Originally Posted by user1234
In a nutshell, I recall reading somewhere that this was done to keep the number of Jews down in the universities (rampant anti semitism at the time). Apparently there were too many Jews for the admissions committees comfort at the time (the 40s maybe?). The idea was that Jews would easily be admitted using academic measures. But if other measures were introduced, admissions committees could use the extracurriculars as a way of excluding people. Am I the only one who has heard this?

That was from the book I referenced in the OP. It was the 1920s. (I've only read some reviews, not the book itself.) Apparently over time things have changed, but what has changed is the specific groups that are favored or disfavored.

My spouse and I were never educated in the USA, but we live here now and our children are born here. (By the way our oldest is 7 so we have a long time to plan.) This whole "Extra-Curriculars" (ECs) as a part of university admissions criteria is completely outside our experience, and I just cannot wrap my head around it at all. I certainly don't believe it's a legitimate method of selecting the best students. I want absolutely no part of it. But I have to be informed and try to understand it.

One thing I do understand is the pricing of colleges. The key observation is that if you are in the bottom 75% of household incomes in the USA, up to $90k/yr, see here
(or maybe even bottom 90% of household incomes, up to $140k/yr), the private universities are much cheaper than the (out-of-state) public universities, and the more elite the cheaper. I could send a kid to Harvard, Princeton or Stanford for about $10k/yr, but an out-of-state public university would cost $30k/yr or more.

So it's a huge financial windfall to get your kid admitted to an elite private university. It saves you a mountain of money. So it's important to understand what it takes to get into these places.

One thing that should be said is that some of the academic admissions criteria, such as High School Grade Point Averages, SAT or ACT scores etc. have low ceilings giving the false impression that all the students clustered near the ceilings are roughly equal, and that they can only be separated by non-academic considerations. But this is nonsense. They could simply have much tougher academic tests to really see who really are the academically stronger students. The universities surely know this, so it's curious that they choose not to have more revealing rigorous testing. (It's a bit like selecting for a gifted program by using an IQ test that has a ceiling of 120, and then choosing who gets accepted by seeing who has the most interesting (or expensive) hobbies.)