You may be struggling in school and feel like a failure. You may have big academic goals and feel like you need help in reaching them. Could a tutor help? Would it be worth the cost in time and money?

Since ancient times, skills and knowledge have been passed on through one-on-one instruction, and this kind of education is as effective today as it has always been. Much of what we learn best is learned from individual instruction, whether it be from parents, grandparents, mentors, friends, co-workers, or teachers. We each have unique needs and ways of learning, and tutoring taps into this effective method of teaching and learning. As a high school teacher and owner of a tutor referral service, I have seen it: the more individualized the instruction, the better.

Tutoring can always improve learning, but this does not mean every student should have a tutor. Hiring a tutor is an investment, and like any investment, the costs must be weighed against the benefits. There are at least three important questions to consider when deciding whether to get a tutor.

The first is obvious: How well you are currently performing in school? A tutor can make the difference between passing and failing, graduating and not graduating, and of course, tutoring is an important option in such cases. If you are already doing well, you may not need a tutor. But that depends on what level of performance is acceptable to you. A tutor can help make the difference between a B and an A, and this can also be a good reason to get a tutor.

The second consideration is your motivational level. Are you really trying? Are you willing to put real effort into learning? Is improvement really important to you? No matter what your reason for seeking a tutor, it is unlikely to help if you are not motivated or not really trying. Before you call for a tutor, look inside yourself and ask whether you really want to do better, and how badly you want it. If you are having trouble with motivation, a tutor may be able to help, but he or she will need to start by working on your motivation and goals, rather than math, English, or other subjects. Before you can improve your grades, you have to want to do so. Tutoring is not a magic pill. The tutor cannot upload the understandings and skills into your mind. He or she is there to help you acquire your own skills and understanding. That requires your action.

I believe that every person is a powerful individual with tremendous potential for personal fulfillment. But if you don’t believe that about yourself, or you don’t believe you can or should do anything about it, you will struggle with motivation. This is what psychologist Nathaniel Branden calls self-esteem, and it is a good place to start if you are struggling with motivation. You have the power and the right to improve your life.

But what if you have healthy self-esteem and yet remain unmotivated? This is possible, because the question of motivation is closely tied to the next one: What are your goals? If you are not motivated to perform in school, it may be because you simply value something else more highly. What are your goals and priorities in life? If you have never answered these questions, now is the time to start. You may find that answering this question solves the rest of the problems automatically.

The tutor cannot answer this for you. Only you know what you want out of life. For many people, fogginess about goals and priorities automatically leads to struggles with motivation. So, set some goals. Read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (or Sean Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens), and do some real soul-searching. “Know thyself,” as Socrates put it. A tutor or mentor can help you sort it out.

Setting goals will help answer the question of how well you need to do in school. For many colleges and universities, C’s and B’s may not be acceptable, and straight A’s may help you stand out. If college is not in your plans, you will still want to do well in school, but you may want to balance schoolwork with other preparations: starting a business, learning a trade, or building your own vocation. And even if college is your goal, you may need to balance schoolwork with other important tasks like a job, family responsibilities or college scholarship applications. Tutoring takes time, and the more work you put into it, the more you will get out. You may need to reevaluate your priorities and reassess your whole schedule. A tutor or mentor can help you to sort out these issues, set goals and clear priorities, and plan your schedule accordingly.

If you decide that improving your academic performance is an important goal for you, then the benefits of tutoring may well outweigh the cost. Tutoring could make the difference between getting into college and not getting into college, getting a scholarship and not getting a scholarship, getting a job and not getting a job, getting credit in a class and not getting credit in a class. Tutoring may cost you time and money, but if you have the need and the motivation, tutoring is a time-tested and powerful tool at your disposal. Every one of us is a unique individual, but we don’t have to “go it alone.