Can This Woman Get Your Kid Into Harvard

Manhattan File Magazine

By Samantha Gregory
September 2000

Dr. Cohen – Kat to those in-the-know – is the 32-year-old founder of IvyWise, a counseling service that guides children and their hyper-anxious parents through the stress-inducing experience that is the college admissions process. “Getting into the college of your choice is hard-core these days,” says Cohen, as she tries to calm the two cats that have nestled into her lap. “It’s totally different than when I was going through it.” Upon graduating from Brown in 1989, Cohen headed out to Dhakar as a member of the National Ballet Company of Senegal, but an injury sent her home and back into the world of academia. As a graduate student at Yale, Cohen received a fellowship to study Latin American literature.

While writing her dissertation-“The Doll’s House of Fiction: The Figure of the Doll in Modern Spanish American Literature” – she gained a foothold on her future career working in the admissions office, learning the ins and outs of the college process from the inner sanctum of the Ivy League: an edge that many of her clients clearly appreciate, especially in these cutthroat days when children start worrying about securing a Harvard sweatshirt as early as 13. “Granted, the college process is subjective and arbitrary,” says Cohen, with the confident air that colors all of her speech. “However, there is some rhyme and reason to it. I can look at an application and see the red flags. I can clean it up. I’m good at it by now.” In the two-and-a-half short years that IvyWise has been in existence, Cohen has worked with students who’ve been admitted to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. In one memorable case, a standout high school track star from California came to IvyWise with an SAT score of 1120, mediocre grades, and rough essays. The student had set her sights solely on UC schools, but after working three weeks with Cohen, her score shot up to 1300, and her essays took on a whole new life. After seeing strokes of brilliance in her writing, Cohen convinced the woman to apply to Yale. Much to the surprise of everyone involved, she gained admittance. From working with clients on their essays, to practicing mock interviews, Cohen is able to provide a one-on-one focus that even the top-tier private schools could never offer their future Wall Street titans. “Everyone has a college counselor, even the kids without a lot of money,” says one senior at The Horace Mann School. “The school counselor works with, like, 60 kids at a time. I don’t even think he’ll remember my name in the fall.”

Cohen, on the other hand, will not only remember your name, but – unlike the school’s counselor – will also be available to you at all times. “I take calls from my clients in the middle of the night,” says Cohen, who seems so connected to all of Manhattan that she’s like Kevin Bacon of the New York/LA scene. It’s hard to get away without a degree of separation. “All of my friends have these really fascinating jobs in film, music, internet, fashion and I try to pass those connections on to my clients. I used to date Doug Liman (the director of Go and Swingers) and set two clients up with internships with him. [Director] Brett Ratner read one of my student’s essays and wanted him to skip college and move straight to Hollywood.”

Forget about Kat Cohen, college counselor – it seems like the proper billing should read: Kat Cohen, life advisor. And that’s all part of her appeal. Earlier this year, Dr. Cohen launched a new division of her enterprise named ivyWISE Kids, which will be headed by the recently married Nina Bauer. Bauer has moved on from teaching at Dalton to focus on advising parents about getting their little ones into the right nursery, elementary, or high school. “The counseling step is necessary not so much for the small children, but for their understandably anxious parents,” says Bauer, who dispenses advice on such things as letters of recommendation, what school is best for your child, and how to deal with kids who are too shy to interview. The academic community, however, is skeptical. “The whole concept is completely ridiculous,” says one teacher at Episcopal School, arguably the most A-list of all of the city’s nursery programs. “An outside counselor will never be able to navigate parents through the process the way a school counselor – with years of experience behind her and relationships with admissions counselors at the top elementary schools- would be able to.” (Bauer counters by saying, “Nursery school directors have a lot of families to deal with, whereas a client of mine can call me at home over the weekend to ask a simple question.”) Nonetheless, wealthy parents are already flocking to Ms. Bauer in droves. It seems that no price is too high for the chance- or even the illusion of the chance- that your young ones will be able to walk through the red doors of the Spence School in fall 2001. Not to mention the fact that they may one day end up working on a Hollywood set with Brett Ratner.