4 Principles of Extracurriculars for College Success

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Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Our expert counselor Alix C. gave a first-hand presentation on the four principles of extracurriculars for college success. Let’s discuss! In addition to general information, our webinar presentation covered necessary questions like:

  • How to build your extracurricular profile into a narrative or story;
  • What admissions offices at top schools look for in a student’s application profile;
  • How to strategize and select your extracurriculars for college success!

About Your Presenter

Alix C.

With 10+ years of experience working in college admissions, Alix is a former admission officer at Stanford and University of Chicago. With 5000+ applications read, he is a self-identified college nerd who shares secrets of highly selective college admission offices with families. He tells it like it is. His students have been accepted to Ivies, UCs, and most top 40 colleges. When not nerding out about the constantly changing landscape of college admissions, you can find Alix writing or cooking.


Empowerly has helped thousands of students get accepted to their top-choice programs. Our team consists of graduates from top US colleges with expertise in a variety of subjects including STEM, premed, business and the humanities. We also have diverse work experience, including Teach for America, Goldman Sachs and Riot Games. We’re passionate about building a community that helps students and their families find a path to success in whatever fields they choose.

Our mission is to empower students to be the most successful version of themselves in college admissions and beyond.

Before We Begin…

The first piece of advice that Alix emphasized is that academics must come first. In other words, time spent on academics must come before time dedicated to your theme and activities. The prevalence of test scores has shifted, but for highly selective schools, you still need to pass a threshold of academic achievement for admissible status.

While developing your extracurricular interests, think of your pyramid as [Academics > Activities > Vision], in that order.

Next, we’ll discuss the four main principles of extracurriculars for college success that Alix recommends to all students. With each principle, we’ve written down a few points to underscore the idea.

Principle of Focus

From an admission perspective, do what you’re good at (choose talent above preference, with a few exceptions). Invest your hours in the activities at which you are best. Unfortunately, that tradeoff is sometimes necessary. 

Beyond that, focus is critical because it allows you to find depth. Depth is tremendously important (typically, more important than breadth). We’ll talk more about this later, but you don’t need to do everything! In fact, it’s better to show how skilled you can become with full commitment to the activity of your choice. 

Essentially, there’s no need to fill up every open space on your activities list for applications like the Common App or the University of California app. Actually, it’s better to isolate your focus and energy towards the activities you are good at.

Bonus tip for focus! Remember that summer is always a time to inch ahead while you’re not in classes. Starting early means you can find your angle and maximize your free time for the most return on your time.

Principle of Rarity

When choosing extracurriculars for college success, think about how to set yourself apart from your peers. In other words, how can you angle yourself in a different way? It can be useful to talk to your friends and classmates to see what most other students are doing.

When in doubt, zoom in; think on a granular level to demonstrate how specific your interests can be. Find the unusual gems you may already do.

In the end, rarity can help you make decisions on what is most important. Less can be more sometimes, if we can increase the level of competition and recognition. For example, if you can get state or national recognition, that is great! All the more reason to focus on that activity.

Interestingly, this principle of rarity applies to writing opportunities as well. Think of how unique and insightful your essays are to tell a specific story.

Principle of Choice

All students need to be selective about where you spend your time. Evaluate which activities you choose to move forward with, to work smarter – not harder. Let’s discuss a few common examples where this principle can be applied. 

  • Athletics
    • Evaluate which level you compete at (state, regional, or national) to decide whether it will develop your profile overall, or not.
    • However, you can continue playing sports at a lower tier if it helps you with other things in your life (time management, focus, personal morale, or more).
  • Clubs
    • Emphasize innovation and leadership; ie, start or lead a club! 
    • Believe it or not, admissions officers prefer community clubs that address issues beyond the scope of the high school campus.
    • In all cases, choose opportunities to demonstrate commitment and consistency.
  • Honors and Certifications
    • Always seek out opportunities for competitions and/or certifications.
    • Like clubs, community honors tend to hold more weight than in-school honors.
    • These honors and certifications will be listed separately from your activities, so use this as a chance to corroborate your profile and fully string together that story.

Principle of Depth

Along with the other three principles, depth merits more explanation. Let’s put it this way: odd and weird stories will set you apart. Ask yourself, what unique niche can you fill? What new knowledge can you add to the discourse?

If you’re struggling with how to do this, contemporary and relevant issues show that you are aware of the world. Additionally, controversy can be an advantage (if used intelligently). Of course, remember to do your homework on campus culture. Don’t be afraid to discuss your ideas with a third party like a college counselor if you have doubts on how to handle the topic

To summarize, Alix hopes to dispel the myth of the Holy Grail “well-rounded” student; instead, he finds students are actually more successful with a “well-lopsided” approach. To do so, we discussed the four main principles of extracurriculars for college success. Finally, in all instances, you want to tell a cohesive narrative throughout the application that can be corroborated by all parts of your profile.


Following the presentation, attendees also had a rare opportunity to get the perspective of someone who’s actually made decisions on student’s applications at top tier schools. He discussed a few specific examples of strong extracurricular profiles, and recommended how to push ideas even further. 

Of course, if you would like to work one-on-one with an expert like Alix to discuss your specific activities and decisions, feel free to reach out! When you book a free consultation below, we can match you with a counselor and explain more about how the program works. We are here to help you find your best-fit future.

Questions? Let us know!