Touring a prep school.Peter Baron of AdmissionsQuest forwarded an e-mail to me today from a woman wondering how open her children should be with their peers about their prep school applications and asking whether I thought the parents academic credentials carried any weight in the admissions process.

The question of how open to be is a sensitive one.

Some children who are already in private schools are often surrounded by other kids who are also applying. The chatter about who is applying where, what one’s scores were, and class rank can add pressure to what is already an anxious situation.

Other children are in schools where the majority of their peers are continuing on to public school, and their desire to go to an independent school is baffling at best and considered a sign of elitism at worst.

We encouraged our children to be open and honest about the schools they were considering but also to be sensitive to how they frame their desire to go to boarding school. We firmly believe the kids (and indeed all of us) end up in their right place.

A young public school friend of mine was recently told by a friend “I’m going to boarding school so I can be with other people like me.” Naturally my friend’s feelings were hurt. We encouraged our children to talk about finding the school that is the right fit for them, rather than suggest that one school is better than another. That said, parents and children need to be comfortable knowing that the school that is the right fit for them may not be the most prestigious or the one with the most social cache.

We live in New England, and our daughter attends a terrific, competitive school on the west coast. I was asked once if she was at a school for troubled teens because she is so far away and the questioner hadn’t heard of her school! This is a true story. As we were recently told at a college counseling event, “The bumper sticker on your car is not your grade as a parent.”

I believe it is our responsibility as parents to buffer our kids from the stress, particularly in these last weeks before the admission decisions are mailed. Our confidence that they will be in their right place and enthusiasm about revisiting schools will help our children deal with whatever the decisions are.

My reader’s next question was whether the parents’ collegiate academic credentials influenced an admissions decision.

My sense is that the competitive high schools are very successful in getting their students into the most competitive colleges based on the students own academic records and abilities. It seems that the applicant pools are so large and so talented that legacies no longer carry the weight they once did. I doubt whether where the parents went to college has any bearing on the admissions decisions.

In fact my guess is that with the economic downturn the greatest interest schools have in parents is whether they can pay the tuition and maybe give a generous annual fund contribution. Many schools that were once need blind have had to suspend that policy.

This is merely based on my own observation rather than any hard data. Despite the drop in endowments, many qualified students continue to receive generous financial aid packages from schools committed to attracting a talent and broad-based student body.