Tutor Style

W Magazine

By Kevin West
October 1999

Meet Katherine Cohen, college counselor.

Cohen, known to her friends as Kat and to her clients as Dr. Cohen, is the founder of IvyWise, a private college-counseling service that helps students maximize their chances of admission.

In addition to her academic credentials-Brown undergrad, Yale PhD-and the referrals of clients, the hyper-ambitious Cohen hints that she has inside information from the cutthroat world of college applications, thanks to her [time] as an application reader for the Yale [office] of admissions.

“I know exactly what they [selective universities] are looking for,” she says. Cohen preps her students for the SATs, guides them through writing essays and polishes their “brag sheets” to a blinding sheen. “I even advise teachers as to what they’re going to write on the letters of recommendation. I get extremely involved,” she explains.

For Cohen’s students-and their anxious parents-the Yale connection is a major selling point.

“Everything we heard said it’s definitely an asset to have someone who knew the inside,” says Jamie Freedman, who heads to Duke this fall after working with Cohen last year. A good student (with an A average and 1460 SATs), Freedman worked intensively with Cohen on his essays. “It’s different from writing essays for school, where you’re expressing a point of view. You’re really trying to express yourself. It’s a totally different type of writing. Kat knew how to bring that out of me.”

She’s also willing to meet her students way more than halfway. In the line of duty, Cohen has spent afternoons by the pool in the Hamptons and a Thanksgiving vacation with a student’s family in Palm Beach.

At least one of Cohen’s clients is convinced that Cohen’s coaching helped. Becky Rauth, a private-school track star with mixed grades and unimpressive test scores, wanted to go to UCLA. She spent four weeks writing essays and cramming for the SATs under Cohen’s tutelage. “Her score went up 180 points,” says Rauth’s mother, Patricia. The application was accepted by UCLA-and Yale, Vanderbilt, Berkeley and Notre Dame.

“Yale was never in her ballpark,” says Cohen, calling Becky one of her favorite success stories. “It never even occurred to her to apply to some place like that. It’s a great story.”

Cohen grew up between Bel-Air and Palm Beach, where she got to know the young international crowd. After graduating from Brown in 1989, a mentor encouraged her to apply to Yale, where she received a full fellowship.

For the first time in her life, Cohen remembers, the academic load in the trendy comp. lit. department tested her mettle. But she proved herself one savvy grad student. For her third-year oral examinations, she was presented with an impossibly long reading list. “I came up with an ingenious idea,” she recalls. “I had seven professors on my committee. I was going to read everything they wrote. That’s exactly what I did and I passed with honors. They only asked questions about what they wrote on.”

Later, she hired a brilliant undergrad for $15 an hour to be her private research assistant while writing her dissertation on images of the doll in Latin American literature. “I actually finished about a year early because of her help,” says Cohen.

IvyWise was a brainchild that took root in early 1998. She may sell her company hard but is realistic with her students.

“Not everybody I work with goes to an Ivy League school,” she says. She has dissuaded students from applying to Princeton-the toughest school of them all-if they don’t have a good chance. “Success is placing students in one of the top two or three schools that are a perfect match for them,” she says. “I’ve had no unhappy students.”

Finally, for those parents who would do anything to get Junior or Missy into the old alma mater, Cohen issues a warning.

“You can’t buy your way in anymore for $10 million,” she says, citing a case in which a family reportedly gave that sum to NYU and still didn’t get their child in. “A hundred million? Maybe.”