Consider the passage quoted above. Despite the initial disclaimer, the description of an "ideal four-year preparatory program" implies a pretty uniform picture of the ideal student. It is a picture that any reasonably intelligent and hard-working student should be able to fit—provided that he is more interested in getting into Harvard than in getting an education.
Reading? Four years of English will include lots of it, almost all selected and required by someone else—a pretty good way of persuading a student that reading is someone only to be done when someone makes you do it. Science? There are, perhaps, high school age kids who are interested in every science offered by their school, or at least able to fake it. But they are less likely to make a real world contribution than the enthusiast who reads up on relativity and quantum mechanics when he is supposed to be studying Dickens—and thinks biology is icky.
Studying a language is for some people an interesting intellectual activity; speaking a foreign language can be a useful skill. But the world is full of interesting things to do and skills to learn. This particular skill is well short of essential for someone living in the middle of some three hundred million English speakers. So why make it the key to Harvard—in preference to the ability to build furniture, or write sonnets, or survive in the woods?
It is a poorly hidden secret that the reason professors give multiple choice tests is that, whatever their limitations as a tool for measuring learning, at least they are easy to grade. The attitude seems to have trickled down to the admissions officers. Make sure there is a check mark in each box. If too many applicants manage it, they can always be ranked by SAT scores. Perhaps give an extra point to an applicant who seems to actually know something outside the curriculum or care about something other than checking boxes.
If all else fails, flip a coin.
Perhaps I am being unfair—I have not discussed my reaction with any admissions officers. But reading those web pages leaves a bad taste in my mouth.