Post Academic

The Post Academic Survival Guide to Grad School: Your summer SAT prep and study center job

Since Caroline has been covering been covering the topic of part-time work the last few days and also because you probably can’t freeload your way through summer, it’s probably timely to discuss SAT and other tutoring jobs that might be available for the taking.  Mind you, Caroline and I were lucky when we did our summer part-time study center gigs, because there are tons of opportunities for this sort of thing in Southern California, partly due to Asian ethnic communities that have transplanted the study center ethos from their home countries here.  (If you think Kaplan and Princeton Review are anti-intellectual factories, they ain’t got nothing on the study centers in Taiwan, where your college future hinges on a single standardized test!)

Here are some tips about finding study center work and how to make the most of it (i.e., how to cut corners so that you’ll be able to use the summer to study for your qualifying exams or work on your dissertation).

1. How to find a job: Word of mouth usually works well in these cases, so ask your friends (as Caroline has suggested) and check your department listservs for summer job possibilities.  Also, look for study centers that aren’t just the big chains you’ve heard of, although indie operations might be harder to find in non-urban areas.  This where getting your M.A. or Ph.D. makes you an appealing candidate, since it’s more than likely you’re at a good or the only research institution in your area.  Study centers like to boast that they have teachers from Ivy-like schools, top-notch public universities, or colleges their students would like to attend, because they assume you can magically make that happen for them too.  Also, don’t think that positions are limited to SAT or achievement tests or AP classes: some “learning centers” offer courses all the way down to middle-school standardized tests, which I tended to choose because I didn’t need the stress of making sure high-schoolers got the SAT score they wanted.

2. What to expect: Academic purity trolls need not apply here, since this is a crass money-making enterprise mostly for the study centers and for you too.  Whatever class you take, be forewarned that, in almost all cases, you are just a glorified test-cramming baby sitter, especially if you are actually teaching young kids who are really going to the equivalent of day care.  But sometimes, it’s not so bad–like your college students, you’ll find some kids who are really smart, motivated, and that you’re happy to invest your time/energy in.  And because it’s hard to care that much about a summer job, the smart alecks are a lot funnier at this stage than they will be a few years later messing up the dynamic of your comp section.

As for pay, I got $20-$25/hr for my starting rate, though it goes up the longer you teach and also with the level of class you’re assigned.  The hard-core SAT classes for the tip-top students will offer a higher rate.  I’ve heard private tutors in big metropolitan areas can get up to triple-digits an hour and some folks who basically work full-time can get paid more than a TA salary, but that might more of a commitment than most grad students are looking for.

More after the jump…

3. Looking out for #1: Like any job, even a part-time one, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by your summer study center gig.  First, you’ll be spending tons of time in the “classroom” doing repetitive, mind-numbing stuff, especially if you teach the same SAT verbal program to multiple classes.  Second, you’ll probably be exhausted by the time you finish teaching, between commuting and the odd hours you might be assigned–heck, I guess that sounds like any job, though you’re not getting the salary or benefits of a full-time one.  My advice is that you don’t take any work home with you, and just grade all the practice tests during down time or when the kids are taking yet another practice test.  Or find a way to take a surreptitious nap while your students are doing their work.  Figure out how to expend minimal effort so that your summer isn’t totally shot, and you can focus on the things you really want to, like your own research or going on vacation at some point or fantasy baseball.

4. Watch your back: I doubt this happens at national franchises like Princeton Review, but some of the mom-and-pop places or local chains might try to get you to do some shady things, like take copyrighted study materials and “tweak”–er, rip–them for their own program.  Or they might take some liberties with paying you and with your Social Security withholdings.  Or they’ll cajole you into subbing a class when you’ve already decided you’ve got too many hours.  Just go into working at a study center with your eyes open.  That means not doing anything you feel icky about, since they aren’t paying you enough to do that.  That also means standing up for yourself in case you feel like you’re being taken advantage of–in the end, don’t worry so much about burning this bridge.  And once a course gets going, they probably need you as much as you need them.

5. A job with side benefits: If want them, there are usually other opportunities that’ll open up for you at these study centers during the school year.  You might get higher-paying tutoring gigs and college application advising sessions as a bone study centers throw their prize teaches.  Just be sure you set some limits, because it can get overwhelming if you are constantly being offered more and more work with a little pay raise once in a while too.  It is an offer you can refuse when you have no time to work on your dissertation because you’re spending the hours you aren’t teaching your college students teaching high-school students.

2 Responses to 'The Post Academic Survival Guide to Grad School: Your summer SAT prep and study center job'

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  1. Nick said,

    It’s worth noting as well, re: pay, that the hourly rate normally is strictly for the hours when you are actively conducting class. Especially the first time you teach a course, you will probably have to spend 3 times that amount prepping, whether by attending mandatory training sessions or working on your own. At the large national chain where I taught, the hourly rate for prep work was about 1/3 the hourly class rate, and there was a maximum number of prep hours you could bill.

    This is not a bad thing, on the whole: in a private tutoring situation, you normally don’t get paid at all for your prep time. But I’ve found that the large chains sell you on “you get paid for training and prep!” but leave out details about how much.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      Thanks for recounting your experiences with tutoring and test prep, Nick! It’s a good caveat you provide, that prep time and grading aren’t usually compensated (they weren’t for me), so that’s why I tried to minimize the amount of time I was working at home. That meant using the time between classes and even doing things while the students were working on practice tests. To balance out not being compensated for prep, you do get paid for those hours in the classroom while the students are taking tests and you’re not actively teaching.

      Great insights–thanks again!

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