Caitlin Meister started The Greer Meister Group, which offers customized tutoring packages. (Credit: Mark Grgurich)
Caitlin Meister started The Greer Meister Group, which offers customized tutoring packages. (Credit: Mark Grgurich)

If your child is interested in studying the history and engineering of skateboarding, or learning trigonometry through kite flying, Caitlin Meister’s tutoring company might be the right fit.

Meister founded The Greer Meister Group in New York City more than a decade ago, and she’s selling more than just test prep. She has positioned her company as a high-end, boutique outfit that sells individualized educational experiences — at times to world-traveling parents who want to ensure their children can get into elite schools. As highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article, her tutors often travel with families on their  vacations to such destinations as the Hamptons and the South of France.

As opposed to Kaplan or Princeton Review, companies that are widely known for delivering standardized test prep, Meister talks about “unschooling” — referring to parents who decide to take an unstructured approach to learning — and the need for kids to “be up and moving around.”

“What we’re doing is completely customized,” Meister said. “This is the advantage of going with a boutique, one-on-one private tutoring practice as opposed to a corporate franchise.”

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The private tutoring industry has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of the college admissions scandal, which ignited a fierce debate about families who use their wealth to boost their kids into prestigious universities. But that hasn’t slowed things down for Meister’s firm, which currently employs 15 tutors and has a roster of about 60 families who shell out $150 to $400 an hour for her services.

In fact, interest seems to be growing.

“I had four new client requests on December 24th,” she said. “Something’s changing this year.”

Working With the Gifted

Meister is hyper-aware of working in a privilege-based industry, and offers pro bono tutoring or consulting services to students “whose needs are not being met by their academic environments and whose families would not have the means to cover the cost of working with us.” She is also unapologetic about catering to “profoundly gifted” students whose families can afford her services.

She puts herself in the category of gifted, or “cognitively atypical.” Growing up in Manhattan, she went to a small, progressive elementary school before attending Stuyvesant High School, a top-rated public school. She graduated from Wesleyan University a year early.

Meister found a job teaching preschoolers at the Children’s Aid Society in New York, but she really wanted to become an actor. Instead, she found voiceover work. “That was really the side of the performing arts world that took off for me, and I ended up loving it,” she said.

But she didn’t want to let go of teaching entirely, and worked as an independent tutor until her schedule started filling up and she had to make a choice.

“The question became, ‘Am I going to start turning people away? Or am I going to turn this into a business?’” she recalled. “I do apparently have that entrepreneurial bug.”

With little overhead (she works from a home office), and word of mouth from relatives, Meister quickly got her operation off the ground. The tutoring typically takes place in the student’s home, or else at a parent’s office or library. Some sessions are done via videoconference.

Maintaining a Reputation  

In the last eight years, Meister said, company gross revenue has more than quintupled — and she is trying to meet increased demand.

Slightly more than half of her clientele comes from private schools, about 40 percent attend public schools, 4 percent are homeschooled and about 1 percent are adult learners who are working on a personal or career-related project.

Meister — who still tutors some clients in addition to managing her business — said she is aware that she needs to slough off “90 percent” of her current duties to focus more on “building in new directions.” She has been invited to do speaking engagements and book collaborations, much of which she has turned down. She is also developing an essay writing curriculum.

Taking a step back, though, means finding more tutors who can meet her high expectations — her hires include Ivy League graduates as well as bestselling authors and professional modern dancers.

[Related: Disrupting the Stereotype of ‘Scholarship Kids’]

“I have very high standards,” she said. “My husband teases me that sometimes, maybe, I could lower the bar a little bit and I would have an easier time. But I haven’t been willing to. And I’ll tell you why — because that’s my reputation out there.”

But in terms of how she measures success, Meister is happy and proud of what she has built.

“My definition of success was, ‘Can it work? Is this business going to be profitable? Can I support the tutors who are going to come to me for work, and can I continue to build and grow every year? And is this going to be sustainable long-term?’” she said.

“I hope I’m modeling for my kids how to create a life that is meaningful, and not look at it as one thing to the exclusion of the other,” she said, before adding, “Now, that’s privilege.”