Defying a nationwide trend, applications to the Yale School of Medicine have increased since 1999 and medical school administrators said they expect the number to rise again this year.

According to an Association of American Medical Colleges study released Wednesday, there were 33,501 applicants to medical schools nationwide in 2002. That figure represents a 29 percent drop from the 1996 high of 47,000 applicants, and the sixth year in a row the number of applications nationwide has declined.

After 2,470 students applied to the Yale medical school in 1999, that number has risen steadily each of the last three years. In 2002, there were 3,342 applicants.

Medical school admissions director Richard Silverman said he thought the struggling economy would contribute to a national increase in applications this year.

“As the stock market went down in the last couple of years, applications to law schools and business schools went way up,” he said. “The difference is there is a time lag for medical schools. You can’t apply to med school unless you’ve prepared yourself, done the pre-med requirements.”

Silverman said the nationwide decrease may be a result of the 1990s market boom, which created many more job options for bright students. But Silverman said that applications at Yale bucked that trend.

Silverman attributed Yale’s success in attracting applications to aggressive recruiting, a unique school philosophy and the medical school’s decision to join the American Medical College Application Service, which allows students to use a common application.

“We have a couple of things that don’t exist anywhere else,” he said. “We have the thesis requirement — it attracts really serious prospective scientists to this school, and number two, we have a wonderful [reputation] for clinical education.”

Silverman said the lack of grade point averages and class rankings at the medical school is attractive to students who want to pursue rigorous academic studies without a competitive atmosphere.

School of Medicine Associate Dean Ruth Katz said in an e-mail that the caliber of the applicant pool has not changed despite the national decrease in applications.

“The Yale School of Medicine continues to attract the very best of the nation’s medical school applicants. Our students are among the country’s brightest and most talented,” Katz said. “We remain fully committed to that standard of excellence and have every expectation that, regardless of national trends, it will be maintained at Yale.”

Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said in an e-mail that he has not seen a decline in undergraduate interest in medical schools.

“At Yale, there has been no evidence of a drop off in interest in medicine,” he said. “Every year, we have around about 110-120 students from the senior class go directly on to med school, with about as many again from the alumni over the next five years.”

Edward Miller, director of the Health Professions Advisory Program at UCS, said in an e-mail that the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a 5 percent increase in applications this year. But he said that because the increase is so small, it is unlikely that a substantially higher number of Yale undergraduates will apply to medical school this year.

“Applications to law and medicine, and I believe many other professional schools, have increased this year,” Miller said. “This is definitely due to the economy and mirrors exactly what occurred following the recession of the late 80s.”

Jones and Miller both said the more significant change in medical school applications was the shift in matriculation age.

“Many applicants are opting to delay entry to medical school for two or three years,” Miller said. “We have seen an increase in the number of alumni applying each year through our office, and this is also occurring at schools like Harvard.”

Jones said he thought this change was a result of students deferring medical school to pay off debts, take a break from school, or try out the Peace Corps or Teach for America for a couple of years.

Kristin Ophaug ’05, who is planning to go to medical school, said she was surprised to hear about the decrease in applications.

“That’s definitely a good thing for me because that means there are less people competing,” she said.