It is interesting to critique this idea for introducing chance. Pitch this idea to a poor person, pitch this idea to a rich person...that is your answer. It is hard to understand if you grew up with opportunity but for poor people this randomness represents a tremendous improvement. From a system that is designed to crush them, to one in which everyone has the same chance.
Otherwise, I suspect this would primarily benefit middle class students who can afford to pay for test prep and tutors, but not for a month-long volunteering stint in Nepal, and primarily hurt the relatively-sub-par-but-well-off legacy admits (which, who cares) and students with a lower SES that currently get a boost from consideration for that status/the follow-up effects of growing up and going to school in poor areas (which I do care deeply about).
I also think that all the volunteering and whatever should be cut from applications. Who gives a fuck if you played the oboe for ten years? Does that really matter? The point of music is enjoyment, the point of volunteering is to serve other people. I had a friend who was forced to play the saxaphone until university and it was tragic: he wouldn't talk about it, he only played to pass exams, he took no joy from it...like great but if you are being forced to do this then who cares? It has become another way to discriminate...and it isn't that much fun if you are a kid.
Harvard and similar schools have moved beyond just being smart. Everyone who applies is super smart. Now the yard stick is smart++ (meaning they want you to be "well rounded" which is code for having a bunch of self-driven/extra curriculars/special skills/x-factor etc to make you a stand out).
And yes, schools in the US do care, deeply, about extracurriculars. Harvard could fill every seat, every year, with the valedictorian of a different high school class. Since nearly every data point is tightly grouped on the most immediately available metric, they turn to other data points to make their decisions. (And there's a long history of using that flexibility for both exclusionary and inclusionary purposes.)
Harvard ran out of other measures. When all of the applicants are capping out every academic measure, you have to start to look beyond.
On all these metrics I would be seriously surprised if they have many more amazing applicants than places. If that is in fact the case, they should make more places available. It almost never happens that you get someone that is 10/10/10 on all metrics.
You played lacrosse? Awesome! How competitive was your team? How many starts did you have? What are your stats?
I'm not looking for people participating in activities, I'm looking for them succeeding. That should cut down a lot on people rushing around participating in a bunch of activities in order to pad a college resume. You want people who focused on results and had both the talent and tenacity to pursue them. Those are your predictors of future success.