Admissions changes affect acceptance rates

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With the deadline for early decision applications approaching, many prospective students are wondering what plans the Office of Admissions has for recruiting the class of 2020.

Admission into Lehigh has become increasingly selective, as the acceptance rate has declined from 34 percent to 30 percent in the past year.

The admissions office’s main goal this year is to have a robust applicant pool for the class of 2020. Lehigh received 12,854 applications last year. The admissions office aims to increase that amount by 5 percent.

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To achieve this goal, Vice Provost of Admissions J. Leon Washington said Lehigh will have a very “organic” admissions process, meaning it aims to attract students to apply based on Lehigh’s face value.

“We do hard work on the ground – building relationships, getting our admissions counselors in front of (prospective students), getting our current students in front of them, getting our alumni in front of them,” Washington said. “Organic growth gets people really genuinely interested in the institution.”

If Lehigh’s applicant pool increases, the acceptance rate will likely be affected. The Class of 2018 hit overcapacity as more students accepted their admissions offers than was expected. The overcapacity caused the admissions office to accept fewer students in 2015. However, the current first-year class is also overcapacity, revealing a need to change the admissions office’s predictive model.

Bruce Bunnick, director of admissions, said that the admissions office is working hard to improve their predictive model.

“Last year, the model that we’ve worked with in the past to predict the number of students that will enroll yielded returns that were beyond our expectations,” Bunnick said. “We had made what we thought was an appropriate number of offers to attract a class that would allow us to get to our target, but it turned out to be even better than what we expected, so we will make the necessary adjustments for this year.”

Washington added that the past two years of higher-than-anticipated yield, contrary to the lower yield that Lehigh has historically had, can be used to further lower the acceptance rate. He is hoping that the acceptance rate will fall below 30 percent, as Lehigh will look better as an institution if it has a lower acceptance rate.

If the acceptance rate does go below 30 percent, admission into Lehigh will become much more competitive. Washington said 90 percent of applicants who apply to Lehigh are qualified to be admitted, but they cannot all be accepted. To determine which students do get accepted, there are multiple factors that are taken into consideration.

“We are very fortunate because we have such wonderfully qualified students who seek admission to Lehigh,” Washington said. “It’s a strong applicant pool, but we’re looking for the student who has that sort of passion and can be convincing that he or she really wants what we have to offer at Lehigh. Students who really visited the campus or who have followed up in some kind of way will certainly be more convincing to us.”

Another factor that is looked at is alumni connections or legacy status. The faculty at the admissions office calls these connections a “hook.” This hook can give an applicant advantage over others, provided the applicant already meets all the necessary qualifications. Having a hook does not mean Lehigh will overlook a student’s grades, scores and recommendations.

Students who apply early decision — a binding acceptance policy that students can use to show preference to their top university — also may have a potential advantage over regular decision applicants. About 45 to 47 percent of early decision applicants to Lehigh are admitted.

“On an academic level, the early decision students are as qualified as regular decision students,” Bunnick said. “The difference is that in early decision, most students have found their match or fit and they decide to commit. And that sends a very powerful message.”

Another major goal of the admissions office is to increase diversity on Lehigh’s campus.

Morgan Volkart, the director of International Recruitment, said that Lehigh is aiming for about 10 percent of the incoming class to be non-U.S. citizens, thus representing as much diversity as possible.

“This is a goal that we have reached the past couple years alongside increasing the number of countries represented in each class and even welcoming students from countries that were previously not represented on Lehigh’s campus,” Volkart wrote in an email.

Despite the many changes that will be taking place in the admissions process, the Office of Admissions is looking forward to recruiting the Class of 2020.

“This is the place to be,” Washington said. “There is a synergy and an energy on this campus. We are really moving in a direction that I think is absolutely powerful.”

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