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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

Tutoring vs Academic Coaching: What’s the Difference?

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

Hannah and Grace were two sisters. They both had done well academically throughout elementary school, but when they got to middle school, things started to get difficult. Both would study, but neither made much progress—or at least, not the progress they should have made.

Hannah, the oldest, was doing pretty well but struggled with math and science. Her homework time was almost completely concentrated on those subjects. After speeding through English and literature, writing, and history, she would spend the rest of the evening pouring over math study guides and highlighted everything in her science textbooks. Her determination was rewarded and she just made the cutoff for the high school she wanted to go to. She was excited, but became (understandably) more and more nervous as September approached since she knew school would only get harder.

By contrast, Grace, the youngest, seemed all over the place. On a day-to-day basis, she would do her homework at odd hours in between texting conversations with friends, but she usually did pretty well if she completed her work. Her parents would constantly ask her if she had finished everything and she always said yes, but sometimes she would totally forget about an assignment or a project and have to cram it in over a really intense weekend. Her tests were completely hit or miss: she would either absolutely ace them or completely fail them.

Both girls were struggling, and their parents knew they needed some kind of academic support, but the girls seemed to be struggling in different ways. Their parents weren’t quite sure what each of them needed.

What Kinds of Help Are Out There?

The kind of help your child should get, obviously, depends on what she needs. If you catch an issue early enough, it may be solvable by encouraging your child to reach out to her teacher and clarify what she missed. Perhaps it was a concept that just went over her head that the teacher can explain in detail or a forgotten homework assignment she can make up.

If this isn’t sufficient, your child’s school probably has resources to support struggling students. Have your child go to the front desk or to an administrator with her questions about what is available. This may feel a bit intimidating to your child, especially if she isn’t yet familiar with how to advocate for herself, but these people are actually employed to help the school and the students function optimally; it is their job to help your child. She may discover there is a time and place set aside specifically for homework. Perhaps there are a few teachers supervising who can help if your child doesn’t understand. Any of these may solve some of her academic issues.

If the academic problem persists, you need to look outside for more help. There are generally two kinds of educational support: tutoring and academic coaching. Most are somewhat familiar with these professions, but not many really know the difference between the two. Let’s take a closer look at what separates tutoring and academic coaching and when they can help your child.

What a Tutor Can Do

A tutor focuses on specific subject matter and the content of the class your child is taking. Tutors will typically have subject specialties like math or science, and they focus on helping students understand difficult concepts within their particular subject. In the story, for example, a math tutor would help Hannah learn the nuances behind how to graph equations.

What an Academic Coach Can Do

An academic coach doesn’t focus on any one subject, but instead on your child’s study skills as a whole. A coach shows you how to study, not what to study. Academic coaches teach students how to get organized so they are studying the right things and how to manage their time so their efforts are efficient and productive. In the story, an academic coach would help Grace learn how to focus during homework time and how to use her test study guides so she would be preparing properly for her upcoming tests.

Both types of support can be useful, depending on what your child needs. Additionally, these aren’t strict categories. Many tutors will recognize the poor study habits of their students and can show them how to create new, productive habits. Academic coaches are sometimes specialized and may be able to help students with certain concepts that fall in a coach’s area of expertise. However, if you child is really missing something within the purview of tutoring or academic coaching specifically, you will want to get someone who has the specialty needed to help your child succeed. Here’s how to know when you need an academic coach or a tutor.

Is It Time for an Academic Coach?

When your child is struggling with school in general, not a particular topic or class, she will probably benefit most from an academic coach. Being a good student isn’t natural, it’s a skill. It can be learned. When your child is having a hard time completing homework, maybe even turning it in, that’s a sign of poor organization, not a lack of comprehension. If your child spends the evening memorizing vocabulary and walks into class feeling completely ready only to find out that the test focuses more on reading comprehension, that’s a misunderstanding, not a knowledge gap.

Before focusing on specific subjects, make sure your child knows how to be a good student first with an academic coach.

Is It Time for a Tutor?

If you know your child is a good student—she is organized, timely, and focused—and generally getting good grades in all classes except for one, a tutor may be your best choice. If your child is doing great in school except for writing, she needs a writing tutor. She knows how to be a good student; she just doesn’t understand how to write.

Not every subject is easy to understand and we all have particular ways our brains work. Maybe history has always been a rough subject but it’s really hitting hard this year and your child needs a bit more support. Occasionally, certain teachers aren’t able to connect with certain students and getting through a class means finding someone who understands how your child learns. Teach your child how to ask for help by encouraging her to look up and call different tutoring services until she finds what she needs.

Sometimes an academic problem is a matter of learning how to get yourself in order or getting a little extra explanation for a particular concept. But sometimes, there may also be a bad experience holding

your child back. Some students have had bad teachers or they continued to fail even after trying really hard. When enough of those bad experiences pile up, students may believe they are stupid and are inclined to stop trying at all. This may be an amalgamation of bad study skills, a tough subject, and a poor self-esteem. Talk with those who are a part of your academic support about how to help your child regain her confidence in herself and recover her belief in her academic abilities.

Spark Tutors is pleased to be able to provide guidance in all areas of academic development. We can help your child improve her study skills and learn how to become a good student via academic coaching, plus we offer specific help for tough concepts and subject matter with our specialized tutors. Every one of our team members is passionate about educating and encouraging students to reach their potential. If your child is lacking in confidence, we are proud to come alongside you both to help your child overcome the challenges she faces at school.


School can be hard, but there are always ways to solve problems and surmount obstacles. We hope this article has given you clarity on what next steps are available for you and your child to take in order to get you where you want to go. Whatever your child needs to achieve his or her goals, we are excited to be a part of the academic journey. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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