Is the Sylvan Learning Center Worth the Money and Time?

Back about 100 years ago my parents took me to the Sylvan Learning Center because I was struggling in school. The real reason was because I hated the nuns and priests that ran the school and besides a few cute girls, school was boring. I wasn’t a slow learner but school did nothing for me and the school wasn’t anything to look forward to everyday.

It was an old catholic school and corporal punishment was still going on when I was going there in 4th grade. I used to get hit in the knuckles from a nun when I spoke out or joked around in class. The odd thing was that my grades were decent so it didn’t reflect on my report cards.

There was this on teacher who taught science at Sacred Heart School in Lowell MA. Dr Romanowsky or Doc Romanowsky. He kind of inspired me and gave me a better understanding of what we were learning in class could be applied to the real world. He also met with one of my parents and they recommended the Sylvan Learning Center near by to get some extra help with math.

In my case, going to the Sylvan Learning Center was the turn around that made me enjoy learning math and science and I think it did a little to my attitude back then as well. Although a few weeks ago a met a girl who said she was a teacher and moonlighted as a instructor at the center and just complained about the was instructors were treated, the horrible hours and kids still constantly not changing and not getting better. Maybe it was just her, right?

The commercial advertises teaching Math facts to pre-calculus, reading readiness and college preparation tests. This program is advertised to help children succeed and get six homework help sessions for seventy five dollars. Their, what seems to be, motto is “to catch up… to keep up… to get ahead…”

This motto sums up their purpose which is to help students catch up with their school work, help them keep up with their work, or even get ahead. Sylvan learning center will also help students with taking college preparation tests. This specific advertisement caters more to the parents basically saying that if they see that their child needs and extra push or help, that they can get six homework sessions for only seventy five dollars. The advertisement shows pictures of students smiling and working.

sylvan learning centerParents can send their children to Sylvan for the low low rate of about $40 per hour. Teachers are tasked with helping three to four students at a time, netting the Sylvan Learning center anywhere from $120 to $160. Teachers, who must be certified and pass Sylvan’s own battery of tests, are then tasked with little more than helping students work on Sylvan-prepared worksheets.

How much are the teachers paid? About $10 an hour. I don’t know if this is true everywhere but the girl I know that works at one in Dracut Massachusetts says it’s an ok job but isn’t going to make her rich, that for sure.

So I guess you have to make up your own mind about going to a Sylvan Learning Center for extra help for your child. I know that it did help me but probably isn’t for everyone. Let me know if you have tried one of these centers out and how it worked for you or your child.

25 thoughts on “Is the Sylvan Learning Center Worth the Money and Time?

  1. I read your article, and I am not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. (The cost of Sylvan and what the teacher may or may not get paid) I know a few kids, including my nephews, who have gone to Sylvan and it has boosted their confidence and helped them in school. They loved it there. I wonder, is it worth the money if someone is giving your child attention at far less than the classroom size today? Probably.

    On the other side, is the teacher expecting to get rich on her classroom salary? I doubt it. And, if she only has to teach from a “worksheet”, does that really require her to make a wage that would make her rich? It kind of sounds like she might have the wrong idea about teaching at Sylvan which is a part-time job receiving part-time pay. Maybe if she were just doing it because she loved it, it would ensure that whatever the cost, it would be worth it for the child, who is really the one who counts. And if she is miserable and complaining, it probably isn’t beneficial for anyone. She should find a more enjoyable part time job. And, as a small business owner, I would like to point out that there are other costs in a business besides paying the part time help..there is rent, electricity, etc. Oh, and by the way, the hours are the hours. That can’t be Sylvan’s fault that kids are in school during the day, and I am pretty sure they don’t teach until midnight.

    Sylvan is a great place for kids. I would recommended it.

    • So, if I understand what Lisa is saying, teachers, who have advanced degrees – typically a masters – should make as little, or less than the school janitor? Why, b/c they “love their job”? Why is it that teachers, the people who are supposed to provide our children with indispensable academic and life skills are expected to accept peanuts for pay? Does anyone ever say to their doctor, hey buddy, I realize you spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on schooling, but frankly, if you loved your job, you’d do it for $10/hr?

      No one’s saying that they expect to get rich teaching from a worksheet, but considering that Sylvan requires tutors to be experienced certified teachers, such low wages are insulting and bound to cause some resentment. And why would this inevitablility be avoided by employing people part time? I don’t know about Lisa, but I would be a lot more resentful about commuting 1/2 hr+ each way if I was only staying for 2 hours and making 20 bucks than if I were staying all day and making 80.

      And arrogantly stating that people who find their jobs only “ok”should go find something more enjoyable, especially in this economy, shows a foolish lack of understanding of most people’s realities. A part time job that pays $10/hr is unlikely to ever be much more than ok. And that, for most people, is ok.

      • I am a Sylvan Learning Center director.

        Years ago, and a couple of years out of college, I was contemplating a career in either law or education. After talking to friends who had already begun studying in these fields, I listened to my gut, and chose education. After graduate school, I began a career that brought me a lot of satisfaction, but never a lot of money. After a good ten years, I was offered a chance to get into the video game business, and I took it. It was a great experience and I was compensated at a rate far better than my best paying teaching position ever afforded me. Surprised? No, of course not.

        Teachers work hard to get their master degrees and credentials, but the degrees and credentials do not necessarily convert to entitlements to wealth. Lots of other people work hard to earn their degrees. Not all degrees are the requisite for upward mobility. What kind of salary is a person holding an MA in philosophy commanding these days? In the community in which I live, a number of people have benefited from a strong labor union and make a much better living than most teachers. While they might not have toiled in the classrooms and earned their master degrees, these longshoremen certainly know what hard work is all about.

        Some have mentioned that compensation at Sylvan does not compare to what a teacher makes in the public schools. Well, no. Then again, Sylvan teachers do not teach classes of thirty students; at most, it is only three. While I suspect the public school teacher also needs to attend an occasional PTA meeting, take papers home to correct and do sundry other things like planning a lesson, Sylvan teachers teach. There are no parent meetings to attend, no take-home work, no lesson creation. Directors and other administrative staff handle those duties. By the way, administrative staff place all the textbooks and other teaching materials on the table for the teacher. Teachers do not work from a worksheet. Still I wish I could compensate the teachers more (now, it’s $12 to $14 to start). I also wish my rent was lower, insurance costs were lower, and advertising was free.

    • I agree with Lisa. People tend to think they deserve what ever the fees are if they work there. As a business owner not only do they have to pay the teachers the 10.00 or whatever the exact amount is but they have to pay their taxes, social security, unemployment as well. This adds an additional 3.00 to 4.00 to their base amount. Also there is rent, utilities, franchise fees which is usually around 7-8%. There is insurance, phone bills, advertising, maint., supplies, donations. In business your labor can not run much over 33% ever and be able to make it. When you add taxes that is about exactly what they are paying. 10.00 is fair pay for what they are charging.

  2. I first heard of Sylvan during the summer of my freshman year of high school.

    In school, my strengths had always been athletics. I never thought I would be able to excel in academics as well. Within one year of being a student at Sylvan, my overall school average went from 87.8% to 96.8%. Any grades lower than 90% were no longer acceptable to me. The standards I set for myself were greater than ever before because Sylvan helped me understand I was able to achieve them. The tears I was now shedding were tears of joy because I had exceeded my expectations.

    Although the material I was taught was critical to my success, the most influential aspect of Sylvan was my relationships with the teachers. Since each teacher instructs a maximum of three students per hour, I was able to interact with them often – whether it was for a question pertaining to a given assignment or a question about a school-related topic. I always looked forward to seeing my teachers.

    As my junior year of high school was coming to an end, so was my time at Sylvan. I loved the confidence Sylvan had given me. Now, all I wanted to do was help students gain that same confidence. As I was no longer a student at Sylvan, I applied and was hired for the position of teachers’ assistant.

    I am currently working at Sylvan as a teacher and diagnostician. I now have the opportunity to help students exceed their own expectations and for that I can draw on my learning experiences at Sylvan. I will always thank Sylvan Learning for helping me to raise my standards and achieve goals I never thought possible.

    -Liane, Sylvan Personal Instructor in NY

  3. If Sylvan, and other companies worked, they would publish results!!! Having a few happy people say it worked for them does not necessarily make them an effective program. People get an illusion of improvement for the most part with such programs. I don’t mean to totally bash Sylvan and the rest, because I’m sure for a few people out there that happened to be matched up with an exceptionally talented tutor, results were tangible; however on the whole, the Sylvan system is not a particularly effective one. Sylvan, Kumon, etc. are essentially bandaid’s for students’ problems in the classroom, not actually fixing anything, but just helping them get to the next phase, when again, they will need more help to get through.
    If you’re thinking of putting your child, or yourself, in such a program to help with school or other cognitive deficits, be sure to really research ALL of your options! There are a couple programs out there that have proven results that seem to really work.

    • Question. Since we are here describing our subjective opinions, why didn’t you identify the couple of programs with results that seem to work. I’m looking around and would appreciate a little more information. Thanks.

    • Can you give us some names of programs that have proven results? You sound like you know about them, what are they? Not trying to call you out. I am desperate to find help for my son.

      • Average Jack and Laura (and all other interested people)-
        Sorry for a delayed response, I forgot I posted something here and just recently received an email about it. The most important thing to keep in mind when addressing a supplementary education program is What is the problem? If your child has a learning disability, autism spectrum disorder, or something of that nature, I would explore cognitive behavioral therapy. There is a program called LearningRx which I have had some experience with that seems to especially help children (and adults) with such issues. It’s definitely not a cure-all, but I noticed very quick and strong results with kids that had attention issues and some basic information processing problems. It also tremendously helps even the average person with memory, reading comprehension, and a host of other cognitive abilities. It is quite a pricey program, but if you’re at your wits end and a center is near you, I’d strongly recommend you check it out.
        If your child has just some issues with Math, for example, I would explore Kumon and Mathnasium. Kumon is more homework/parent based and can get a little drudging, but kids definitely walk away able to do the work. Mathnasium focuses on really making math fun for kids and takes the pressure off of parents enforcing the work at home, and works well at helping kids actually understand what they are doing with math and why. Kumon also addresses reading, which Mathnasium, as the name would imply, does not.
        I also strongly encourage you to look for independent studies done on the programs. I can tell you that LearningRx and Mathnasium have statistical results available, that are both very promising. Kumon I believe also works, though can effectively kill your love of math if you’re not careful. I really don’t mean to knock Sylvan, Huntington, or any other tutoring service, but they just don’t seem to deliver the same results. In my experience in these other programs I constantly hear parents complaining about wasting money on Sylvan or some other program and effectively getting nothing. But then again I’m sure there are plenty of people who have had some success with those programs, I mean they wouldn’t still be in business otherwise…

  4. honestly i think biased sylvan workers post some of these posts,but i have actually been there. It is this simple they start you off on realllly easy work…I had trouble with organization and math. They started me off with extremely easy work. Work like whats 1367 + 2638. After you show over about a week you understand something like this you move on gradually to the next hardest thing. But like i sayd, to be honest i spent so much time testing and doing mini assesments i never got to my maine problem in math it may have been algebra or geometry. Im not going to say all i did was addition but in 7 months i remember maybe getting to pre algebra and all this time my mom complains about i hope your learning something because shes paying thousands for the 7 months .To this day my mom still gets bills from them. I did however have fun after i met everybody there. But i shoulld still let all parent know having fun like the kids in the commercials may have been what actually happens but i didnt learn anyrhing there but social skills and how to add 5000 to my moms bills

  5. I am a Sylvan franchise owner and would like share my opinion with the community.

    1. Sylvan as a business is very low profit. Over 50% of Sylvan franchise owners do not make profit.

    First Sylvan teachers teach 3 students max. Average is 1 teacher for 2.5 students.

    Hourly tuition rate is not $75. Average is about $45.

    Teacher pay rate goes from $10-$18 / hour.

    However, Sylvan directors and teachers on average spend 45 minutes to prepare for 1 hour lesson.

    I can go on and on. So please stop thinking Sylvan business owners are ripping people off and making a killing. It is simply not true. If it is true, then there will be a lot of Sylvan like businesses. The fact is that there is few.

    2. Sylvan educational quality
    Everything in this world is relative. If you think Sylvan is bad, then who is better? I feel very confident that our Sylvan Learning Center offers the highest educational quality in the community.

    However, we cannot pull magics.

    We are the only one that guarantees students improve at least 1 grade grade level after 36 hours using CAT tests.

    We are the only one that guarantees students improve SAT score by 200 points in our local community.

    I feel confident that we are RELATIVELY better than the rest of tutoring places.

  6. We cannot pull magics??? What kind of grammatically correct language is that? “The fact is that there is few”??? I am a NYS certified elementary teacher. I teach first grade. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for posting a message on a public website using such atrocious language. I wouldn’t send my child to your center for $1.00 if the way you present yourself is indicative of the type of people you employ to work in your center. I hope to God they have a greater command of the English language. Clearly, you are not an educator as well as a franchise owner. You can guarantee whatever you wish but you shouldn’t put it in writing for the public to see unless you have an editor standing by.

    • I could not agree more. I posted a reply with the same pet peeve. Language skills are an essential one and we are allowing it to deteriorate. How are we going to be able to communicate? It makes me wonder.

  7. I have been teaching for 16 years and recently applied to work at a Sylvan Learning Center–I got the job, but I’m not taking it for the reasons you’ve described in the article, as well as those below:

    1. as you pointed out, the student-teacher ratio is 3 to 1, which isn’t terrible, but when I visited a center, I saw an early elementary student at the same table as a junior or senior. There is value to small group learning, but any teacher can tell you that there is no point in grouping kids 10 years apart together to learn. They have different attention spans, are in different developmental stages, and need different approaches.

    2. The learning area ihas 5-7 U-shaped tables, which means that up to 21 kids ages 6-18 could be in there at a time. If your kid is struggling to pay attention in a classroom, why on earth would you think he or she’d be able to pay attention in a room full of kids like that?

    3. The teachers are paid $10-$15 an hour. The local grocery store workers make the same amount, no college required. Teachers are desperate for a steady way to make extra money. . .and Sylvan takes advantage of that. As you pointed out, Sylvan makes $140-$160 per session, and only $15 of that goes to instruction–at BEST, that means 11% of what you’re paying goes towards the quality of teacher. As a parent, I’d be VERY suspicious of that percentage. As a teacher, I just couldn’t rationalize it.

    4. They tell tutors that the advantage to that $15 an hour is that you don’t have to prep materials the way you do when you teach. This is technically true, but each mini-lesson worksheet has to be graded to see if students earned the 80% required to be proficient. Tutors are expected to do that DURING the session while juggling 3 kids. If you can’t, then you’re doing that after the session-unpaid. Apparently, with practice you could arrive 5 minutes before your sessions and leave 15 minutes after. That $15 an hour just dropped to $15 for 90 minutes–$10 per hour. Not worth it, and most teachers with experience will realize this. . .leaving Sylvan with a shallow pool of candidates from which to draw.

    5. The entrance tests students take don’t aren’t appropriate for what they promise (at least not at this center). There is a HUGE difference between tests designed to assess your child’s grade level, and tests designed to assess whether your child is ON grade level. The first will give a report that says they do X skill at 5th grade level, and Y skill at 6th. The second will say they are on/below/above grade level, and that’s it. This center used the state’s 8th grade test. The problem with this is that the test is only designed to tell if a child has mastered 8th grade skills–not to tell what grade level they are ACTUALLY at.
    The center insists that if the child misses questions X, Y, and Z, then they don’t understand this or that 6th grade skill, but that’s their interpretation of what that means (so, if they want it to say the kid is at 6th grade this time, and 7th next, they can), and not what the test is designed to assess. It’s a variation of the “garbage in, garbage out” concept–if the test isn’t designed to provide grade level information, then you’re not going to get valid information about the child’s grade level. The fact that they charge $250-$350 for this “service” is insane. Also, they do bubble tests in pencil, when there are GREAT diagnostic test resources out there online that ARE designed to tell you your child’s grade level in detail for $20 or so (there’s a good chance your school district already uses them).

    6. By extension, this weird tests fuzzy thinking means that their “improve 1 grade level in 36 session” promise is bull because they use the same test to assess the grade level progress. If your child is taking an 8th grade test and they tell you that your child started at a 5th grade level, and has improved to a 6th grade level and the test isn’t designed to test for that, then it’s really their interpretation. . .not a valid scientific measure.

    7. Workbooks? Are you kidding me? I walked into the center and saw shelf after shelf of workbooks. As a teacher, this makes me cringe because the kids who struggle in school often need creative and different methods of learning material. Manipulatives for math and English are HUGE for these learners–as we have known for decades. If your child is struggling to understand a geometric concept, for example, getting that shape into their hands where they can manipulate it is so much more effective than a picture on a page. Teachers love those things, and we wish we had the time/resources in class to use them more for instruction. When tutoring one-on-one we do. But at Sylvan, it’s just workbooks. . .much like those you can buy at your local teacher center. For this, they charge you $50 an hour? Insane.

    8. It’s surprisingly low-tech. The “diagnostic” tests are in pencil. The students have binders where their progress is charted in writing only (so there’s minimal electronic tracking). The kids use workbooks. The only computers at the center were in administrative offices. I’m not saying that technology should be everything, but computerized testing has the advantage of being adaptive (like the GRE is), and thus more accurate. Further, some concepts are just easier to understand in animated activities (think physics, or biology). The most complicated technological device in the tutoring area was the copy machine, for photocopying page after page of tracking and worksheets.

    My suggestion is to find a teacher looking for a tutoring job, and check their references. Go to, and pay $20 to take the same diagnostic test many schools give their students ($40 if you’re worried about math and English). Print out the diagnostic report, which will show you actual grade level, and take it to your kid’s tutor–explaining your concerns. Any teacher will know how to read the report, and will build their tutoring sessions around it. Repeat the test at the semester or end of year, and watch your child improve.

    Total cost of 36 weeks 2x per week tutoring 3 kids to 1 tutor at Sylvan = $2,150
    Total cost of 36 wks with your own test and 1 on 1 tutoring with a teacher ($30/hr) = $1,100

  8. I find this site while looking for information, to see if Sylvan would be a good idea for my son to catch up with his reading. All I find is a bunch of people, that believe they are entitled because they have a degree.

    Try being a aircraft mechanic. Spend 30k for a tech school to make 15 bucks an hour, when on a daily basis I have to make decisions that this aircraft is airworthy and won’t fall out of the sky and kill all you worthless entitled pricks.

    • James, that’s a bit harsh of a generalization that everyone here is no good. I’ve brought my son there when he was 8 for help with math. I think they did a good job in only 5 sessions and after 10 or so he was much more confident and able to do his multiplication. I’d recommend it but keep up with the tutors to be sure they’re on their toes doing a good job. I’d also recommend not going to late at night as sometimes they get tired tutoring and have less patience with kids. I saw that a few times with my son and made earlier appointments. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

      • Thank you for your reply, I appreciate your input. I apologize about making the generalization, but people that believe they are above another person because they can spell better, or have better grammar just piss me off like no other.

  9. Maybe you should have given more thought to your own education, and further researched the possible outcomes of the training you chose. I certainly would
    prefer not to fly on an aircraft repaired by a bitter, underpaid technician.

    • You are assuming that I didn’t put much thought into it. I put more thought, time, money into my “education” then most people will ever attempt. Aviation is my life, my hobby, and my dream. I’m a licensed pilot and an A&P mechanic, I have surrounded every part of my life in the industry. Yes, maybe I am bitter, and so would you. Some punk off the street with no education at all can get a job as an automotive mechanic and is titled a “professional.” An aircraft mechanic is not, we are “unskilled labor.” Don’t believe me? look it up at the department of labor. An A&P spends more time, money, effort, and life just to get their license then any auto mechanic will in their entire lifetime. As I write this, I’m 700 miles away from my wife and kids, continuing my “education” for three weeks.

      I have news for you, there are very few A&P’s that don’t feel the way I do about how we are treated in the industry. But, one thing you can count on with your life and the lives of your family, is no matter how bitter, underpaid, pissed off, sick, or fatigued we get, the aircraft you step on, and take advantage of, will be in the up most condition to be in the air. I put my entire livelihood on it every single day.

  10. So I’ve been to sylvan for a few sessions now….I have had trouble writing essays…My marks were just decreasing and my parents were at the end of their rope, so w/all the Sylvan commercials, they figured they would give it a shot. Their first mistake was trying to scam my father (who you really don’t want to get in an argument with). My exams are in 6 weeks, the guy put me down for 4 hours a week, which was way to much. When my dad asked why, he said hours come in packages and the smallest was 24 at $55/hour (not including the $150 assessment fee). When he said 24 hours were way to much (I really only needed 2 a week…maximum) he said that we would have to “make up the cost” and pay $75/hour….$75/hour!!!!!! When my dad said to forget it altogether the guy agreed but said we had to pay upfront. So when I finally get there…my first observation is that all the tutors are immigrants..don’t get my wrong, like my parents are immigrants, but at a grade 10/grade 11 level in English…I would have preferred someone whose first language was English. Yes they do have binders, my girl was completely organised, there had been a mix-up and they didn’t make mine…long story short they did give me an extra hour but I wasn’t impressed. Second thing I noticed, I had a 6 year old sitting across from me screeching at our tutor and a middle schooler next to me. When it was said we’d be tutored in groups of three, I imagined kids relatively at the same level, doing the same subject, and probably getting simlar(ish) lessons. Nope, they were also both doing math. B/c of that, she had to teach different things at different times and I found myself waiting for her to finish up to ask her for something else (paying for waiting? again not impressed). The next time I went, I had a big test the next day. Next to me was a girl maybe a year older or my age doing Hamlet, she had a quiz the next day, you can imagine what happened, or maybe not. My book was the Great Gatsby, which my tutor had unfortunately not read in years, but having read hamlet, and always tutoring kids on hamlet a lot, guess who she felt really comfortable devoting her time to? I must have spent at least half of that session waiting for her to finish up, even though the other girl only had a quiz but my test counted for a large proportion of my mark. Also, there was a 9 year old with us who I think might have gotten 10 minutes alone with her (maximum). It is true that they use workbooks, they feel more comfortable with them. I have told them countless times I want essay tutoring, yet every time I walk in, they have grammar work waiting for me. I feel that math may work better for this program but save your money, find a real tutor, and never send your child to sylvan for a language (actually…don’t send them if they’re over 10 years old).

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