This is the second in a series of three articles about some of the best colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. You can read the first, Lafayette College, here to help you decide between Lafayette College vs Lehigh University.
Nestled in Pennsylvania’s beautiful and populous Lehigh Valley, just down the road from Lafayette College, is Lehigh University. Located in Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh attracts a diverse and talented student body from across the country and around the world. On the day I visited, the information session was very well attended, and I had the pleasure of listening to prospective students chat before everything got started. As a counselor, I always enjoy being a “fly on the wall” to hear more about why students chose to visit a particular school, and what they think about what they’re seeing. This particular group skewed toward engineering and business interests, which makes sense given that these are two of Lehigh’s curricular strengths.
One of the first things visitors to Lehigh will notice is its location – it is literally built into the side of a mountain. The higher you go, the better the view of the valley below. Also, the better the workout! My tour guide remarked that even though he was not a Division I athlete, he felt like his job gave him the equivalent of an NCAA workout every day (and by the end of the tour, my glutes agreed with him). The architecture of the campus is beautiful, running the gamut from traditional collegiate Gothic (I really have to appreciate any school with an actual castle for a library) to modern and airy.
Speaking of athletics, like its rival Lafayette, Lehigh is a spirited place. As a smaller Division I school playing in the Patriot League, a lot of campus culture revolves around sports. While the annual Lafayette-Lehigh football game is a particular highlight (the longest-running uninterrupted rivalry game in college football), the university also fields strong wrestling and soccer teams. Students who are not aspiring NCAA athletes can take part in the robust intramural and club sports programs, which attract approximately 65% of the student body. There is also a significant Greek presence on campus, with almost 30% of men and almost 40% of women joining a fraternity or sorority.
One uniquely-Lehigh extracurricular is the annual tradition of Bed Races, which is exactly what it sounds like. Students in teams race beds – yes, actual beds – down the steep road in the center of campus. The tradition started in the 1970s with Lehigh students taking the beds right out of their dorm rooms, mounting them on wheels, and racing them. As you might expect, this posed some safety concerns, so the races now feature beds built specifically for the races by engineering students. The tradition takes place each year during Le-Laf Week, which is the run-up to the annual Lehigh-Lafayette football game.
Academically, Lehigh is composed of four undergraduate colleges – the College of Engineering, the College of Business, the College of Health, and the College of Arts and Sciences – as well as the graduate College of Education. When students apply, they do have to designate the college from Lehigh Valley colleges which they wish to attend. This may be a turn-off to students who are undecided or have a range of interests, but the good news is that students at Lehigh can – and according to my tour guide, frequently do – double major or double/triple minor across the colleges. This means that even though applicants must have an inkling about their intended major, there is still a good amount of curricular flexibility. Students also have the ability to transfer between colleges at the end of their freshman year if they discover that their interests have changed. It is generally a seamless process, but prospective students should be aware that if their interests change drastically, they may have a bit of “catch up” to do after transferring to a new college.
One unique academic aspect of Lehigh is the high number of integrated/interdisciplinary programs offered, including three that combine engineering (ever a popular major) with business, arts and sciences, and computer science, respectively. These academic programs are highly selective but offer students with dual interests a great opportunity to meld them together. Lehigh also offers numerous research opportunities for students, both during the academic year as well as in the summer, which can help prepare students for post-college life.
A primary reason that I have long recommended Lehigh University to students is the after-college data. Lehigh’s tagline of “Built for Tomorrow” might be just a wee bit cheesy (my personal opinion!), but the data backs it up. One figure that says a lot: $81,900. This is the median earning for a Lehigh alumnus six years after graduation. Compare that figure to many other universities and colleges – including some that are significantly more selective than Lehigh – and it’s easy to see why this is a bragging point for the university. In 2022, Lehigh was listed #13 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the universities with the top 25 highest earnings after graduation (placing above several Ivies), a fact prominently displayed in their recruitment literature.
In terms of Lehigh University admissions requirements, it is selective, and getting more so with each passing year. In 2022 the Lehigh University admissions rate was 36% across all rounds of admission. However, this is still considerably higher than other schools with similar resources and outcomes data, and for this reason alone it deserves consideration from many students. In addition, it offers a spirited campus culture, a low faculty-to-student ratio, and some unique and appealing programs. Those considering Lehigh should know that applying Early Decision (ED) confers a significant advantage, with roughly double the acceptance rate versus the regular round. However, if a student does not wish to apply ED, they should still make the effort to visit the beautiful campus, engage through events and take part in an interview, as Lehigh considers demonstrated interest an important factor in admissions.