“You have to be bright, be a great communicator, and have great people skills. It’s as if you work at the Ritz Carlton,” said Lisa Jacobson, the founder of Inspirica, one of the most prestigious tutoring companies in New York. And, like the Ritz, Inspirica charges top prices for its services: between $225 and $550 an hour, according to Jacobson. Jacobson told me that when she started Inspirica in 1983, it was one of the only private tutoring companies in New York. Today, Jacobson employs more than 100 tutors in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Jacobson attributes the recent boom in the tutoring industry to the creation of the U.S. News and World Report as well as the birth of the Internet, two events that she says made it easier for students to apply to multiple schools. With more applicants, college admissions got more competitive, and parents who were already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on private-school educations looked for other ways to give their children a boost in the application process, she said. Those who could afford it sent their kids to private tutors like Jacobson.