David Lee, ’23, left and Samuel Ward’ ’22, move into their Lehigh housing after Lehigh’s reopening. This year, on campus housing is mainly for first-year students, and only a few upperclassmen got exceptions to live on campus. (Sharon Jo//B&W Staff)

A semester unlike any other: 3 in 10 Lehigh students go fully remote, receive tuition discount

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Lehigh’s decision to offer housing to mostly first-year students and conduct most classes either virtually or in a hybrid format already had created a tricky decision for students in terms of where to live and how to learn this semester during a pandemic.

Throw in Lehigh’s incentive for students to receive a 10 percent tuition discount if they opt to do the semester “fully remote” and a new dimension was added to the decision for students. The discount only applied to students who do not receive need-based aid.

Jennifer Mertz, the director of Financial Aid, said there are currently 2,113 students who received the tuition reduction — about 30 percent of the total student body. Bruce Bunnick, Lehigh’s director of admissions, added that about 55 first-year students chose to take a gap year and defer their admission.

Although not returning to campus can be upsetting, Jovanna Gonzalez, ‘22, who took the discount by choosing the fully remote option, sees a silver lining in taking classes from home.

“I actually really like being at home in Arizona an extra semester,” Gonzalez said. “This is a great opportunity to spend more time with my family and friends after living away from them for two years.”

Dexter Hanson, ‘22, is one of the few upperclassmen who was allowed to live on campus and currently resides in Farrington Square.

While Hanson appreciates living on-campus at the bottom of the hill, he expected life at Lehigh during a pandemic to be unusual. 

“It’s weird seeing a bunch of kids I don’t know,” Hanson said. “It’s all freshmen on campus— so that’s definitely an adjustment.”

Nonetheless, he believes Lehigh has done a good job ensuring campus is safe for reopening, and that despite obvious coronavirus restrictions, things are not too different. 

Abby Sowa, ‘24, has been enjoying her experience living on campus so far as a first-year, but she understands that it’s very different from what most first-year students would typically experience.

Sowa decided to live on campus and forgo the 10 percent reduction in order to have access to Lehigh facilities, such as the library, and to experience life on her own.

“I feel like part of the whole college experience is learning how to live independently, without your parents,” Sowa said. “I was really excited to experience that and take on those responsibilities.” 

Sowa never considered taking the semester off, as she already took a gap year during which she traveled to a number of different countries, studied Spanish, took part in volunteer-work, and completed an internship abroad.

“Last year during my gap year, I did so much travelling,” Sowa said. “If I did one this year, I would just be sitting in my house.”

Some students, however, have decided to take this semester off, opting instead to work, take classes part time at a local community college, or participate in community service.

“My office requires students who are interested in participating in a gap year to complete a form that asks them to articulate their plans during the gap year, what they hope to accomplish during this time, and how they will see themselves as a better-prepared student as a result of participating in a gap year program,” Bunnick said.

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