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Stephen Mihm

The Dark Chain of Events to Your Kid's Ivy League Rejection

Anti-Semitism drove the early stages of the college admissions process.
Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg
Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg

Despite their perfect grade-point averages and SAT scores and stellar extracurricular activities, the number of top-achieving high school seniors who made the cut at the most elite universities reached record lows this year. Stanford, for example, only admitted 5 percent of applicants, the fewest in its history; other top institutions reported similar numbers.

This may look like meritocracy reaching its ultimate rarefaction, yet the motives that led top colleges and universities to introduce highly selective admissions a century ago were far from lofty. The aim was to keep out one group in particular: Jews.