With college expenses going into unthinkable numbers, the last thing you figure you need is to hire a college planning expert.

That’s just a luxury your kid will have to do without.


Actually, Michelle Rabell wants you to know why our expertise is worth the investment.

As a single parent of a rising high school senior and freshmen, she chose to invest in college and career planning services with Off-Trail On Purpose for her eldest child, Miya.

That’s Miya in the picture of above.

I spent some time talking with Michelle about how the process went for her, and here’s what she had to say (which is shared with her full permission)…


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College Planning Without A Plan


“Initially in this college process, I was clueless.

“I thought back, ‘Well, when I went to college, what did I do?’ But I don’t know. It was such a random choosing of where to go to school and there was no plan.”

Many parents who went to college decades ago had no college planning process.

They just…went.

Even though they found success in life, they still haven’t developed a process for navigating with clarity in their adult lives.

The truth is they’re unsure how they can lead their kids when they feel like they’re flying by the seat of their pants half the time.

“I did not even know where to start. As far as: where is she going to go, what is she going to study, are her grades good enough to go to certain schools, is it worth applying to certain schools? I didn’t have a clear picture of what she likes and what she’s really amazing at.”

Parents watching children approach the end of high school have common core desires.

  • I want my kids to be happy.
  • I want my kids to have a sense of direction.
  • I want to enjoy spending time with my kids.
  • I want my kids to be able to pay their bills sooner rather than later.
  • I want to have enough money left over to take care of myself — so I don’t resent them.

Michelle knew she wanted all those things, but didn’t know how to make that happen.


Worrying Instead of College Planning


The college planning process often leaves parents and kids operating out of fear.

They hear horror stories from other parents. Messages from school and peers drive a mentality of competitive comparison.

The whole system feels like a mysterious alchemy beyond their control.

“Before I used to worry that she wasn’t going to make it, that there was so much competition. How was she going to get into this school or that school? I used to worry that I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even ask for help; I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It was sort of like the blind leading the blind.

“We send them off and hold our breath and cry our eyes out when we don’t know any better.

“They don’t come home from school having this body of knowledge saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do next for college and it’s so exciting.’ Instead, they come home biting their nails, not knowing what to do, and having a sense of overwhelm.”

For many families, this overwhelm creates a cycle of worrying and nagging.

Kids hide their failures, and parents recoil in shock when they log on to school websites to see grades they weren’t expecting.


College Planning Anxiety From Positive Intentions


Out of the best of intentions, parents often feed the frenzy of stress.

They feel uncertain that their kids will be “good enough” to get into “the right college.”

Forgetting how capable, talented, compassionate and thoughtful their kids are, they focus instead on what they think are the right things.

“Through the process Leslie lead us through at Off-Trail On Purpose, I learned that I increased the sense of overwhelm in my kid without meaning to. I have the best intentions, but it’s hard because when you’re parent, you want what’s best for them. You think you know what’s best for them but you’re guessing most of the time. And you’re making your kid a little crazy sometimes, too, without even realizing it.”

Meanwhile, parents avoid damaging the relationship. When kids are made uncomfortable by parents asking questions about the future, parents begin second guessing their advice and urges to guide.

“During these teen years, it can also cause a lot of other problems where you don’t want to create this divide between you and your kid.”

Parents often voice feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. They don’t feel heard by their kids or by the kids’ school.

They fear that if they turn up the volume of their voice to be heard – they’ll become one of “those parents.” They fear that would further harm their kid’s opportunities in the future.


Outside Perspective Makes College Planning Clearer


Parents also tend to have idealized assumptions about what their kids really need.

“What was really amazing is that Leslie noticed something that I never would have noticed and brought it to our attention. At one point, there was something going on with Miya and she was feeling a lot of anxiety. She was struggling in school a bit. 

“Leslie said, ‘What if this is about Miya not wanting to go really far away to college?’

“I went to Boston College, so to me – Boston! That’s the way to go! 

“I didn’t realize I was putting this pressure on her to go to school where I went to school or to go to Boston or to go far away, to have this college experience – this ideal picture perfect college experience (which I didn’t even have).

“But that’s what we want for our kids. We want to tell all of our friends that our kids are going to such-and-such school.

“She probably would have done whatever I said. I could have sent her far away and she would have gone. And then I think she probably would have struggled.”

Michelle did something amazing for Miya! She took responsibility for unintentionally creating pressure.

Michelle made it clear to Miya that she could define her own college experience. That permission created a new energy in Miya.


A Personalized College Planning Approach


In our approach at Off-Trail On Purpose, we have students take an assessment that measures 26 different intellectual aptitudes.

Parents often are blown away by their child’s results. It’s the first time their gifts are documented and acknowledged.

For Michelle, she always knew Miya performed well in school. But she didn’t have a clear picture of how or why. She certainly didn’t know how that could guide Miya in making career decisions.

We match each student’s assessment results to careers that will utilize their strengths.

“Off-Trail On Purpose was like a bridge to my child – not only to her emotionally – but to her brilliant mind, understanding where her genius lies. It’s really cool to have on paper: this is what my child excels at; this is her brilliance.

“I never could have done that by myself – ever. No school counselor could have done that for me. Because it’s the amount of one-on-one attention that Miya got that she couldn’t have gotten from anybody else. It’s specialized. I wouldn’t know what I’d be doing.”

We also use the assessment results as a starting point for college planning.

Once students can see their strengths objectively documented on paper, they explore how they may want to apply those strengths, and where they want to fine-tune their strengths.

Suddenly, college has a greater purpose.

“What’s changed is that Miya and I have a clear understanding of what her plan is. We have a plan for how she is going to approach colleges, what colleges she wants to go to. She is narrowing down the list of colleges chosen to meet her needs. Which is really hard to do when you think of all the colleges in the country – how do you really come up with a list of ten?

“Now she has that.”


The College Planning Tool Most Overlook


“What excites me – because I’m the mom and I want to know that things are moving forward and in order –  is that now she has this “pitch” for college. I love it! It’s my favorite because it’s just this one page tool.”

Having a “pitch” for college — that’s a major advantage. Very few students enter college with a vision of what they aim to gain from their studies.

The students who can clearly and passionately articulate a well-researched purpose statement will stand out — to admissions officers, scholarship committees, professors, internship providers, and employers.

“From months of working together, it culminated into this one page which is easy to digest. It’s like the picture of my daughter. It’s almost like a script for colleges: ‘Here’s who I am, here’s what I do, here’s what I love, here’s what I know I want to do and the direction I want to go in. Is this something that you offer at your school?’

“It helps her to come across as organized, intelligent, very put together, and enthusiastic about college. I think that’s huge for colleges to see that.”

By changing the focus away from grades and test scores, we help students celebrate their strengths, research their options, and determine how (or if) college can benefit them in the long run.

Suddenly, students fully buy-in to the college application process, too.

“That’s the biggest thing: to have a plan. It’s just something that’s reassuring.”

We demystify college planning with a step-by-step process. Kids see that it’s easy, fun, and emphasizes relationships over numbers.


The Outcomes of An Investment In Better College Planning


At the beginning, Michelle had no idea how to guide Miya in her college planning process.

She could tell Miya, “I think you be good at this,” but she had little confidence in helping Miya think about career options.

Michelle was unaware of how to use college admissions offices to help Miya. Truth be told, she was even scared to contact them.

Now, she sees a whole new approach that gives her confidence, which has given Miya confidence in turn.

“It’s interesting because I hear about it from my daughter as to how that’s going on with her friends. They’re scared. They’re anxious. They’re having trouble – they’re feeling a lot of pressure from school and their parents. And sometimes you just need somebody to come in and help. That’s what Off-Trail On Purpose did for us.

“Off-Trail On Purpose is an innovative way of getting kids on the right track to college with a clear plan in their hands.

“Overall, this brought me closer to my kid and it made us really aware of what she’s great at and all the great things she can do in life. I’m just really proud of her.”

Before, Michelle felt guilty that she didn’t have the answers for Miya.

Now she knows she doesn’t have to have the answers — she is not alone anymore.

Actually, the best thing for Miya was to learn to develop mentoring relationships with adults besides her mom. That one skill will quadruple her chances of getting the most from her college investment.

“Leslie is awesome to work with. She is supportive, compassionate, and understanding. She’s an advocate for our kids – and for us parents really. She helps to give us the words when we are not understanding each other. I just know she is there for me when I need her. This isn’t something that I could have just gotten anywhere.

“Off-Trail On Purpose helped me to become aware of what my child needed and how to better prepare her for college. It helped us have a vision of what college can be like and all of the things that can come out of it for her.”


Many, many thanks to Michelle and Miya for their incredible honesty and bravery — in this interview and throughout this process. Your outstanding growth and outcomes are because of your courage to ask for help and accept it!


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