How a librarian earning $49,000/year made an extra $25,000 in 2020 teaching online via TutorMe

"I ended up being not just a library tutor or a writing tutor but also sort of a virtual friend."

Sara DeSantis.
Courtesy Sara DeSantis

Sara DeSantis, 26, and her boyfriend were considering a move from South Carolina to California in early 2020 when the pandemic hit. Anticipating that she would leave her full-time job as a librarian when they left the state, DeSantis, who hosts a personal finance podcast, had already been looking for freelance opportunities to supplement her $49,000-a-year salary.

She found a fit in TutorMe, an online tutoring program in advanced subjects ranging from computer science to foreign language.

DeSantis started out with the site as a library tutor, helping college students find resources online, cite sources properly in their papers, and hone their theses. "It's usually about 90 minutes to help a student," she says, and TutorMe pays $16 per hour. Though her first paycheck was only $62, the following week she made $200.

"On average, I made about $543 a week, or about $2,500 a month" in 2020, she says, in all grossing a bit more than $25,000 from part-time work on the site last year.

Ultimately, in 2021, DeSantis and her boyfriend moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. Throughout the move, she has continued working at TutorMe, leaning into its flexibility and signing on whenever she had a spare minute. Here's how DeSantis built her successful side hustle on the site.

'Claim anything that comes'

Soon after she started tutoring, DeSantis realized that "when requests come through, they come through to every single library tutor, so it can be extremely competitive if you aren't fast at clicking it."

She learned to keep her TutorMe tab open to catch requests for library help right away. This ultimately enabled her to see more requests. "There is an algorithm," she says. "The more you claim, the more you see."

Sara DeSantis helping out a student.
Courtesy Sara DeSantis

Remember to say 'thank you'

DeSantis built relationships with individual students who ultimately kept coming to her for help. "I've had a lot of students that I've built a rapport with," she says, "and they message me, like, 'Hey, I need help tonight. Will you be online?'" These relationships ensure she can keep racking up the hours on the site.

To help build rapport, DeSantis has a sort of script she follows when speaking with new students. "The first thing I do is say, 'Thank you for using TutorMe,'" she says. "I always like to end with 'thank you' and letting them know that I'm here to help them."

Expanding her tutoring repertoire

DeSantis eventually expanded her offerings on the site beyond library tutor to help students with their writing as well.

"I realized, oh, I'm helping these students already with these writing sessions, let me try to also open up some writing tutoring as well," she says. To start pulling in clients, she just needed to add another subject on her profile. "That really helped me get even more students," she says.

5 most popular side hustles of 2020

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Though DeSantis recommends considering all the subjects you might offer to help with as a tutor, she cautions against being overzealous.

"Make sure that you're actually an expert in your area, because you want students to come back to you," she says. "They'll definitely pick up [on the fact] that you're not an expert." Bad reviews could hurt your score as a tutor and make it harder to get new students.

While she enjoys helping students, during the pandemic, DeSantis found her tutoring interactions held an even deeper meaning for people. Covid "was really isolating," she says. "So I was kind of the only contact people had from the outside world. And I ended up being not just a library tutor or a writing tutor but also sort of a virtual friend."

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