Bearing return addresses from places like Providence, R.I., Chicago and New Haven, Conn., the letters held the promise of admission to some of the nation’s top colleges and universities.

But Nick Poulos, a senior from New Trier, Ill., a Chicago suburb, did not know what the envelopes had in store for him.

“I waited to open Yale’s letter, because I wanted to save the best for last,” he said. “I opened the letters from Brown and University of Chicago first. I got in both places. Then I opened the one from Yale.”

Poulos is one of the lucky ones. Of the 14,809 students who applied to Yale this year, only a record-low 13.5 percent received offers of admission. Yale mailed admissions letters last Wednesday, and many learned of their acceptance this weekend.

“When I read it, I was so happy,” he said. “I got in. But then I realized they didn’t give me enough aid.”

For Poulos, one of 1,131 public school students offered admission to Yale’s Class of 2005, the next moment was filled with conflicting emotion.

Poulos, who is deciding between Yale and the University of Chicago, said the fact that the two schools’ financial aid packages are so different will make his already agonizing decision even tougher. Chicago gave him $8,500 in financial aid. Yale offered him nothing.

The reality is that the $34,030 Yale students will pay for tuition, room and board next year is more than some admitted students can afford.

But most Yale students can afford to spend four years in New Haven without the support of financial aid. In the 2000-01 school year, 40 percent of students received some form of financial assistance from Yale.

“If Chicago didn’t give me so much money, I would choose Yale easily,” said Poulos, among the 12.5 percent of his class admitted from the Midwest. “Chicago just gave me more.”

For Laura Brenner, another Class of ’05 admit, Yale’s offer of admission prompted a slightly more unequivocal reaction.

Brenner, who attends a public high school in Chapel Hill, N.C., said she was on a visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when she heard she had been admitted.

“I was just thrilled,” she said. “I called home, and my parents read me the letter over the phone. My dad’s an alum. He was so happy. He’s wearing his Yale sweatshirt right now.”

Brenner, one of 200 students admitted from Southern states, said she will probably attend Yale next year.

Students must indicate their plans to the University by May 1.

Brenner said she found the college admissions process tense at times, but said she made some wise decisions that made things run more smoothly.

“The whole thing was really well-organized,” she said, referring the expertise of her school’s guidance counselors and the fact that she submitted all applications “well before deadline.”

“It was still stressful though,” she added. “Mostly just the whole waiting thing.”

While Brenner may have had a leg up in the process because of a family legacy, senior Nathan Herrero’s decision to apply to Yale early may have boosted his chances.

Yale admitted 29.2 percent of students who applied early decision this year, while only 13.5 percent of students made the grade overall.

Herrero attends a public high school in Modesto, Calif., a city of nearly 200,000 people located in the middle of California’s highly agricultural Central Valley.

While 18.9 percent of the class of 2005 come from schools on the West Coast — the highest number admitted from any region except the Northeast — Herrero said he may be only the second person from his school to attend Yale in more than 10 years.

“Modesto isn’t really a mecca for students looking to go to colleges like Yale,” he said. “Most kids go to junior colleges around here.”

Herrero said he applied early because he was certain Yale was his first choice.

“I wanted to take the pressure off,” he said. “I didn’t want to have a stressful March like everyone else.”

But Herrero said he is still coming to Yale later this month for Bulldog Days, which will be April 17-18.

“Even though I don’t have a tough decision to make, I’m definitely going to be there,” he said.