In recent years, early decision applications to Yale have increased steadily, remaining consistent with national trends. But in the last two years, the University has outpaced a number of its peers, witnessing a 23 percent increase in early decision applications for the Class of 2008 and a 17 percent increase the year before.

Yale received approximately 2,600 early applications this year and 2,100 applications last year. In 1992, the admissions office had reached a high of 1,679 applications, but Yale was not able to match that figure until 2000, when it received 1,725 applications for the Class of 2005.

The Yale admissions office has recently invigorated its recruitment efforts by engaging in more international outreach, creating programs for local applicants and improving its Web site. The office also hired a recruitment director for the first time last spring, bringing in James Nondorf ’90 to increase not only the number of applicants, but also the diversity of the applicant pool.

But Yale’s recent admissions successes can be attributed to broader, national trends, Yale President Richard Levin said.

“It’s happening everywhere,” Levin said.

In recent years, the number of high school graduates has increased, leading to higher demand for a college education, said Martin Wilder, vice president for admission, counseling and enrollment practices at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. NACAC is a national coalition of high school counselors and college admissions and financial aid officers. In addition, more students across the nation are applying early to colleges, Levin said.

A month ago, the University announced that it would switch to a nonbinding early action policy that allows students to apply only to Yale. Nondorf said the policy change will likely result in a significant increase in applications.

“We’re a little nervous about it,” Nondorf said. “We have no idea. 4,000? 6,000? We’re going to kind of just wait and see.”

Yale’s renewed recruiting efforts

Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said he thought the recent increases were a result of recruitment improvements.

“I think we’re up a bit higher than many,” he said. “I think it has to do with strong outreach programs.”

Part of that outreach includes trips to Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America, which have collectively resulted in record numbers of international applicants.

“We’ve worked hard to reach as far and as wide as we possibly can,” Shaw said. “We’ve begun doing a lot more programs in the summer, a lot more spring travel and certainly travel extensively in the fall.”

There have also been more local efforts, such as a “mini Bulldog Days” for Connecticut applicants and a program for New Haven schools where admissions officers give tips on filling out applications and writing essays.

Nondorf said the increased efforts were not only resulting in a higher number of applicants, but also making the applicant pool more diverse.

“I think we’re seeing increases in the areas we’d like to see,” he said. “Kids of less privileged backgrounds, plain old Midwest public high school students whose parents didn’t go to college.”

Nondorf said in his region — Indiana and Colorado — early decision applications were up 40 percent last year and 10 percent this year. But he said applications from states such as California — where there are usually large numbers of applicants — have also increased the past couple of years.

Shaw said the decision to offer the Common Application starting with the Class of 2006 has also helped make the applicant pool more diverse.

“It did influence applications from areas where Yale would be less known,” he said.

Both Shaw and Nondorf pointed to the admissions office Web site as an example of a more recent improvement that has made a significant impact.

Three years ago, the admissions Web site averaged 5,000 hits a week, but this year it averages 70,000 hits a week, Nondorf said.

“One of the things we’ve seen is an incredible increase in the number of kids looking at our Web site, so maybe that’s really taken hold and has attracted the attention of a lot of students,” Shaw said. “The world wide web has been absolutely important in the world stage — [international students] use the web a lot more than domestic students.”

A national trend

Wilder said there has been an increase in early applications nationwide — especially for more competitive schools — because of the belief that applying earlier can potentially increase a student’s chances of gaining admission.

“Some of that [increase] is particularly pronounced at the most selective institutions,” he said. “To a degree it’s driven by a concern that if a student doesn’t apply early he or she may get left out of the process.”

Wilder said the increase was partially because of a “surge in demographics” — more students are interested in higher education than in the past.

“The competition level is so intense and getting more intense every year as more students are coming out of high school,” he said.

Nancy Colley, a guidance counselor at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Kansas, said more of her students are applying to selective schools and also applying to them through early programs.

“I have more students who are looking at first-tier colleges and universities than I did three or four or five years ago,” she said. “The kids here are more prone to dream than they did before, so more of them are looking outside the West and are looking outside of state schools.”

Colley said she thinks increased publicity in the media about getting into competitive schools by “playing the game” has contributed to the shift in focus from more local schools to Ivy League and East Coast institutions.

“They can read the numbers,” she said. “The numbers suggest to them that at a number of schools, there is an advantage to the early process.”

Martha Lyman, a guidance counselor at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, said Yale has always been popular with students at her school, where approximately 30 students apply each year.

“Our graduates who have gone to Yale have typically been very happy with their experience and I think word of mouth is sometimes the best way to reach students,” she said.

Looking toward the future

As Yale shifts from early decision to early action next year, the admissions office will work to maintain a high yield rate for students accepted early, Shaw said.

“You know, we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We know we’re going to lose some kids because we’re saying we’re going to give you a longer time to make a decision. Some students may even be recruited by other institutions because they’re not bound to us. Yet we think the benefits outweigh [the potential decrease] — the benefits of attracting a more diverse pool.”

Nondorf said next year, the admissions office may include a second Bulldog Days for those accepted early and encourage more visits to Yale in the late fall and early spring.

“There will be lots of new things we have to do to show attention to the students we admit early while we pay attention to the regular students,” he said. “But I think for the vast majority of students who apply early, we are clearly their first choice whether it was early decision or early action or whatever.”