high school students can be tutors.

Some tutors are certified to help kids with learning differences like dyslexia. They may be certified through programs like Wilson or Orton–Gillingham

Online tutoring and tutoring software are options, too.

There’s no official credential for being a learning coach or academic coach. Many are current or retired teachers, or they may have some background in education or psychology.

Some commercial tutoring centers are starting to offer more “coaching-style” programs. But they still tend to refer to these programs as tutoring services.

Type of student who could benefit

Tutoring could be a good option for students struggling to stay at grade level. It could also benefit students who need help reaching academic goals in one or more specific areas like reading, writing, science, or math. However, some students with learning differences may need to see someone more specialized, like an educational therapist.

Coaching could be helpful for students who have certain skills but lack the motivation, organization, or strategies they need to apply those skills. Coaching could also benefit students who need help with staying focused, such as kids with ADHD. Athletes with positive sports experiences often respond well to a coaching model.

Grade-schoolers who need to learn good study habits could benefit from an organizational coach. Older students who need help with prioritizing, staying on task, or even prepping for the ACT or SAT could also benefit from an academic coach.

Duration of services

Tutoring is sometimes used on a “spot” basis. This could be to help a student through a rough patch or with a specific skill, like solving quadratic equations. But tutoring often continues throughout the length of a particular course, such as algebra or chemistry.

Some coaches sell “packages” that are designed to lay the basic groundwork students need to succeed within a limited window of time. This can be anywhere from three to six months or beyond.


Rates vary by area and expertise but are comparable to those for academic coaches.

Rates vary by area and expertise but are comparable to those for tutors.

In real life, the line between coaching and tutoring can be blurry. Some tutors, like coaches, may focus on learning strategies. Some coaches, like tutors, will help students tackle homework. And some coaches may not even call themselves “coaches.”

Once you know what kind of help your child needs, a good way to find the right person is to seek referrals from the school or other parents. Then interview each candidate carefully about what the basic approach would be. Having a list of key questions to ask can be helpful.

And be sure to let the person you hire know about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. That will let the coach or tutor do a better job of helping your child.


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