During the 2019-20 admissions cycle, Lehigh saw the number of overall applicants decrease. In 2018-19, 15,649 students applied for the class of 2023. 32 percent were accepted.
For 2019-20, Lehigh received 12,400 applicants and maintained a 32 percent acceptance rate, said Sarah Bombard, senior associate director of Admissions. Lehigh’s Path to Prominence plan calls for increasing the undergraduate student body by 1,000 additional students within 10 years.
Last year’s first-year class marked the first time the university intentionally tried to grow the student body under the plan. The class of 2023 had 125 more students than the class of 2022.
This year’s decline in applicants came as a surprise, and Lehigh admissions employees were shocked, said Bruce Bunnick, director of admissions.
Bombard attested to this confusion, and said as a result of it, she began conferring with colleagues at high schools to try to figure an explanation for this sudden decrease in overall Lehigh applicants.
Bombard said she believes the high price associated with the college application process has ultimately forced many students to be more selective of where they apply, which explains why other colleges have seen a decrease in the amount of applications they have received as well.
She said her high school colleagues have noticed that current seniors are applying to fewer colleges than students in years prior. In the past, she said, most students apply to around 15 colleges, but she thinks this year, students narrowed their lists and applied to around 10 on average.
Admissions counselors are optimistic that the newly-accepted class is talented, qualified, and ready to leave their impact on the Lehigh community, Bombard said.
“We did build a little bit more of a class through our two rounds of early decision, and we actually make a few more offers of admission in the regular decision round to give us the assurance that this year, in terms of the application volume, will simply be a small blimp on the radar screen, and then we’ll be able to increase by next year,” Bunnick said.
Bunnick said he is optimistic that this past year is simply an outlier.
Will Rothpletz, ‘23, is an accounting and finance student. He said seeing fewer students apply to a school that he cherishes is disappointing.
“The decline in number of students applying to Lehigh is discouraging, because Lehigh has one of the best business schools in the Northeast, and an amazing community that I’ve really grown to love over the past months,” Rothpletz said.
Bunnick said he is hopeful that Lehigh will be able to increase the amount of applications it sees next year, despite the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic — which is disrupting some prior recruitment plans.
He said admissions had planned for a trip to recruit in Latin America in the springtime, but had to cancel this trip due to safety concerns. Before the coronavirus, he said Lehigh had planned to continue recruitment on a global scale. In the past, Lehigh has devoted recruitment efforts throughout the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe.
Bombard said the unprecedented nature of the current coronavirus situation has presented unknowns for what college recruiting is going to look like in the foreseeable future,
putting pressure on the university’s admissions department to find innovative and creative ways to present Lehigh to prospective students.
Bombard said the university is looking at potentially implementing technology that allows high school students to virtually visit Lehigh’s campus in a way that shows Lehigh in more than just a webinar.
“Students that are juniors in high school that might be considering visiting over the summer and, in the early fall, might be stuck with doing virtual visits, which we’re looking to do and looking to implement in a way that shows Lehigh off in a great way,” Bombard said.
She said the university would potentially implement this strategy if prospective high school students are unable to travel to campus due to coronavirus concerns, or if Lehigh’s campus is still closed come this fall.