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Some students report that the process of getting a private tutor is complicated and time-consuming.

Credit: Courtesy of Creative Commons

With finals season looming, Penn students can seek help at the Tutoring Center — but some students say the system isn’t perfect.

Penn’s Tutoring Center offers free help in several forms: students can attend satellite tutoring sessions, participate in student-led discussion groups or workshops, receive tutoring in their college house or request a private tutor.

It’s this latter option, students say, that can be problematic — some students report that the process of getting a private tutor is complicated and time-consuming.

“Last semester, it took a while to get a tutor,” one student who sought Tutoring Center services said. “It can be like a two week-long process. The system makes it inconvenient to get help.”

On the other side of the system, tutors hold similar views. “I’d like to see it easier for people to get assigned,” Wharton senior and current tutor John Herbut said. “I know sometimes people wait until later in the semester to get a tutor, and by that point it can get pretty stressful.”

Tutoring Center Director Donna Brown said the slow process stems from the fact that they can only hire a certain amount of tutors each year. A limited pool means it may take some time to be matched with an available tutor. The demand for tutors in certain classes varies, so it may be more difficult to get help for high-demand courses such as Math 104.

“Assignments are based upon demand and also upon tutor availability,” Brown said. “There isn’t an unlimited pool of tutors. We try to keep as many as possible in high-traffic areas, but if we have a great deal of demand sometimes the service goes pretty quickly. So it really is contingent upon what courses the person is requesting, and by the same token, we don’t have a tutor for every course. So if we have to find someone, that’s going to take us a little time to do that.”

Some students also criticized the limited time allotted for tutoring sessions — generally, students meet with their tutors for an hour each week. However, Brown said that anyone can apply for two extra hours of tutoring per week. The restriction on time is in place, she said, to maximize resources: Time limits allow as many students as possible to obtain sessions.

Despite these complaints, student tutors and tutees alike report that the services are helpful, especially considering that they are free.

“Tutors really enjoy the content and they want to see people succeed, and I think if more people ... understood that they’d feel more comfortable trying to get a tutor rather than looking outside for tutors that are a lot pricier than the free services we offer here,” Herbut said.

College junior Brianna Evans is both a tutor and a tutee with the Center. “Freshman year I took Physics, and I was having a hard time. I’d always been a tutor in high school but I’d never been tutored in my life and I was like ‘Oh no, I don’t want to be tutored.’ But eventually I sucked in my pride, and it was actually pretty helpful,” she said. Later, Evans said, her time spent as a tutee inspired her to tutor for the courses she excelled in.

The Tutoring Center has plans to improve in the future. Brown said the program will implement a new online database system, as well as tweak the tutor-tutee matching process to shorten the wait time. The Tutoring Center is also interested in obtaining a centralized location. Currently, its administrative offices are located at 220 S. 40th Street, near Ben and Jerry’s, but Brown would like for the program to have what she called “a location where we can bring people together.”

“We really try to do the best job that we can with the staff that we have, but again, we’re not a huge organization,” she said. “There are a few of us, and we offer our services in a wide range of formats. Everything we do may not be perfect, but we’re at least trying.”

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