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Admissions at Lehigh

Thursday, December 5, 1935

Admissions at Lehigh has played a vital role in the growth of the university over time. Initially, admissions was a simple process. With so few students being admitted in the early years, it was not necessary to have an administrative branch dedicated to admissions. The president at the time, President Henry Coppee, did, however, have a Secretary of the Faculty who aided him in conducting the admissions process. In 1900, this job became the responsibility of the Registrar. In 1935, in response to the Great Depression, the University adopted The Office of Admissions as a way to attract more applicants and boost enrollment. The Office of Admissions moved into the Alumni Memorial Building, which was created in 1924 in honor of Lehigh alumni who fought in World War I. This is the place where the Office of Admissions has grown from a small two-person operation to an office that has a large hierarchy of staff that occupies an entire wing of the ground floor.

The role of admissions is to select the students who are the best fit for the institution. This process involves several different steps, beginning with attracting the right students, and so marketing has always been an important responsibility of the Admissions Office. Marketing the university has evolved to be a complex and effective procedure. It began with the distribution of flyers and has grown to consist of high school visits, on-campus tours, online advertising, and more. The role of advertising became a major part of the admissions process when the Office of Admissions was created. This allowed for a more extensive ability to reach out to prospective students.

The second step in the admissions process is selecting students. The original process of selection consisted of exams administered by the President that tested prospective students in areas such as math, literature, science, and language. Over time these entrance exams were abolished and the school adopted an application for admissions. In 1975, Lehigh began to use the CommonApp, a college application universal to many universities and colleges. This allowed students to apply to Lehigh with ease, driving up the overall number of applications. Lehigh also encourages students to interview, though interviews are not required.

As a result of the growth of admissions, the school has grown itself. The growth in the university can also be attributed to the fact that the market for a college education has expanded since the founding of the university. A college degree has become increasingly necessary for obtaining a job, resulting in more national and international interest in all institutions of higher education, including Lehigh. The university has seen a rise in applicants since the founding years, which has increased its ability to be more selective. In the beginning, Lehigh accepted all students that were qualified. This is due to low application rates, the result of primitive advertising and selection methods. No freshmen class exceeded thirty-nine students until 1871. After the Office of Admissions was created in 1935, the school began to receive a surplus of qualified applications and was able to turn down qualified students. From this point on, selectivity only increased. Application rates rose significantly and continue to rise as the result of an ever-growing presence of the Office of Admissions. Class size has risen at a lower rate than application size, thus allowing the rate of selectivity to increase.

A major aspect of the university that the Office of Admissions has molded is the presence of women on campus. The effort to implement coeducation would not be possible without the active role of the Office of Admissions. Though the decision to admit women into the university was made by the Board of Trustees, the advertising and selection process employed by the admissions office was the force that brought women to Lehigh. Lehigh’s admissions office admitted more and more female students each year after 1971. It was originally difficult for the school to attract female applicants due to Lehigh’s early focus on math, science, and engineering. The expansion of a variety of majors in the College of Business and Economics and the College of Arts and Sciences has attracted a stronger female demographic to the school. The percentage of women admitted to Lehigh continues to increase with the goal of reaching a 50:50 male to female ratio on campus. In 2014, 46% of the freshman class was female—in large part the result of the hard work of the Office of Admissions.

The admissions office has furthered efforts to diversify the campus by implementing measures to recruit geographically diverse students as well. The school has a student body largely from the tri-state area. In 1970, the percentage of applications from the tri-state area was 83%. In order to change this, the Office of Admissions has broadened its marketing to include a more diverse range of prospective students. Eighteen years later in 1988, the percentage of applications from the tri-state area declined to 70%. As a result of the Office of Admission’s efforts, the school has been able to expand its cultural boundaries.

Amanda Beggs '18 & Sarah Spring '18