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Meet Sonja Montiel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sonja Montiel.

Hi Sonja, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am the founder of College Confidence where my students are more than engineers, business leaders, teachers, and doctors. They are innovators, creators, and compassionate problem solvers. As a private college counselor, I do not build applicants. Instead, I protect the worth and authenticity of teens so that they feel ready to take on the world with every sense of who they are and will become.

At the same time, during this unique period in a family’s life, my goal is to bring parents and their teens closer together so they can forge meaningful relationships that will last their entire lifetime. This mission evolved as I grew older. I just passed the 21-year mark dedicating my life’s work to this profession. I started as an admission counselor in my early twenties and still remember how amazing I felt coordinating the largest UC Counselor Conference of 600+ counselors, presenting admission information to up to 500 attendees during open house events, and traveling with faculty and the chancellor throughout the state of California as the regional reception coordinator. I had such an ego back then! However, this profession quickly brought a sense of humility the longer I stayed in it. My movement changing roles within college admissions – working for a university, then a high school, and finally an independent college consultant – was driven by a personal mission to keep college planning teen-centered.

The closer I got to families while working at a high school and as a private college counselor, the more I understood how crucial this period of time was for families. It also became clear that my responsibilities as their educator influenced their outcomes that could last way beyond their college years. When it was finally my turn to raise a teen, it was a moment of utter vulnerability where I finally understood the annoyances of parent anxiety and trained hard to “not be one of them.” That training took time, and it remains the great learning lesson in my lifetime as a parent, college counselor, and good human being.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Is there such thing as a smooth road? Life isn’t interesting without the twists, turns, and occasional roadblocks. The two most significant struggles that I faced as an entrepreneur was balancing ego with humility and breaking my personal mind block that I could have access to abundance in terms of time, finance, and wants (versus needs). When I was 30, College Confidence hit a successful peak. I had a waiting list of clients, staff of six, and an office space where I could hear a water fountain just outside our center’s doors. It was bliss and I was deeply invested in my passion. I also consistently missed family dinners, kissed my 5-year-old good night way after her bedtime, and barely made significant celebrations – like birthdays and the holidays. It was amazing how much I was willing to sacrifice to feed my ego. I didn’t know that I had so much to prove. There was a night where I came home in time for dinner.

My daughter was surprised with joy to find me at the table. It was then that I realized how inaccessible I was to my young daughter. That moment changed my priorities and how I ran business. My second struggle was meeting success. I grew up with a scarcity mindset due to my upbringing and was happy when my needs were being met. I built the expectation that fulfilling needs was the end goal. I didn’t know it then, but I internally built a ceiling for myself that my quality of life had limits. When I wanted something, I would be flooded with guilt. When College Confidence became successful, I struggled with letting the company succeed beyond my expectations. I went through a lot of professional training and business coaches to evolve and embrace the revolutionary notion of abundance – the more I am serving others through my business, the more positive impact I am making in the world. And that feels pretty darn good.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As a private college counselor, my expertise is freshmen and transfer college admissions, but my life work is helping young people first find their purpose to then build a path that supports that purpose. When you break college admissions down, the process is simply a transaction where young people are articulating their effort and experiences into applications. I do provide significant support on the transaction since this will be the first time young people will communicate their experiences, talents, and values in a concise, thoughtful, and authentic way. In addition, I am known for having my students complete the process early by slowing down the pace, ensuring that planning a path includes joy, and protecting their time with precise efficiency. However, one cannot do the transaction without doing the reflection work. My expertise focuses on the transformation of a young person who is shifting from adolescence to adulthood. I focus on both young people and those who are raising them (parents or caregivers).

Going through the process with my own teen, I realized the sacred time I had left with my soon-to-be-adult, and I needed to ensure that my daughter saw me as a trustworthy mentor. Through college admissions, I learned how to solidify that trust and transform into being her life mentor. With my parenting lessons, combined with college admissions experience, I created a family college planning course for those raising 9th and 10th graders. I coach the entire family step-by-step in defining purpose, how to support that purpose, and how to build a successful path toward that purpose. The program is called “Parents & Teens Unite College Planning and is one-of-a-kind. Finally, I started a YouTube channel and podcast called “Decided Heart Conversations” with co-host Hilary Bilbrey with Live Inspired Leadership Institute. Together we engage in authentic decided heart conversations with experts about relationships, growth, and purpose. Our hope is to raise up humanity through meaningful connections and powerful self-reflection.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in the city of Fontana in the 1990’s raised in a single-parent household. It was a place where the steel mill was the main source of employment, our high school football games were the main event of week, and chicken and horse farms were at every corner. My father immigrated from Germany in his teens taking his work ethic, structure, and humility with him. My mother lived in Santa Monica who immigrated from the Philippines and taught me the value of social connections, gut-laughing, and grace. Although they divorced when my sister and I were 7, they both remained strong positive influences to the person I am today. My identity cannot isolate my twin sister, Claudine, who is adventurous, all-things creative, and the outside-the-box thinker. I, on the other hand, was the mother hen, stuck to routine, and thrived on tradition. As my soulmate, she coached me to find courage beyond my comfort zone. We played competitive soccer and fully embraced the belief that teamwork means everything to achieving the outcome. I rely on 90% humor to get through tough times and am addicted to watching the sunrise every morning to the life partner that I was so lucky to meet in high school, Richard.

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  1. Sonia

    December 18, 2020 at 03:09

    Wow, reading these articles about you Sonja Montiel, is a wonderful story and biography. It makes me cry at the same time feeling happy.
    Well written!!

  2. Claudine

    December 18, 2020 at 13:35

    After reading this, I feel like trust has been restored in this unsteady and unpredictable climate of college planning. Parents of teens could really use an advocate. You are not only an expert but someone I feel like I can these challenges with! I’m sure to use College Confidence when the time comes up for me!

  3. Jacqueline L Nottingham

    December 21, 2020 at 04:16


    What a wonderful testimonial to your life but to the work you’re doing each day with families. I’m honored to know and work with you. And I’m happy to learn you’re a twin – like me! All the best.

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