Andrea Kay McFarland is the president and founder of Kay Tutoring. She attended Yale for her B.A. in History and graduated in 2005. A Minnesota native, she also has a Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota. Starting out as a volunteer, Andrea discovered her passion for education and tutoring in 2000. Her professional tutoring career began in 2006, when she began providing formal academic and test prep services.

While she is incredibly invested in helping her students achieve academic success, Andrea and her tutors strive to make personal connections with all of their students via their interests, realizing that each one is more than just a letter grade or a test score.As an interviewer for Yale University, Andrea has also seen the other side of the college application process and is able to bring her wealth of experience to helping students prepare for interviews and write standout admissions essays.

Andrea lives with her husband, daughter and dog in Plymouth, Minnesota. She named Kay Tutoring after her maiden name, “Kay.”

Tell us about your company.

Founded twelve years ago, Kay Tutoring offers test prep tutoring, academic tutoring and college essay & application coaching in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) and surrounding suburbs of Minnesota. Our company has also steadily increased our online tutoring presence, and we have clients from all across the country as well as international clients! As our prices are set for Minnesota, clients outside of Minnesota, especially on the east and west coasts find we’re more affordable.

In 2012, when I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area back to my hometown of Minnetonka, Minnesota, Kay Tutoring moved with me. The company grew steadily, and we now maintain anywhere between 20-30 tutors. Kay Tutoring boasts an average score increase of 5 points on the ACT and 200 points on the SAT. We’ve helped thousands of clients achieve their test prep tutoring goals, as well as helped them with academic courses and college applications.

How did you get started in tutoring, and what your favorite part about it?

In 2007, I got started in tutoring in San Francisco while waiting to apply to graduate school to get my Master’s in Education. I initially worked for six different tutoring companies in order to put together 40-ish hours of work a week.  I was hooked from my first student—I couldn’t believe how powerful 1:1 tutoring was, especially since I was working with students who mostly were willing to do the homework I assigned outside of sessions. My favorite part of tutoring, as cliché as it may sound, is that I’m making a difference in someone’s life by the work I’m doing. Increasing ACT/SAT/PSAT scores can literally change students’ lives, and I feel honored to get to be a part of this important part of their college application process. Now that our company has grown, we’re able to impact that many more people. I’m astounded by how some companies don’t truly care about their customers—to me, it’s impossible for me not to care.  We treat every client as if they were one of our own family members—we want the absolute best for everyone.

What do your students find most challenging, and how do you help them overcome it?

Having the discipline and structure to put in the right kind of effort to do what’s necessary to get a big increase in test prep. I don’t want to reveal too much since the way we help them overcome this is a big secret to our success, but I’ll say that it involves flashcards, an agreement over certain study habits, and detailed reports after each tutoring session. I believe we need to hold kids accountable to their “max score.” In other words, I believe we should ask a lot of kids, because if we don’t ask, they may not think to get there!  Of course, it’s ultimately up to them to want to put in the time and effort.

What’s the biggest improvement you’ve ever seen a student make?

As I mentioned, our average increase is 5 points for ACT or 200 for SAT, so we regularly get students who increase close to that, but we also have students at the 7, sometimes 8 composite points mark; however, we also work with students who begin tutoring with scores in the 30s, who increase usually only about 2-3 points. I jokingly say to those students that they “hurt” our average, but we love working with them because they’re usually extremely dedicated and willing to do everything we ask!

What changes, if any, have you seen in the test-prep process since you began tutoring?

Gosh-that’s a tough one, as there have been many changes. I’d say besides the SAT overhaul would have to be the increase in online tutoring.

What’s your most important piece of advice for students? For parents?

Find someone who uses not only the best materials, but who has an actual curriculum to use, especially for the English and the math sections. In other words, here’s what you don’t want to hear a prospective tutor saying that they will do right away with your student: “We will go over a lot of practice tests.” Yes, your child and your tutor should go over lots of practice tests eventually but if, and only if, you’ve worked through all of the grammar first (which includes memorizing everything, not just doing drills), at least a good chunk of the math, and at least the basic reading and science strategies (this should be more than just something like “do the detail questions first”). No one has asked me to say this, but I’d especially urge you to find someone who is using both of Erica’s books for the verbal sections of each test.