The last two incoming first-year classes have seen a dramatic increase in undergraduate acceptance rates. For the incoming class of 2025, there was an acceptance rate of almost 45 percent, despite an increase in applicants.
Prior to the class of 2024, which had an acceptance rate of 49.5 percent during the onset of the pandemic, Lehigh’s acceptance rate had been consistently in the 20s.
The university saw a 12 percent increase in regular decision applicants this year. There were 14,106 total applications received, and just under 12,400 in the year prior.
For the class of 2025, 6,381 students were accepted. The university’s acceptance rate rose to almost 45 percent, which Dean of Admissions Bruce Bunnick saw to be generally consistent with the class of 2024.
Bunnick said they had a more diverse applicant pool this year. The admissions office paid close attention to first-generation college students specifically. Bunnick explained that the university’s transition to being test-optional played a large role in the increase. With uncertainty looming due to COVID-19, students applied to more colleges.
“Students likely felt as though they could cast a wider net with test-optional policies being more widespread,” Bunnick said.
Caroline Marx from Short Hills, New Jersey, was recently accepted to Lehigh through the regular decision admissions process. Unsure of what to write about in her essays or even where to apply, she said the process was stressful and she felt overloaded with information.
Marx said she felt pressure to send her standardized test scores to Lehigh because she knew of other applicants who were.
According to Bunnick, approximately 60 percent of students chose to submit standardized test scores when applying through the regular decision process.
Although the domestic applicant pool rose, the international applicant pool remained consistent with years past. Among the international applicants however, there were 25 percent fewer applications from students with Chinese citizenship, said Morgan Volkart, associate vice provost of Western region and international recruitment. After the U.S., the second largest population of Lehigh students are from China.
This decline is not unusual. The Common App reported an 18 percent decline in undergraduate applicants from China to all U.S. colleges and universities. Volkart said many variables are involved in this decrease, and not all of them can be measured coherently. Students faced travel problems due to visa issues as well as safety and health concerns, she said.
“It is still very hard to take it all in, being an international student not being able to step foot on campus prior to attending,” Volkart said.
One aspect of the application decrease from China could be attributed to how the media portrayed the handling of COVID-19 in the U.S., Volkart said.
Volkart said the decrease in applicants from China did not impact the overall application from international students, as there was an increase in applicants from other countries. The international pool became much more diverse, with applications from Kazakhstan, India, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia and more.
Regardless of applicant numbers, Volkart said the admissions committee is unable to accept every international applicant it believes would be a good fit for the university. Lehigh is need-aware when reviewing applications from non-U.S. citizens, meaning it must be sensitive as to who is admitted in terms of who is financially able to attend.
The need-aware policy is a result of the university’s small financial aid budget, making international admissions more selective than domestic admissions. The overall acceptance rate internationally was around 20 percent compared to the 45 percent reported domestically.