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Would a future Feynman really do enough extra curricular that have nothing to do with their area of expertise to even get into a school like Harvard? Likely not... If anything a lottery would increase their chances compared to the status quo.

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).

Do they actually care about extra curriculars though? Cannot remember of a single case in Oxford CS admissions where that was a factor, let alone a deciding factor. Usually those with loads of extra curriculars were not as good as those for whom maths/CS was their true passion. They would look like they had received better admissions interview coaching perhaps, but it was our job to see through that and it was not that difficult to do so.

Not trying to be unkind here, but you keep bringing up examples from Oxford in a discussion about the American higher education system. There's a big difference in culture between the two, and so discussing Oxford as a counterpoint doesn't really make sense. It's not an American outlier, it's a totally different system with its own issues and culture that don't have much to do with this conversation.

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.)

Fair enough. I wrongly assumed that they would have very similar approaches to admissions, but maybe not. If the extracurriculars don't have anything to do with the degree in question, it seems wrong for Harvard to be putting weight on them. Luckily, there are other Universities in the world to choose from.

> If the extracurriculars don't have anything to do with the degree in question, it seems wrong for Harvard to be putting weight on them.

Harvard ran out of other measures. When all of the applicants are capping out every academic measure, you have to start to look beyond.

But do they not interview applicants in person? You can usually tell a lot more about a candidate from an in-person interview than from a written test. For example, how genuinely interested they are in the subject - it is usually hard to fake enthusiasm. How they respond to hints during problem-solving. How excited they are when they get to a solution. How teachable and creative they are. How they think when faced with a kind of problem they (hopefully) had not seen before. Do they actually understand the subject, or do they just have a good memory.

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.

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