Value or buzz: What makes students choose Lehigh?

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Lehigh Admissions Counselor Maria Asayag reviews applications from various regions in the U.S., as well as international regions such as the Caribbean and Latin America. Asayag is also the director of diversity recruitment at Lehigh. (Meghan Reilly/B&W photo)

Lehigh Admissions Counselor Maria Asayag reviews applications from various regions in the U.S., as well as international regions such as the Caribbean and Latin America. Asayag is also the director of diversity recruitment at Lehigh. (Meghan Reilly/B&W photo)

National news about Lehigh creates a buzz, but it is ultimately the education that Lehigh offers that draws students to attend the university.

Each year since the economic recession, the number of applications has been continuing to increase, said Maria Asayag, the associate director of admissions. The highest application pool occurred in 2008, when Lehigh received around 13,000 applications, she said. This year Lehigh received its second highest application pool, reaching a total of approximately 12,800 applications.

Although the applicant pool has generally increased from year to year, the accepted class size stays around the same. More applicants don’t lead to more acceptances — it just creates a lower acceptance rate. This upcoming year, Lehigh will be accepting a new class of 1,220 students. Some of these students have already received admissions decisions, while the rest will find out by the end of the March.

In recent years, there has been national news about Lehigh, such as the school’s position on several “top party school” lists and the basketball team beating Duke University during March Madness in 2012.

“What helps us gain these applications is that buzz that’s generated,” Asayag said. “Generating that buzz helps generate recognition and puts Lehigh on the map if we weren’t before.”

Asayag also said that the name recognition alone helps and may spark interest in potential students.

“Oh Lehigh, that’s the school that beat Duke,” Asayag said of the thought process that students might go through. “Maybe I should look into Lehigh.”

Janil Barillas, ’17, said she’s really into sports, but actually didn’t know that Lehigh beat Duke before she got here. Instead, she knew that Lehigh was a Division I school and was on a list for one of the most beautiful college libraries. These two facts are what influenced her to apply.

“I came here on a programs trip my second year of high school and instantly fell in love with Lehigh and what it had to offer,” Barillas said. “I loved that they had a major that I specifically wanted.”

One of the biggest national headlines that Lehigh achieved was beating Duke’s basketball team in March 2012, which garnered interest because Lehigh was a No. 15 seed and Duke was a No. 2 seed.

The upset even caught the attention of Justin Bieber. He tweeted, “That guy on Lehigh was for real,” in response to C.J. McCollum’s performance during the game.

“You’re already reaching Justin Bieber’s millions of followers,” Asayag said. “It just puts us in the national conversation.”

The national news about Lehigh did noticeably increase the number of applications that Lehigh received that year. The year before Lehigh beat Duke, the university received 11,543 applications. The year of defeat, the university received 12,600. The year after, it dropped back to 11,534 applications.

“I’d say from a consistency standpoint, we remain consistent in the number of applications we bring in each year because of our strength in academics and programs,” Asayag said.

Asayag also said that she has seen a lot more students who are interested in pursuing engineering come to Lehigh.

“We are noted as a top tier research university and as a top tier engineering institution,” she said.

Fernando Lefort, ’17, a student from San Diego did not know about Lehigh’s triumph over Duke or about the party school reputation.

“My final decision on coming to Lehigh was based on academics,” Lefort said. “I did my research and found that Lehigh was among the best schools for engineering.”

Asayag said more students are becoming interested in pursuing the engineering field as the world becomes more tech-savvy. She said that engineering is becoming a field that will have an increasing impact as the students graduate.

The increase in applicants can also be attributed to the flexibility of the curriculum at Lehigh, Asayag said.

“There are students who want to pursue engineering, but don’t want to go to a super technical school, like MIT,” she said.

Many students would like to study a major within the arts and sciences or business, while also minoring in engineering, which Lehigh offers to prospective students.

The national buzz has also caught the attention of students outside of Lehigh’s primary markets of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Admissions has seen an increase in applications outside of these areas, such as California and Texas.

“We’re seeing a lot more traction in those areas,” Asayag said.

Hallie Bodenstab, ’18, a student also from San Diego said she knew about Lehigh’s reputation as a party school, but that the overall fit was what encouraged her to enroll at Lehigh.

Ultimately, Bodenstab decided to come to Lehigh because of Lehigh’s accreditation and standing, along with the tour she received and her legacy here.

“In terms of enrollment, students choosing where they enroll, that always comes down to the best academic, financial and social fit,” Asayag said.

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