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Private Tutoring and the LSAT: Evaluating the Tutor Stampede

Evaluating the “Tutor Stampede”

It’s no secret that most of the global economy (excluding Wall St.) is in the dumps. Various media outlets rarely pass up an opportunity to remind us that virtually all industries are treading water, or if they are lucky, squeaking out some modest growth. That was why I was somewhat surprised by this New York Times article from a few days ago that pointed out one industry that is thriving: private tutoring. It was a follow-up to this article, which considered the effects of this tutoring stampede. Consider the following:

– Spending on tutors is growing by more than 5 percent each year

– The total amount that parents in the U.S. spend on academic tutoring each year is about $15 billion according to Edward E. Gordon, author of “The Tutoring Revolution.”

– Sandi Ayaz, executive director of the National Tutoring Association said that the number of tutors her organization certified has grown 18 percent in EACH of the last five years.

I know what you’re thinking: “There’s really an organization called the National Tutoring Association? What could they possibly do all day? Are they hiring?” You might also be thinking that you are a grown up, and LSAT tutors are only one small sliver of this pie. You are different than little Billy, who’s mom hires a math tutor each Thursday to help him remember his long division. This is true, but the arguments for and against this “tutoring stampede” are certainly applicable to LSAT students.

As you know, we sell private LSAT tutoring here at Blueprint (only to complement the fine performance of our company’s oil refining operation). I read both NYT articles as they weighed the pros and cons of the growing tutoring industry, paying special attention to how relevant each of their arguments were when applied specifically to the LSAT:

Argument #1: “It’s not fair!”

Well, as old people and grumpy sitcom dads have been telling us for years, “Life’s not fair.” Of course it’s true that wealthier students are going to have greater access to individual academic help, and so the playing field isn’t equal. It’s never going to be equal. I would imagine that there are some high school kids out there who have tutors who essentially write their papers and do their homework for them, but this is more than unfair, it’s cheating. Furthermore, this argument is less applicable to the big, bad, LSAT. With the LSAT, you can spend $1 million on tutoring, but on test day, you’re sitting there with a bunch of #2 pencils and a granola bar like everyone else. In other words, it’s your score, and good or bad, you earned it.

Argument #2: “It becomes a crutch”

Another possible downside to the increase in individual tutoring is that it makes students less self-driven and creates the attitude that they can’t get things done without help. “What’s next?” one parent in the article asked, “hiring a tutor to make snowmen in the winter?” I agree with this general sentiment about overkill, especially with younger kids and high school students. (I admit this despite the strong income stream that my annual snowman-building workshop generates). Does this dependency issue apply to LSAT students? Not so much. While it is amusing to think of our tutors as some weird gateway drug to tutor-addiction, I’m not buying it. Studying for the LSAT is (hopefully) a three or four month process, it’s not a lifestyle. Once students are done studying, I’m fairly confident that their appetite for one-on-one help decreases, if anything.

Argument #3: “It’s a waste of money. Students seemed to find a way to figure it out before.”

This may be the silliest argument of all. I’m sure many students were able to get their homework done or study for the LSAT before the private tutoring industry took off. I’m sure they were also able to figure out what their friends were up to on Friday night before the iPhone was invented, too. The LSAT, as well as admission to law school, is getting more competitive. If you want to get into a great law school you need a great LSAT score, and it will likely become even more competitive in the future. Private instruction and new, innovative study tools are just natural results of this fact.

Wrapping up this lengthy advertisement for Blueprint’s private tutoring package, I will concede that I do think that many of the arguments in this article do have some merit, but I think they are more applicable to younger students. If little Billy is going over his algebra homework with his tutor every day, before his private golf and guitar lessons, we may need to sit him down and help him figure some stuff out on his own.