Seventeen-year-old Andrew Peek gets good marks at the famously rigorous Hotchkiss School and edits the science magazine. Not a shabby candidate for college admissions, he likes Duke and Princeton. But after scoring 1,380 on his first practice SAT exams, he decided he had to make sacrifices in his summer plans. Nothing too rash: He didn’t lock himself in a library; he went to Nantucket with his family, as planned. But like an increasing number of summer-resort-bound students, he hired a private tutor and hit the books while his family hit the beach. “All the other people I knew were getting it done as well,” he explains. “So I felt like I would’ve been at a disadvantage if I didn’t.”
According to college-admissions counselor Frank C. Leana, at least a third of Manhattan’s privately educated high-schoolers will steal time away from the tennis court or the beach club to study, many with private tutors. The demand is such that Princeton Review, the well-known test-prepping service, has built a prosperous business out in the Hamptons. And this summer, Stanford Coaching (which does only one-on-one tutoring) will dispatch its troops to 33 locations outside the city. “We just took the seaboard,” says executive director Anita Brownstein, who has also established outposts in the South, mostly for local kids who attend boarding schools in the Northeast and have picked up the habits of their New York friends.
“Kids do it because they know the stakes are high,” Leana explains. As for why the tutors are doing it, well, that doesn’t take an expert to explain. Scores of city-based educators are now gearing up to spend parts of the summer in some of the East Coast’s most exclusive destinations, from Bar Harbor to Hilton Head, where their services are billed out at rates that rival those of corporate lawyers.
A two-week Stanford course, which includes four hours a day of instruction plus time for homework (as diving lessons and court times permit), costs a staggering $5,400. The price for tutors who accompany families on vacation abroad averages about $1,400 a day.
And business is booming. “I don’t want to say it’s a status thing,” says Princeton Review’s top biller, John Sheehan, who has clients in the Hamptons and recently spent two weeks in Paris tutoring two kids for $1,000 a day, based on his $250-an-hour rate. “But it’s almost become the thing to do. You have your lesson with your tennis pro, and then you have your SAT tutor.” It’s makes good sense, says Stanford founder Lisa Jacobson, since high-school students have much more time for tutoring in the summer. “These are the kids with the ten-pound Filofaxes who run their lives like CEOs,” she says.
Stanford sends its tutors – many of them grad students or Ivy-educated performers with flexible schedules – off in teams, arranging group housing and renting them cars to share. Greg Lynch, a songwriter who last year shared a quite nice Martha’s Vineyard garage apartment and the summer before lived in a small Southampton hotel with eight others, reminisces fondly about big pasta dinners and late afternoons at the beach. But what made it particularly memorable was the lucrative workload. “On location, it’s a solid block of work,” says Lynch, whose Stanford income helps to support his artistic pursuits year-round.
New York’s priciest tutor, however, not only won’t tutor on foreign tours; he won’t even go to the East End. “You mean like predators following the migrating herds? No, we don’t do that,” says Arun Alagappan, the 38-year-old founder of Advantage Testing and also its highest biller, at $415 for a 50-minute session. “We take our work very, very seriously, and the seriousness of the occasion requires the students to come to our offices and do their work in appropriate study settings. Which is hard to do in Hawaii, or on Fishers Island.”