Infographic by Micah Golomb-Leavitt/B&W Staff

Lehigh sees decrease in applicants for class of 2024


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.

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  1. That’s what happens when the admin is clueless, kicks fraternities, and tries to ban cars from the most hilly campus on earth!

  2. Charley Hurst on

    The Lehigh administration has zero self-awareness. A 32% application decline is not a blip or the result of application costs. It is instead a clear repudiation of the dramatic changes wrought by the Simon administration, with its unrelenting focus on fringe progressive issues like identity politics and “social justice”, and its almost total disregard for the quality of student life. The vast majority of Lehigh students and potential applicants are not hyper-political; they are interested in getting a top quality education, being part of one campus community (as opposed to hiving off into the progressive stack), and having some fun in their free time. So, with Greek life in free fall, and an administration and faculty politicizing everything in sight, Lehigh is of significantly less interest to the high school students it has traditionally attracted. Lehigh in its current iteration would be more attractive to liberal activist students, but those folks are more interested in the many well-known schools that have been politicized for decades.

  3. Really sad. If this becomes a trend as Lehigh pushes to grow the student body, the acceptance rate will need to increase to dangerous levels. Why would anyone pay 70K a year to go to a school where 40% of applicants get in? Just go to your state school at that point.

  4. Why would this shock anyone in the admissions department??? Talk about living in your own echo chamber. When you raise the price at the rate you have been less and less people will be able to afford it. Maybe they should sit in on an Eco 001 class and learn something.

  5. This is very concerning. 3,000 fewer applications is a major drop.

    If the school is trying to increase, enrollment, fewer applications will certainly not help.

    This is even before Lehigh banned Greek Life, so Im sure next year will be even fewer applicants.

  6. Class of '07/'08G on

    This is disappointing to see, although not a surprise. Lehigh’s reputation as a “prestigious” school has been on the decline for years now. While the administration may not take much stock in our rankings, we having steadily fallen over the years to be in the just average category of national schools, and are ranked below schools who we used to be ranked over. When I was admitted to Lehigh, we were in the 30’s. We were 50 last year and it’s just embarrassing. It might not seem important, but I think it is to potential students. Combine that with the crack-down on Greek life, lackluster sports, and it’s less than ideal location, and Lehigh will continue to see this. We can’t improve our school and be on this path to prominence if we need to make it easier to get into Lehigh just to increase the student body. That will hurt our school more than help it. Lehigh needs to get back to being known as a rigorous academic institution with highly regarded business and engineering schools, and yes, become known again as a “work hard, play hard” university.

    • Student - Class of 2019 on

      Anyone in Admin listening?

      The continued rise of tuition, the cover up of sexual harassment and racial discrimination, multiple federal lawsuits, turning a once picturesque campus into a construction zone for years to come. As well as much smaller changes like removing cars, and senselessly changing bus route mid-year. There’s also the fact that instead of integrating with the community around the campus, Lehigh creates a bubble of isolation.

      The reason people aren’t applying is because people don’t want to go there when THAT is the environment that is present.

  7. This is hilarious. Three years ago, when we saw a commensurate increase in applications, Bunnick attributed the change to “…the quality of students that apply to Lehigh. The selectivity increased because of the high number and quality of applicants.”

    In fact, the lower acceptance rate had nothing to do with Lehigh’s ability to attract quality applicants and everything to do with an increase in applicants. Period.

    Over the past few years, high schoolers have been applying to many, many more colleges. Schools at all levels of competitiveness have experienced this. 

    Given Bunnick’s conflicting statements, it seems that he’s suffering from a classic case of self-serving bias. When Lehigh does well, it has itself to thank (i.e., more students are choosing Lehigh over other schools), but when things don’t go as planned, external factors are to blame (i.e., college app fees). But college app fees have not changed in 2018-2019.

    The truth is, Lehigh is no longer the institution it once was—a top 30 school whose peers were Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, and Wake Forest. Many of us chose Lehigh over those schools. 

    I can’t think of a single university in the top 30 (or 40 for that matter) that has had such a cataclysmic decline in reputation.
    A 20% fall in applications is no “blip,” and Lehigh will see similar numbers next year. Mark my words.

  8. Is anyone really surprised? Lehigh is self-destructing before our very eyes. Quite simply, it has lost its way. It has abandoned its traditional core strengths – research, engineering, business, strong Greek system, and recruiting mostly upper-middle class and wealthy students from the Northeast (including legacies), etc. – to blindly follow the Path to Irrelevance. The College of Health was ill-conceived from the beginning and is basically a work in progress. The once-great Greek system, what I would argue was one of Lehigh’s greatest strengths in terms of promoting alumni loyalty and contributions, is in shambles thanks to the efforts of Vice President of Student Affairs Ricardo Hall, who has done irreparable damage during his tenure of less than three years. And the admissions office has recently decided to search for a more “diverse” student body – geographically, ethnically, and financially, bringing its own inherent set of problems. In other words, the decision has been made to completely change the formula that has led to success for Lehigh students for over 150 years! Brilliant!!

    Lehigh was once a great technical school, a hidden gem, whose misguided administration got suckered into the “grass is greener” myth and is trying to remake Lehigh into a college that looks like every other. I personally know of many alumni whose children have decided to go elsewhere to school, when only a few years ago they would have jumped at the opportunity to attend Lehigh. The reason? Many of them and their parents feel Lehigh is simply not the same as it used to be, and not in a good way. In fact, many current students and recent graduates also feel the same way, and have even told their own siblings and friends to not even consider Lehigh (I have firsthand knowledge of this as well), as there are better options out there – schools that are just as good or better academically, less expensive, and more fun. Seriously, do not underestimate the value of fun to an eighteen-year-old! Sadly, Lehigh has done its level best to eliminate the word “fun” from its vocabulary over the past few years. (I also failed to mention “fun” as a previous traditional core strength of Lehigh). Your efforts have not gone unnoticed by those eighteen-year-olds, Vice President Hall. Bravo!!

    It is also only a matter of time until contributions dry up from the disenfranchised Greeks whose houses have been dissolved, many within the past few years (kudos again, VP Hall!). Nothing like cutting off your nose to spite your face. And during a decade of declining college enrollment, especially now during the pandemic, when many schools are tightening their belts and looking for ways to survive, the fact that Lehigh wants to expand its student body and increase capital expenditures over the next ten years mainly based on the generosity of its betrayed alumni surely seems like a recipe for disaster.

    Even in the workplace, I have heard that Lehigh is not viewed by employers as the powerhouse it once was. It has been supplanted by schools our students used to look down their noses at. As Lehigh has dropped in the rankings, so has its perceived value to employers, parents, and potential students alike.

    I love Lehigh, or more accurately the Lehigh that once was, so it gives me no great pleasure in pointing out what many already know is true. I hope I am wrong, and that Lehigh can shine again. But Lehigh has a sorry history of creating many of its own problems, and it appears that the recent initiatives by the administration to remake Lehigh into something it is not are backfiring in spectacular fashion. So, unless and until something drastically changes within the administration, I fear the worst. And it is sad to watch indeed.

    • Totally agree. I think the answer is that the board has to reevaluate president Simon. Sadly I think he spearheaded this decline.

  9. Plain and simple. People aren’t applying to Lehigh because it isn’t fun anymore. I don’t know how the administration can be so naive in trying to blame it on a higher tuition. Every school accords the country has been raising tuition, yet their applicants do not seem to be declining. Applicants are decreasing because of all of the actions the administration has taken to ruin the charm of Lehigh. We are college students. I think the best part about students at Lehigh was that we were able to have so much fun while still maintaining good grades, a high GPA, and getting good jobs after graduation. The school, however, chooses to completely ignore this fact as they try to get rid of Greek life and diversify the student body. It is just embarrassing for President Simon and Ric Hall that Syracuse is ranked higher than we are by Forbes. Maybe they should stop trying to make the school “better” in their eyes and recognize what is right for Lehigh. If you want a ton of antisocial smart people at your school, continue on the path you’re on. However, if you want sociable, outgoing, fun, and smart students stop with the 10 point plan and all of the other bullshit. Get a clue. It’s pretty obvious. Pretty every single student could have seen this happening months ago. Lehigh students do not have to change, the administration does.

    • The decline in applications isn’t due to the partying crackdown. But since so many of these comments think a sobering campus is to blame, consider instead that college-bound kids are less interested in partying (and by extension ”party schools”) than cohorts of ages past.

      ”The share of freshmen who said they had partied less than an hour a week in their senior year of high school rose from 24 percent in 1987 to 61 percent in 2014. About 41 percent report now that they did not party at all.”

      I went to an ivy a couple of years after Lehigh and spent a great deal of time with undergrads and grads alike. There was less partying and less drinking. And yet, I found they were more mature, well-rounded, and FAR LESS awkward than Lehigh students.

      Lehigh students’ reliance on alcohol when socializing might, in fact, be evidence of their social ineptitude. Just sayin’.

  10. Let’s make this simple. Ricardo Hall single handedly ruined the greek system at Lehigh. He needs to be fired. He has done more damage to our school’s legacy in 3 years than any of the other tumultuous issues at hand. Lehigh’s endowment and core alumni engagement came from greek life. National Rankings are directly affected by alumni donations and endowment size along with academic rigor. Building the Health School was never needed and adding an additional 1000 students is leading to mediocrity. Lehigh was always about prestige and the fact that not everyone belonged there. Lehigh was a great school because of small class sizes, a rigorous engineering and business curriculums, work hard, play hard student engagement, and dedicated alumni powered by the greek system who still cared enough about the future of Lehigh and their legacy. Its a shame to see such a down turn in numbers and I hope Lehigh and the board will stop trying to copy other schools course of action and stick with what we were known for and what we were best at. Stop the hemorrhage and change the course of action before we lose what built the brown and white for what we are. The board needs to take control and realize that we are on the path to mediocrity, not prominence

  11. Listen to these people thinking they’ve found vindication.

    Apps are down sharply everywhere. State schools are seeing a 10%+ drop. Even the elites are off by thousands of applicants. What’s the reason? Some will be international apps — you terrorize people and they stop coming. Some will be the prices all over, some will be the fact that we’re on to a new generation: Gen Z’s aware of getting screwed and deeply pissed off about it; their Gen X parents don’t have money or, if they do, the inclination to spend $500K on two kids’ bachelors’ degrees. What else? We’ll find out.

    But no, the reason is not Ric Hall. You guys need to get over yourselves.

    • Embarrassed to Be Associated on

      That’s an interesting observation–as I mentioned in my comment, it just always seemed like other schools could have the Greek system and parties galore, but it was never as much of a problem the way it was at Lehigh.

  12. Embarrassed to Be Associated on

    This place is a joke. When I was a freshman, it was still in the USNews Top 30’s for National Universities. I only applied there ED right after 9/11–applying to Lehigh was the 2001 equivalent for me of hoarding toilet paper during COVID19. My dad was being reactionary and it was hard not to be when you see planes crashing into buildings only a couple blocks from your old home. I could have gone basically anywhere I wanted with my credentials and background. Now I cringe whenever I hear about the school. It’s a complete disaster and has continued to plummet in every possible measure and metric since I graduated. The reputation is disgusting too. I don’t understand how Lehigh’s Greek system was always visibly much sloppier than that at any of its peers.

    I’m honored to have gone to a top state system for my masters that I doubt will ever let alums down.

    • None of the students are surprised. Yet, the administration is out here batting it’s eyes as if the last decade of disastruous decisions is news to everyone. We, the students, would all just laugh, but the joke’s on us. We’ve wasted our good money to be at this dump. At least the applicants are starting to know better than to try to come here.

  13. My daughter chose NOT to attend Lehigh in class of 2024 mostly because the school had too MUCH of a party reputation. Not everyone is attracted to that. It drove her away.

    The university-wide efforts to provide alternatives were appealing, like Lehigh After Dark, PRELusion programs, and free and heavily discounted student tickets for arts. If those are new university-wide initiatives, my daughter was positively impressed,

    A 20% drop in applications in one year is a lot, and the idea that it’s because of rising college application costs seems silly. Is it possible that 2018-2019 was the aberration, as that was the first year they tried to increase enrollment? The article needs some trend data. What happened to applications at other schools similar to Lehigh?

    The College of Health seemed like it might be promising. It seems to be something unique at Lehigh, which is good, plus it seems like it may attract students interested in popular majors/careers like premed, physical therapy/occupational therapy, public health, health policy, and possibly nursing.

    There was no college admission rep for my daughter’s area until January 2020 (southern mid Atlantic, good recruiting territory for Lehigh). Maybe this weakened fall 2019 recruiting in a promising geographic area, as a partial explanation for the drop in applications.

  14. Father of Student on

    LOL. My son applied and attended specifically for the combination of good education and Greek life. Last year they suspended his frat for a ridiculous reason and this year they are using the frat for non-brothers. Attending Lehigh is the biggest regret of his life and word is spreading.

  15. I don’t really understand how they claim they maintain a 32% acceptance rate. Last time I checked 6000/12000 = 50%.

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