Tutors just a mouse click away

Abby Fisher

Site offers convenient help with studying for students

Bikram Roy remembers what it was like in college to stay up late and cram for an early morning test.

Roy, founder of StudyLoft.com, said he also drew inspiration for starting the company from his Indian background.

“I was looking for other ideas to help students, and I wanted to use the math and science strengths from India to do that,” Roy said. “We researched the market to figure out how to make the Web site effective for students.”

StudyLoft.com, launched in November 2005, has just under 6,000 members. The online tutoring Web site is designed to make studying more convenient for college students.

“There’s a new way of learning now, especially with online classes,” Roy said. “It’s very rare that a math professor has time to explain things individually to a student. With this you are connecting live with someone on the other end who can help you.”

The Web site offers its members real-time tutoring through certified tutors, all of whom have at least a master’s degree in their subject discipline, Roy said.

“We wanted people to have a nurturing quality and tutoring abilities,” he said. “It is much more affordable through us to get that top-level talent.”

StudyLoft.com currently has approximately 45 tutors who are professionally trained in their discipline and have taken a training course prior to being hired.

“Tutors are available throughout the day,” Roy said. “But most are online when we get a surge after 8 or 9 p.m..”

After the tutors have passed the requirements and are hired, they are able to set their own schedule and be on call, Roy said.

Most of the tutors are based in India, which makes the tutors easily available for late night sessions. Roy added that 75 percent of StudyLoft.com members use the Web site from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Math is the most common subject students struggle with, Roy said, which is why StudyLoft.com uses a software program called Mathematica to help its users better understand the concepts.

“Mathematica is a powerful technical software that lets the tutors use 3-D graphs and charts, as well as do expressions,” Roy said.

Tutors are also able to interact with students via an instant messaging service.

“It is basically a big chat box,” Roy said. “It makes the students feel comfortable. The tutors are able to give positive reinforcement through this with the smiley faces and all that stuff.”

StudyLoft.com uses a drawing board to illustrate concepts that may not work through instant messaging.

“You are able to share images and documents with your tutor,” Roy said.

Math isn’t the only subject students seek help with though, Roy said. StudyLoft.com also provides tutoring help in accounting, biology, chemistry, economics and physics.

In the future, Roy said he is working on adding an English composition component to StudyLoft.com.

“We are adding features where you can upload papers and essays and get grammatical help,” he said. “There’s also some foreign language sections we’re working on too.”

Roy said he hopes to expand StudyLoft.com’s market beyond college students. He said he wants to also add preparatory tutoring for high school students taking Advanced Placement tests and college entrance exams, such as the SAT and ACT.

As well as offering tutoring in several subjects, Roy said StudyLoft.com is also a very convenient tool for college students.

“In college, your time is very valuable,” he said. “With tutors, you often have to make an appointment and that can be a pain.”

StudyLoft.com is cost effective too, Roy added.

“It’s $18 an hour, or by the minute for individual tutoring,” he said. “But you’re getting very experienced peers to work with you one-on-one.”

Roy also said StudyLoft.com provides shy students with some anonymity.

“Students who are not as comfortable seeking help on their own can come on — it’s very discreet,” he said.

For students who would rather meet with a tutor face-to-face, the Academic Success Center provides drop-in tutoring in math and writing.

Lisa Ritchie, senior integrated mathematics major and tutor for the Academic Success Center, said coming to a drop-in tutoring session is more personal than chatting online.

“The tutoring helps because some of us (tutors) have had the professors before, so we know what they are looking for on tests and things,” Ritchie said.

She added that the drop-in tutors can also give students advice on the next course to take in their sequence.

Ritchie, a tutor for four years, said to become a tutor with the Academic Success Center, she needed to get an A in the course she was planning to tutor, receive a professor’s recommendation and go through an interview.

“If a student is completely lost, we can help them and draw pictures and things,” she said. “I don’t think that would be as easy on a Web site.”

Contact features correspondent Abby Fisher at [email protected].