#127 Showcasing Your Teen’s Character & Curiosity to Colleges with Liz Krider Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:37

into today’s episode, we’re exploring how teens can demonstrate character and curiosity to colleges. I’m thrilled to be joined by Liz Crider. She’s an expert in assisting students with passion projects that showcase these vital traits. Colleges are not just looking for academic excellence in extracurricular involvement. They want students who exhibit resilience growth in a deep curiosity about the world. Liz will share how students can move beyond surface level accomplishments through passion projects. These projects not only build character, but also help students learn from failure and take meaningful risks. We’ll discuss practical strategies for identifying problems that matter to your team, applying design thinking and expanding their comfort zones. So if you want to learn how your team can stand out by showcasing their character and curiosity, this episode is for you. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 01:51

Liz, welcome to the show.

Liz Krider 01:54

Thank you so much for having me. I really look forward to today. And I can’t wait to get your opinion on some of these topics.

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:01

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I’m excited to have you on because we both kind of work in the adjacent space to the people who are helping the kids find the right colleges manage that beast of an application process. It is truly such a project to manage, write the essays to reflect all the things, but the work that you and I do, there’s certainly at the heart of it a little bit of overlap with what we want to help kids with. And while we’re not doing the applications, the essays were really the work we’re doing is complementing that. So you’ve learned a lot through supporting parents were in their teens and independent Educational Consultants. And so you were sharing with me like what you’ve decided is there’s really just two values that colleges are like most looking for in a student. And so what did you identify as those qualities?

Liz Krider 03:02

Well, first of all, I put myself in the mindset of colleges and colleges are thinking, we need students who will perpetuate our reputation for many reasons. And then that leads colleges to ask, Can this student handle the rigor we have to offer? Can this student make our campus better during their time here. And since colleges are risk averse, as you know, they want students who bring their mission aligned skills, but also students who are not going to fail out. And so they use a matrix of proven qualities based on the students who have been successful at their school to then evaluate the current students. And so they actually tell you what they’re looking for on their websites. And that is character and curiosity. So for students, they’re not sure what does character mean? Or what evidence of curiosity and so my definition of character is the ability to handle uncertainty. So there’s a little bit of resilience, personal growth, integrity, responsibility. For a teenager wondering what curiosity is, it’s simply going beyond a surface level understanding. So if you learned about something in class, and then after class, you went deeper. If you can go beyond what a group understands about a particular topic, then that would be evidence of curiosity. And students can easily go beyond a surface level understanding. And so because of that, some students do it without prompting. And some students need that prompting. Yeah,

Lisa Marker Robbins 04:42

I there was a word you said in there that I’m gonna jump on for a second and it was evidence right. And so they’re looking for we I talk as a college major and career coach about the colleges are looking for evidence that you fit With the major, not only their school, you know, I’m I’m like doubled down on the college major and career piece of this right. But they’re so they’re looking for evidence that of everything that you said. But then like on choice of major when I’m doing my work and my they’re looking for evidence that you understand what that major is you understand where it could lead. And so you know some of the colleges even asked that supplemental essay question of how do you express your intellectual curiosity? That’s a common, probably on the more selective not even necessarily highly selective, but selective and highly selective schools. They, they tell it right there. But you know, I think you made a good point, the colleges are telling you what they want on the website, it can be hard to discern that when you’re just jumping over there to see, oh, what was the average AC T and the GPA? And what majors do they offer? I actually encourage students ahead of time to get into the common app, make your account early. And then you can see what questions are asking and that curiosity one. It’s evident for sure. So now as as you see that, you said like some kids need prompting, some don’t. And you’re bringing this perspective that you’ve gleaned about character and curiosity, you know, what is what do you see kids normally doing without the prompting?

Liz Krider 06:29

Well, the typical thinking is that academics and activities will demonstrate what the student thinks that will demonstrate. But colleges don’t want to students with experiences, much like a whole list of experiences, I have this I have that I have research, I have sports. What high school students don’t realize is that learning from failure is a good thing in the eyes of college admissions officers. And so this openness to uncertainty, that’s what creates the character. And so when we look at evidence, really what this means for the student is that the student will develop their character, not by following a script of activities, but rather, pursuing any kind of endeavor that’s might be uncertain, it might actually fail, it’s open ended, and so willing to take that risk. That’s where you see the catalyst for the character. And then if there is an academic component, which there always is, that student can go deeper to then gain evidence of intellectual curiosity. And so my advice to students in trying to think about evidence of their character and curiosity is to really practice uncertainty. And that’s the last thing a teenager wants to do they want just tell me what to do. And we’ve seen that, increasingly, and it terrifies us, because things don’t go according to plan. Oh,

Lisa Marker Robbins 07:59

you know, it’s funny, as you say that, I don’t think teenagers really exists. But we as adults, you know, I’m in my 50s. I also don’t like uncertainty, right? We would all love to know, it makes everybody a little uncomfortable. And I want students to hear loud and clear, like, discomfort where growth happens, and this is going to continue for the rest of your life. You know, my youngest graduates, we’re recording this in April, but she’s graduating college, you know, next weekend, and she was just talking about all the feelings and some of the anxiety. She’s got a fantastic job that she’s landed. But she still was like, Well, I hope that job, I hope I took the right job. I hope like there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I agree with you that I would actually say it’s not a failure, even if it didn’t work out, right, as long as there’s a lesson in it. And colleges, you know, these were people in the admissions office, actually, that they do like teenagers, they do want to actually help them even though it feels like all the chips are stacked against you sometimes in this process. But, you know, as long as there is sometimes kids will shy away from putting something in the application that didn’t work out to a positive. And I think what you’re saying is no, that’s great. It shows that you’re a risk taker.

Liz Krider 09:22

Absolutely. And I think there’s a story I have about one of the students I worked with, I’ll call her Sarah. She was interested in medicine, and while she was in high school, and so she did the typical things of really good grades, shadowing doctors community service, led her cross country team all really worthy activities, and growth experiences in and of themselves. She was pretty self aware about how much time she needed in order to do well. And she also knew that she needed something uniquely hers in order to stand out to pre med programs, but she didn’t know what that was. And so when we started Working together, I presented her with an opportunity to explore something she had never done before in her academic journey. And so when March rolled around, she opened, you’re accepted to one of her reach schools. Now, for context, at the time that she applied test scores were a major factor. And her test scores didn’t even place her in the 25th percentile for admitted students. And so attending this program would then make her path to medical school far easier. So then you think, Okay, well, what happened? What did she do that I suggested. And so she accepted my challenge to do a project that had no script, a project for the first time in her academic career would require her to make decisions. And she couldn’t look and compare notes with other people as to what those decisions would be. And I gave her a project, we worked on it together to devise it, but it was a project that didn’t even have a 50% chance of success. And so the project was finding new ways to treat bacterial infections in a way that wouldn’t lead to antibiotic resistance. So for someone who was self aware, this poses a huge risk, it wasn’t clear how long it was going to take. And even if she’d get results, so here’s what happened. So after one month on the project, she started to think, wow, I have a lot more failures than successes. I don’t really know about the second month on the project, she started to think, oh, you know, I’m actually embracing some of the unknowns that are part of the scientific discovery process. And after three months on the project, she was humbled, she was humbled by the lack of results, but undeterred, and she confided in me something that stayed with me, and that really encapsulates my work with students. And she said this, the opportunity to become comfortable in the unknown, is my greatest sense of growth. And so what I watched before me, was a student who started the project as version 1.0 of themselves. And by the end of the project, they were version 2.0. Because the experience had this big dose of uncertainty. And so it’s my opinion, and my experience, that when a student embarks on something that’s open ended, that can be the catalyst for the growth for the character. So in the case for her, she had evidence, and this evidence also led to far more opportunities in the future, she had no idea. In fact, last year, she came back from a visit to Africa, as an undergraduate doing of kind of field research, that if she had not failed, as a 12th grader with me, she would have never been able to enter rejection and getting into different research groups, but then eventually led to the one she was in, and then she gets sent to Africa. That’s the kind of character so there you go, there’s short term and long term benefits.

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:00

So that’s a great segue to talk about, you know, your, what you do is passion projects. And because you believe you started your early career at Cal Tech in research, right? So from the very beginning, you’ve known the value of research, but it’s like, it’s it kind of seems like a no brainer for oh, 20 Somethings and adults, and even college students too many, but you have brought that down to the younger students. Because what you’ve seen as I’m sure you’re not just, I’m sure you’re doing it for the personal growth that they have. But it wasn’t just to meet the expectations of character and curiosity. But out of it comes the character like both of them, right? Yes. So let’s talk a little bit about, I mean, you work one on one with these kiddos or in groups. So it’s not like we’re this is not a commercial to say, like everybody come to lives, like you’ve gained insights. And we certainly hope people will check out what you’re doing out there in California, as you’re working with students, but you’re learning things that you can then say, okay, if you’re down, if you’re up in Maine, you’re nowhere near California. And you’re looking to go from the 1.0 to the 3.0 version of your teenager, which has parents I’m just gonna say we all would like to see that happen. But there are things that students can do. So let’s talk about like you assigned her this idea of this project. But let’s talk about in a general sense, what advice you have for families.

Liz Krider 14:51

Yeah, I have a great example for that and I, I encounter students that kind of come in three different versions one like Sarah that was hired Receiving and a had a somewhat large comfort zone. And then you have a second group of students that are capable, but very small comfort zone. And then a third group, they’re totally unaware of their potential, and you’re just not sure what kind of conditions will lead to them doing something that they’re not already doing. And so

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:18

let’s look at, I’m gonna interrupt for one second and just say our listeners need to like, Let’s repeat those three categories again. Yeah, I hate to interrupt, but I, Mike, I think you and I are so close to this type of work. And my listeners hear me say this all the time. You know, I’m experts on it, we are doing you know, I’m double down on college major and career advising, you’re double down on research and passion projects, we get so close to it, the average parent maybe needs to hear something again. So if I have listeners multitasking, I want them to come back. And I want to hear these three categories. And I want our listeners, our parents, or somebody who works at the high school level, or you’re an IEC, to think about categorizing, think about a person think about your child in front of you. And now let’s go through those three categories again, and then I want you to go ahead and extend upon that so that people can visualize their own child, not just like, oh, yeah, there’s three different types, let’s deeply think about who it is, is in front of us. So what are those three categories, again, was?

Liz Krider 16:22

Absolutely, if you think of it in terms of what their comfort zone is right now, then it doesn’t matter what their academic capacity is, doesn’t matter if they’re introvert or extrovert, it doesn’t matter where they are the environment in which they’re living. Some environments are more intense and more demanding and draining for the individual. But let’s simplify in terms of just comfort zones. And so when you have a student with a large comfort zone, they’re able to gain evidence of who they are through different activities. And so then there’s a lot to show to say, a college admissions officer or a prospective employer, because there’s a lot of evidence that was obtained because their comfort zone is, is large. So that’s kind of your first category of large comfort zones means there’s more evidence, more evidence means they’re more visible to people wanting to admit them to whatever their experiences. The second group is a capable individual who’s aware of certain skills and strengths, but their comfort zone is really small. And so because of that, they don’t have very much evidence. And so the key is to do things within their comfort zone, and just with just outside of it, so that that can grow. And then in the process, they can see themselves as capable and able to do more. The third group is what I call unaware, they’re unaware of their potential, they may not even be able to tell you if they have a large or small comfort zone, but they’re just unaware, much like a blank slate, and difficult to reach them. And so if we look at the categories like that, Sarah, the example for Sarah would fit in the first category, large comfort zone, so lots of evidence, and they may more have more to offer, as of right now to the world. You

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:09

know, when you suggest these passion projects? What age are you? I mean, I would my guess is Sarah, because she was already applying, et cetera, for success and college and beyond. I mean, she’s having a obviously a fantastic undergraduate experience. And that’s setting her up to probably easily get into med school. Not that getting into med school is easy, but a clearer path to med school, would you actually suggest that kids go after these passion projects, projects within their comfort zone or slightly outside of it at a younger age, ideally, that’s

Liz Krider 18:47

what’s happened. So most people would come to me because of my STEM background, the Caltech PhD, the science policy. And what I’ve found is that many people have asked for help where their student is not in that kind of Sarah category, where I have a strong overlap and kind of offer them lots of expertise. My experience as a coach, and as a Girl Scout leader, and a Boy Scout leader and volunteer hasn’t made me more accessible to the student who’s very undefined and what they want to do. And so I’ve repurpose my content to younger and younger age groups. And so if there’s a young lady who’s in ninth grade, and has a somewhat decent comfort zone, then we can have a conversation and then they can start down this path of doing a project for the community and then get experience in the executive function, the talking to strangers in a good way, the communication skills and then later, as they get more evidence, they’ll be ready for an academic exploration and get more evidence of that curiosity. So when I’m able to work with the a ninth grader who’s who’s ready to go outside their comfort zone a little bit with the safety of someone who’s the leader and the teacher voice then we can accomplish something that then is the foundation for further work.

Lisa Marker Robbins 20:05

Okay, I love that because like, I mean, I personally people say, when you suggest people to your college major and career coaching course. And I’m like, well, in a utopian society, which I’ve made peace with, which will never exist, I actually would love every sophomore to really start. That’s why I was thinking like with what you were talking about, I know a lot of time freshmen, they’re just trying to get their feet wet and high school and it’s different and figure out the increased rigor. And maybe they’re they’ve moved from being like in middle school, or junior high a team of teachers, and now they’re just floating between the teachers. And that’s something new to navigate. So a lot of times, they say, you know, let freshmen be a freshman. And that’s often my advice. But by sophomore year, for particularly the college bound students who primarily are, who you’re serving, and I’m serving, we can start to do some of these things. And some kids are ready for a little bit more than others. But then I think back even, you know, we have five kids, total between my husband and me, I’ve got three of my own, when they were 1415. How would you say? How would you help a parent know what their kids comfort zone bandwidth is because I think it’s easy to look at somebody Sara’s age who’s quite capable, and had a very good resume before you met her. But she was already 17. And applying to college, if somebody takes us ideal timeline, and starts to get a little more serious, ninth 10th grade about this type of work. So that can build, you know, you’re setting the foundation and and can build, I might be sitting there looking at my 15 year old boy, which are raised to have those. And like, I’m not 100% sure what that bandwidth is, or there are questions that I as a parent would be asking, how would you encourage parents to figure that part out?

Liz Krider 21:57

I have two examples that would be instructive to parents that that range from like, no cost to investment and some resources to them, like a full one on one. Let’s take the student who’s like in those The second category capable, but small comfort zone. And let’s call him Thomas, the 10th grade boy, because I have a 10th grade boy, and I have a lot of 10th grade boy clients. And so the first question I asked them, aside from getting to know them about their activities and things is, you know, what is it that you care about? And that list can be well, I, I like to game with my friends, since every one of them, every one of them, or I like being with my friends, we play basketball. And then I start to peel back the layers a little bit more and say, you know, if you could make a change in your world, and the next 90 days, what would that change be? And so for say, girls, I’ll ask it this way, I’ll say you know, what breaks your heart. Boys, you know, boys want to be awesome. And girls want to make the world a better place, just just generally. And so when we ask the boy, you know, what kind of change you want to make in your world, and the next 90 days, it gets them thinking. And then I use Stanford design thinking which any parent can use. And that is, well, what do I know about this issue? What do I know about it? Who is affected by the issue? who’s affected by that particular then they have to be separate? And then how is the problem being solved right now? And then how am I improve the solutions in my own way? So when I’m working with a student, one on one, that’s like four weeks to go through that, because they have to learn a little bit more about the issue. So if I have the 10th grade boy who got injured playing bass, his answer would be, I just don’t wish that on anybody to get injured, and then you can’t play. And it really messes with you, and you can’t do this thing. So the change I would like to make in my world is to prevent injuries. Well, there we go, you know, so over time, they get more inclined to look at what what’s the change I want to make in the world. And so for these kinds of students, it’s the social need, that plants the seed of action. And so for Thomas, the need for, you know, injury prevention, or I have another Thomas, who became acquainted with well, how do elementary school kids learn the nonverbal ones, how do they learn and he has a connection to that because he himself is neurodiverse. So then layer by layer was like, Well, here’s the need for learning under unusual atypical conditions. Here’s a population affected by that elementary school kids who are nonverbal. How’s the problem being solved right now? Well, with iPad minis was 64 gigabytes of, of memory, and well how How can I improve the solution? Get more. So then now he’s raising money, popcorn sale, bake sale, going to businesses in his community to get donations. I mean, he talked about getting out of his comfort zone, he’s rallying people for the cause of the kid. And so for this student, the social need for helping the nonverbal elementary school kids planted this seed of action. And without him even realizing it, that comfort zone is getting bigger and bigger by the week. I

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:32

love that. And so there are a few things that I like, immediately I’m like grasping on to, as you’re saying is you’re sharing this. First of all, going back to the beginning of Thomas’s journey, you said it took and I want to really listen to this four weeks of conversation thinking, reflecting, interacting, to even get down to like, what did he care about? What is his comfort zone of risk taking. And so I, you know, I think in our society, families are so busy, and you know, working parents with teenagers who are active and college bound, it feels like, we don’t have that much time. And so everybody wants the quick fix, and all of this, none of this important, really important stuff, figuring out your college major and future career, peeling back and doing a passion project that’s going to make a difference for you and for others, are going to be quick. So I really, really want our listeners to hear that there are not quick fixes to these things, is a time investment. You know, in my course I coach everybody that if your kids to college bound, by the time they’re at least halfway through sophomore year, you should be setting aside an hour probably on the weekend, because that’s when people have a little bit more time to do college bound things. You know, one week, it might be planning college visits. And next week, it might be starting to work on a research project, you might set aside you know, our course can be completed in as quickly as six weeks. But most people spend longer on that. setting aside time for that setting aside time for test prep, you should constantly be doing it, it’s going to take a time investment. So a it wasn’t one conversation about to assess risk and then go Okay, now we’re gonna go do this. Right. It was a it was four weeks that you said, the other thing is Sarah’s like solving major problems for the world. And, like, in that intellectually, she’s, I can just tell she’s very, very bright. And when we first heard that first example, I was like, wow, well, that’s a lot. That’s not gonna be every kid. And then Thomas, intellectually, he doesn’t have to be the 35 AC T kid, he might be I don’t know enough about him. But he’s being a difference maker in a very different way.

Liz Krider 28:00

Well, the look on his face when we talk about how he’s making progress on his homework and and talking to adults getting even the EIN number from the school, what’s an EIN number, you can set up the popcorn sales, just all of those steps that as adults, because we’ve done it before, we don’t remember what it’s like to be a non expert in that thing. And so gentle coaching can help. Now, had I hoped for this kind of liquor of passion and excitement? And like, oh, yeah, would I have liked that to happen two months ago? Yes. And so I have to patiently create the conditions for him to see. And that takes time. They have to see themselves in charge of those and being empowered, but not to the point where it’s overwhelming. So of course, in a situation where a family can hire me to work one on one, that’s very straightforward. But to your point, if families can create a venue for discussion, and then use this, well, what do you care about? And then what do you know about it? I know IAC has tried to have these conversations, and it’s hard for them when a student doesn’t necessarily catch on to well, what do you know about that? And it does take a venue where there’s a constant because you’re trying to teach them instead of just like, you gotta get a project. That’s one of the reasons that motivated me to go into this space. Is that like, my whole life has been projects. My PhD was a project my science policy or a series of projects, my volunteer work project, I thrive on doing the almost impossible. And with this is this skills development to teach students so that they can work wherever they are right now identify something that they care about, learn about it by talking to people or online research, figuring out hmm, you know, I could do something about that, but they do need a timetable. That’s the opposite of the ISP. Those essays have to be done. My work there is No, there is no deadline. And so it takes the patient framework for them to see results in a way that then keeps them going. And when that happens, it’s really quite magical.

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:12

I love it, you have given such great advice, that I think parents in those that are working with teens, again, like picture that that face in front of you figure out the conversation, you can begin having, it’s gonna take time, you’ve got to be patient, but the output, I love how you said, Let’s go from, you know, 1.0 version of this teenager, to 2.0 to 3.0. And then, ultimately, there’s a natural outgrowth of being able to demonstrate what you you know, working at the college level, working with ICS. Working with teens as I have, know that character and curiosity are very important. So I was, I know a lot of people will take these nuggets and start doing them, give us like one, one last nugget and tell people how they can keep in touch with you if they’re interested in learning more about the passion project work that you do.

Liz Krider 31:12

Absolutely. Well, in my work, I found what’s so interesting about doing an open ended project is that it becomes a surprising opportunity for students, because it might lead to failure. And so not only will going through this process, make it more likely for them to grow. But because the work centers on who they are and what they care about, it will ensure that they get into the college that’s right for them. And so the largest promise of this work is not that they’ll get into a top college, even though that’s far more likely to happen because they have evidence of character and curiosity. The largest promise is that the student will find a richer sense of truth regarding who they are, and what they want to do, because they’ve learned how to fail, not just how to succeed, and they’ll come to better understand the role they’re meant to have in the world. And so for that reason alone, that’s why I do the work.

Lisa Marker Robbins 32:14

I love it. So where can families follow you find you if they’re interested in learning more?

Liz Krider 32:19

They can go to passion projects.net Though www passion projects within us.net and then find me on LinkedIn, Elizabeth Crider, PhD, and Crider is K ri di R. And so you can find my content there. I work with students who are 14 to 24 because just because when a student gets admitted to college that journey is not over. They need to find more experiences to validate the path that maybe your work with the Berkman assessment and launch. Career Clarity has has put them on that path. They’re going to need experiences, projects and internships to validate where they’re headed and gain the evidence so that they can find that larger purpose and begin contributing

Lisa Marker Robbins 33:07

100% I’ve said over and over as my as I just watched my daughter, her senior year of college go through this process of interviewing, getting job offers going through her own values like struggling with her values around like do I take the job that’s going to take me away from home and have me moving a lot do I stay where I’m comfortable? Do I do the one that was kind of in between watching her wrestle with us? She had great options. And well her for sure her college degrees important. I know that what got her she she landed after seven interviews landed a job with a fortune 500 company in a management training and sales program. And I know it was her success with her college extracurriculars and internships that landed her that not necessarily the fact that she just had the college degree. So you’re right, this has to this is not a one and done. This is a continuation Liz we’re gonna put all those links to you in the show notes. This has been fantastic. Thank you so much for making time. Thank

Liz Krider 34:14

you so much for having me and best wishes to everybody on their Career Clarity path wherever they are.

Lisa Marker Robbins 34:26

Thank you to Liz Crider for sharing her valuable insights on demonstrating character and curiosity to colleges through passion projects. I hope you found our conversation enlightening and inspiring. As we wrap up, I want to leave you with two practical action steps. First, just close your eyes and visualize your child reflect on your child’s comfort zone as Liz described it. Is your child’s comfort zone large with a lot of evidence or is it small with less evidence and they need to provide more More, or potentially is your teen completely unaware of their potential. Understanding this will help you guide them effectively and gently began to expand their zone before they leave your nest for college. Second, have a conversation with your team about a problem they might want to solve in the next 90 days, just as long as detailed. Encourage them to think deeply about what issues they care about, and how they might make a difference. This can be the first step in identifying a meaningful passion project that showcases of their character and curiosity. My friends if you found today’s episode helpful, please share it with a friend who could benefit from it too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to rate and review the podcast. This helps us reach more families navigating the college admissions process. Thank you for listening to College and Career Clarity, where we help your family move from overwhelmed and confused to motivate a clear and confident about your teens future. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins and until next time, keep striving for clarity and confidence in your teens journey.