Kat Cohen has been fielding a high volume of calls in recent weeks from desperate parents looking to book SAT tutors for their teenagers at up to $500 an hour.

The founder of a test prep and admissions counselor service on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue says tutoring demand has jumped since some of the most selective universities in the nation reversed their four-year hiatus on requiring standardized testing.

“Many families are realizing that test-optional might not be so optional anymore,” said Cohen, chief executive officer of IvyWise. “They don’t know how many more schools are going to require test scores again.”

Business is booming for SAT tutors and prep centers after some elite colleges pivoted back to mandatory testing this year and as students seek help in mastering the first-ever digital format of the SATs that began this month.

Kaplan, one of the largest test prep agencies, has seen a “double-digit” rise in enrollment this year, mainly due to the new digital tests, said Heather Waite, director of college admissions programs. While the increase could also be partially due to the return of required testing at some colleges, those shifts may become a more significant booster to business “as more and more schools are making these decisions.”

US colleges ditched SATs and ACTs during Covid, and most have made the tests optional. But earlier this year three Ivy League schools — Yale University, Dartmouth College and Brown University — began requiring them, leaving high school juniors with mere months to prepare before the deadline for early college applications on Nov. 1. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology reversed its course in 2022, and last week the University of Texas at Austin joined the mandatory test club.

Bill, a real estate developer in Boston, signed up his 16-year-old son for tutoring at Summit Educational Group after Dartmouth’s reversal. His son was going to take the test anyway, but now some of the schools he wants to apply to are requiring it.

“It just made it more critical,” said Bill, who asked to withhold his last name for privacy. “I’m hoping a few testing sessions and he aces it.”

Universities stopped requiring standardized testing when test centers closed during the pandemic. That was welcome news for critics, who have said for decades that the tests rewarded wealthier students. Even with optional testing, students from rich families kept submitting exam scores at higher rates than their lower-income counterparts. That undermined the level playing field that optional testing was meant to encourage.

Several tutors said they’ve been busy all along. The Princeton Review’s chief retail officer, Dan Coggshall, said ambitious students and their parents kept sending in scores. Still, he’s seeing increased interest in test preparation recently due to the policy reversals and digital SATs.

Critics say affluent students can pay for expensive preparation programs that teach strategies for excelling on written exams. Test proponents argue that other parts of the admissions process like participation in music or sports have even larger racial and economic biases. Admissions officers at Yale, Dartmouth and Brown argue that testing provides good markers for which applicants will succeed at their schools and is beneficial in recruiting diverse and low-income students.

David Blobaum, who runs an SAT tutoring service for students in wealthy Short Hills, New Jersey — with rates from $175 to $520 an hour — said he told panicked parents of high-performing athletes that there are enough schools to apply to that won’t switch from optional testing because it benefits them in recruiting star players.

“It’s not a dire issue, at least not yet,” Blobaum said. “It might be in two years.”

Other tutors, like Laura Wilson of Chappaqua, New York, have built websites to offer students test prep at more reasonable rates than some of their high-end peers.

Jason Mills, who tutors teens on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at $450 an hour, saw “slightly desperate hand-ringing” from parents worried about reinstated testing. The tutor of 25 years who graduated from Harvard has also developed a website to help students navigate the new digital SATs.

The digital version adapts to each test taker. Based on how the student performs on the first module of questions, the second will either be more or less difficult. The duration of the exam was also reduced to two hours and 14 minutes from three hours.

Patti Ghezzi, who is both an admissions essay coach and mother of a 17-year-old, said she’s relieved some schools are ending optional testing. That policy boosted average test scores as students chose to omit lower grades, and it reduced transparency into how colleges choose applicants, she said.

“We’re putting students through a mind-bender,” said Ghezzi, who is spending $2,000 for 10 hours of her teen’s ACT prep. “They’re so demoralized by these SAT policies, more so than before.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.