Early applications increased this year by roughly 42 percent at Yale and dropped by about 47 percent at Harvard University, according to preliminary estimates by the Deans of Admissions at both schools.

The deans attributed the fluctuations more to changes in the schools’ early admissions processes than to changes in the schools’ appeal. Both schools now have single-choice Early Action policies and received about 4,000 early applications each.

Yale received 2,600 early applications in 2002 and, according to preliminary estimates from Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw, over 3,700 this year. Harvard received 7,615 early applications last year and about 4,000 this year, according to Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons.

Shaw said more exact numbers would be available next week. But his estimate was by far a record high for early applications to Yale.

“We’re seeing increases in all the different constituencies that apply to Yale,” Shaw said.

Under single-choice early action, applicants may only apply to one school early, but may choose not to attend the school if they are admitted. Yale previously had a binding early decision policy that required applicants to matriculate if they were admitted. Harvard also switched to single-choice early action, but had previously adhered to a much looser early admissions policy. Early action applicants to Harvard previously were permitted to apply early action to any other school, and early decision to one other school.

One common criticism of Early Decision is that it favors affluent students who can commit to a school without regard to the financial package they will receive. Shaw said it appeared at this point that Yale’s early applicant pool would be more representative of the student body as a whole than the early applicant pool under Early Decision.

“We’re going to see more students who are applying for financial aid,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in the number of minority applicants early.”

Last year, the number of applications to Yale under Early Decision and to Harvard under early action were both record highs.

Shaw said the decrease at Harvard was a welcome sign for an early admissions processes that seemed to be spiraling out of control across the country.

“I would expect that [Harvard is] delighted,” he said. “It’s putting some sanity and control in the national early application process.”

But he emphasized that Harvard’s loss did not directly lead to Yale’s gain.

“I think it’s to be expected,” Shaw said. “It has to do with the change in their structure.”

Fitzsimmons expressed his happiness with the numbers, calling the reduction in applications “a return to sanity.”

“We heard a great deal last year from college counselors that students were really making hurried, almost frenzied, multiple Early Action decisions,” he said. “Last year it seemed to us that there were more unrealistic applications.”

Fitzsimmons predicted that Harvard’s application numbers could decrease overall.

Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities all switched to single-choice Early Action this year. When Yale announced its switch — on the same day last November that Stanford did — Yale President Richard Levin said he hoped it was a first step toward the elimination of all early admissions programs.

Christina Wire, associate dean of admission and financial aid at Stanford, estimated that her office had received approximately 4,000 early applications. Stanford received 2,468 early applications in 2002, the Stanford Daily reported.