SAT Beach House

Vacation tutors Brendan Mernin, Lisa Kicielinski, and Jonathan Arak.Photo: Naomi Harris

Achievement doesn’t take the summers off, especially if you’re a kid whose parents are successful enough to have a place in the Hamptons. So in the interests of meritocracy maintenance, cramming for the standardized tests that are the gateways to the best colleges and boarding schools has become as common a summer ritual as horseback-riding lessons. “Nearly everyone’s getting SAT tutoring, and now it’s the same with the SSATs,” says Katheryn Patterson Kempner, daughter-in-law of the late socialite Nan. “If you don’t have a tutor, you’re putting your child at a disadvantage.”

Which is where the Princeton Review beach house comes in, a relatively modest three-bedroom ranch just outside the gold coast, in Hampton Bays. “I love it out here. You don’t get invitations to parties, but there’s a lot of sitting on decks with incredible ocean views,” says Brendan Mernin, one of the “premier tutors” who lives there while charging upwards of $300 an hour to increase the admissions chances of the area’s princelings. Tutors average three to four clients a day. One summer, he twice a week boarded a magnate’s yacht in the Sag Harbor Marina to work with his teenage daughter. “And yeah, I get a great tan.”

There are challenges, of course. Mernin stubbed a toe in the jaws of a real tiger pelt in one mansion foyer. Not only that, but “it’s a victory to get a glass of water with ice” at some of these homes, says Jonathan Arak. He’s tutoring his third Kempner child this summer (for the record, the Kempners don’t stint on the ice). “Some kids can’t be bothered to concentrate when they’re thinking about that night’s party, or last night’s,” he says. “And when you’re charging $7,500 for just the basic SAT preparation, parents have very high expectations. It’s not easy explaining that junior’s not going to score 1400 no matter how much they pay me.”

More than a few adults are also prepping for grad-school admission—and they present their own difficulties. Tutor John Sheehan recalls having to compete with a manicurist for the attention of one billionaire’s ex-wife while tutoring her for the LSATs. “She’d scheduled both of us for the same time, so she had her nails done while we worked.”

Tiger cadavers and nail files aside, the real danger for the SAT-beach-house residents is being swallowed up by class resentment. “You walk into these gorgeous houses, and yeah, you can’t help but feel a little jealous,” Arak admits. But if you focus on that, “you’re not going to last in this business very long,” says Mernin. The Hampton Bays house might not have a pool, but there’s a nice patio for barbecuing. And even if there were one, it’s not like the tutors would be tossing each other in anyway. “The guys invited to the Hamptons are the top of the top, so they tend to be older,” says tutor Craig Taylor. “The parties are more VH1 than MTV.”

SAT Beach House