Jayne Caflin Fonash, Academy of Science, Loudoun County, Virginia

Each month we feature a high school college counselor -- so you can get to know them and benefit from what they know about applying to college! In our Q & A, you'll find out about their pet peeves, real life heroes, and best advice for students and parents.

This month we welcome Jayne Caflin Fonash, Director of Guidance for the Academy of Science (AOS) in Loudoun County, Virginia, a Magnet program, whose mission is to integrate science, math, writing, and communication skills into research and experimentation.

A graduate of Immaculata University, Ms. Fonash holds an M.A. in Counseling from Villanova University and is currently enrolled in the Ed.D. program at the University of Virginia. Her work has always been with children and their families, but her path to high school guidance and college counseling reads much like the twenty-first century career paths she describes to her students.  She tells them they will most likely have a varied career path and work in several related areas over the course of their lives.  Ms. Fonash worked in both public and private mental health practices before shifting into secondary school guidance and counseling, joining the Academy of Science at its inception in 2005.

When she isn't advising students, she is an avid photographer, a voracious reader, and a cook whose children tease her that Ina Garten must be her long-lost sister. She does look a bit like Ina, don't you think? One more little known fact about Ms. Fonash? She plays the accordion!


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Falling asleep at night when our grown children are home for a visit – such comfort in knowing that my family is once again safely ensconced under the same roof.

What is your greatest fear?

Being reticent to take on new challenges.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Procrastination.  (Don’t tell my students!)  I tell myself I work best under pressure – and there is some truth in this -- but those late nights can be a challenge.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Ambition in the absence of humility and service.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My husband, my children, and the time we spend together.

When and where were you happiest?

I am a photographer by hobby, but I also take “memory snapshots” when I want to be sure to remember a particular experience. Personally, one of my favorites is standing on the shore of Loch Ness with my family during a trip that occurred as our daughter was heading off to college and our son was preparing to begin high school.  I can still smell the fresh air of the Scottish highlands and recall the happiness of recent commencements as well as the excitement of the transitions about to occur in our lives.

Professionally, my relationships have afforded many rich opportunities:  the familiar colleagues I turn to for counsel and support, the new colleagues I have met and mentored along the way, the opportunity to ask questions, to be open to something new and end up in an unexpected place.  All of these moments have enriched my professional life, and I am grateful to everyone who has shared these journeys with me.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would like to paint impressionist watercolors a la Monet!

If you could change one thing about applying to college, what would it be?

Expand the potential for fairly assessing all students.  In recent years I have been reading more about non-cognitive assessment in the admission process, and wonder how we can use such assessments in concert with the traditional standardized tests.  Can we develop the methodology to measure what students can do and how they deal with a wide range of problems?  Several universities and private programs have been successful in this.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Integrity.  We hold a coating ceremony each fall for our incoming freshman class which includes an ethics pledge.  At the program several years ago our school director introduced me as the conscience of the AOS.  I have never received any higher honor than that introduction.

What is the quality you most admire in another person?


 What do you most value in your friends?

Their loyalty, their laughter, their compassion, their support in good times and bad.

Who are your heroes in real life?

People of great mind and great heart!   These individuals usually refuse to be petty, they are willing to face danger, prioritize the needs of others, and they are willing to take action for noble purposes.

What is it that you most dislike?

People who are pretentious, entitled, or arrogant, as they often expect to receive something for nothing.

 What is your motto?

“To those who much is given, much is expected.”

 What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising, with my husband, two amazing children who are now adults - a teacher and a law student.  And completing a half-marathon with my son and daughter!

What is your proudest moment?

For my own two children, I cherish their high school and college commencements, sharing in their joys and lessons learned along the way, supporting their new endeavors.

For my students I have been fortunate in recent years to see them on May 1st happily committed to matriculation at the institution of their choice. The energy – relief – among those seniors is palpable as they allow themselves to move from college as a dream to college as the next step on the horizon. I am also proud to have been able to watch them comfort each other through the disappointment of the “no’s” and the uncertainty of the “wait lists” to reach the celebration of deciding upon the campuses which will become their homes for the next four years. The bittersweet process of their departure has begun in earnest at that point, and I allow myself a moment to be proud of their individual AND collegial accomplishments.

Where would you apply to college if you were applying today?

St. John’s in Santa Fe, to develop habits of mind through discussion and sustained engagement with the works of great thinkers.  Harvey Mudd College, to become a scientist with a clear understanding of the impact that my work would have on society.   And somewhere back in my beloved Philadelphia, one of the best “college towns” in the country.

How did you become a college counselor?

I went off to college to major in English, edit the college newspaper, grow up to be Lois Lane and travel the world as a journalist.  One day a friend of mine dragged me off to a peer counseling training program.  “You’ll be great at this,” she said.  Three semesters later I graduated and began a master’s program in counseling, with the peer training consultant as my graduate school advisor.  My life led me in a different direction after graduate school, but after twenty years in public and private mental health practice I returned to high school college counseling.

What is the most important thing a high school counselor can do?

Ask questions – never stop asking questions – and model that same curiosity for students.  I work at a school where the cornerstone of instruction is inquiry pedagogy, and teachers are inquiry guides, not lecturers.  Students ask questions and design lab investigations while teachers guide them through scientific discovery.  The college admission process should also be a process of discovery, with students leading the expedition and counselors serving as guides.

What is the biggest mistake you see students make in applying to college?

Anticipating at the beginning of the process what they perceive to be the perfect ending.   While initial goals and ideas are important, they should trust in discovering all that they will learn about themselves in the search process.

What is your biggest pet peeve about college admission?

On a snowy weekend morning earlier this year, I found myself in a comfortable chair in front of a warm fireplace doing one of the things I love best - reading the Sunday edition of The New York Times and other newspapers which accumulate over the course of a week.  Although I always expect to find at least one article related to the college admission landscape in my Sunday reading, I had never envisioned an article with the words “escalating arms race” as the opening salvo of a parent’s story about her childrens' college application process. And I went on to read that we live in a world where the “order of the day is escalation dominance.”  This type of media frenzy is not wise counsel for our students or their parents.   As college admission professionals, we should be sharing our knowledge and experience (not hysteria and anxiety) with students and families as we counsel them to make thoughtful decisions about their futures.

What is your largest frustration in college admission?

Access and equity. The vast majority of our students attend public high schools, whose overworked school counselors endeavor every day to oversee the application process for caseloads of as many as 900 students.    Rather than continuing to blame them for inadequacies in the college counseling process as some recent studies have done, let's advocate with our legislators for the funding for staffing for reduced counselor-to-student ratios so counselors are empowered to educate and advocate for all of their students.

When you think of deans of admission you admire, without naming any names, what are the qualities you admire in them?

I admire deans who model the highest ethical standards, integrity in our profession and equity in access in higher education.

What is the one thing a high school counselor should never do?

Realism is not a synonym for belittlement.  We can guide our student’s aspirations without using disparaging or demeaning words.

What is your best advice for applicants?

The experience of your undergraduate education will transform your life, and that is also true of the search and application process.  You and your parents should enjoy this process - the visits, the late-night conversations, and the self-discovery.  What you learn from the process will help in your decision-making.

What is your best advice for parents of applicants?

Understand that you are the “supporting cast members” in this process.  Stay involved at every step along the way, ask questions, make suggestions, but respect that in most cases this is your child’s first big decision, not yours.  And please, never say “our application!”

How can parents establish and maintain the most beneficial relationship with their high school counselor?

Take time to meet with your child’s counselor:  s/he can be your best resource for solid information and ongoing support.  Parents who work in partnership with their child’s college counselor are able to gather information from reliable sources and stay current with deadlines.

What is your best advice for students on working with their college counselor?

Trust that your counselor has your best interest at heart, and can serve as one of your strongest advocates and advisors in this process.  No question is too insignificant or silly!

 Why do you do what you do?

To leave the world a better place – my legacy will be in the accomplishments of the students who I have had the privilege of mentoring along the way.  My hope is for them to be good citizens, leaders of the future, and accomplished parents and professionals.

Is there any message you have for your college counselor colleagues across the country?

Each spring counselors are privileged to see the future spread before us at commencement in the faces and hearts of the students leaving our institutions to begin the next steps in their young lives. For many years I have been delegated the role of reading names of students as they step onto the podium to receive their diplomas. I have long considered this the best view in the house: in the glimpse of a few seconds I am able to see the future shining in these faces and share with them a moment of sheer joy. I hope you will enjoy your own celebrations each spring and share in my sentiment that these moments are certainly one of the privileges afforded to us in this great profession.

Which Common Application prompt would you choose, if you were writing the Common App essay?

I would take the opportunity to “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.”  I often remind my students that the essays provide the opportunity to show an admissions committee your OTHER side – the side that balances out the quantitative information you provide in other sections of your application.  I would welcome the opportunity to talk about who I am and how I have grown as the result of a specific life event.




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