Applications to the Yale Graduate School dropped 8.5 percent this year, but officials said the school has recently made marked inroads with regard to admissions, nearly doubling its figures in the last five years.

Last year, buoyed by a weak national job market, the Graduate School topped 9,000 applications — its highest level in history. But with the national economy showing signs of recovery and with increased obstacles for international students due to heightened national security, the school’s applications dropped to about 8,300 this year, Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said.

“A number like 8,300 is pretty good, and we’re pretty happy about it,” Salovey said. “That’s the second highest total we’ve ever gotten.”

The school’s application figures have increased steadily each year since 1999, when the Graduate School only received 4,500 applications.

The Graduate School conducted an informal survey of admissions statistics from competing graduate institutions, indicating a national decrease in applications that can likely be attributed to the upward economic trend, Salovey said.

“While nobody’s numbers are official yet, it appears that almost everyone else seems down from last year — to a greater extent than we are,” Salovey said.

In 2003, the Graduate School accepted 1,154 of its 9,067 applicants — a 12.7 percent acceptance rate — and 554 applicants, about half, accepted its offer, Graduate School Director of Admissions Robert Colonna said.

“We expect similar overall results for [2004] although offers and acceptance information will vary a bit by program,” Colonna said.

Applicants this year came from 123 countries. Applications from the United States and India increased by 7 percent and 15 percent, respectively. But applications from China decreased by 33 percent, likely because of visa problems Chinese students are experiencing, Salovey said.

“One of the reasons why everyone is down is applications from China, which tend to be a significant part of the pool,” Salovey said.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has made it more difficult for international students, especially those from China, to receive visa clearance, Salovey said.

“It would seem to me that graduate students are not the people who are threatening U.S. security,” Salovey said. “But there’s a belief that since the hijackers were students at a flight school, we should have been able to catch them.”

Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Economics and Psychology were the most popular departments this year, but Colonna said he thinks applications for the humanities also increased.

The Graduate School used a Web-based application system administered by a third-party vendor for the first time this year. Colonna said about 95 percent of applicants used the electronic system.

“The online application has just been an absolute godsend to us,” Colonna said. “It’s just been terrific.”

Salovey said the efficiencies of the electronic application save the Graduate School money and time. Through the Web-based system, professors can submit applicant recommendations via the Internet. Colonna said his office received about one-third of some 30,000 recommendation letters online.

The Web-based system also allows applicants to complete their applications on the Internet and check the status of their applications throughout the admissions process.