The giant inflatable bulldog hovering over Old Campus was the first sign that something was amiss. Then, on Monday morning, a bevy of unfamiliar faces descended on Yale for Bulldog Days, a two day event designed to give prospective students a glimpse of life as an Eli.

Approximately 978 of the 1,950 students admitted to the Yale Class of 2008 registered for the program — an unprecedented number, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions James Nondorf said. He said he expects the overall turnout to exceed 1,000 as students who began trickling in as early as Friday continue to arrive on campus throughout today.

The large showing for Bulldog Days this year could be partially attributed to Yale’s decision to switch from a binding early decision program to single-choice, nonbinding early action, Nondorf said.

“Certainly the early action students are still deciding,” he said.

But Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said that in prior years, at least half of the students admitted under the early decision program decided to attend Bulldog Days anyway. The bottom line, Shaw said, is that students want to see how they will fit in with other Elis.

“These students want to see Yale, they want to see their potential classmates,” he said.

To give the students a taste of life at Yale, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions plans a busy schedule of activities for Bulldog Days attendees. Over the course of two days, students and parents can tour campus, visit classes, and attend student life panels, master classes, open houses and the ever-popular Entertainment Extravaganza, Shaw said

Bulldog Days Coordinators Matthew Bloom ’05, Kathryn Elder ’06, John Harabedian ’04, Tiffany Lu ’06 and Derek Morales ’05 did a “vast majority of work” in organizing the event, Nondorf said.

Two programs that were added to the Bulldog Days roster last year — “Master Classes” taught by Yale professors and an engineering tour — were expanded this year in response to their enthusiastic reception by participants in 2003, Nondorf said. Five “Master Classes” — one of which was conducted by newly appointed Yale College Dean Peter Salovey — were offered Monday evening, and the engineering tour now includes a tour of Science Hill, he said.

Jessica Bialecki, a native of New Haven who was admitted this December under Yale’s early action program, said she decided to attend Bulldog Days even though Yale was “definitely” her first choice.

“I wanted to stay overnight, to see some clubs,” she said. “I had always seen Yale from the outside, and I wanted to get an insider’s view.”

Bialecki said her initial impressions from within were mostly positive.

“The students are really outgoing, [and] amazingly friendly and helpful,” she said.

But Bulldog Days is even more important for those who have not yet decided where they will spend the next four years. Shelly Steward, who hails from Oregon, said she is currently deciding between two schools. In spite of the long plane ride a visit required, she said coming to see Yale was essential.

“On paper, two schools can look identical,” she said.

Bulldog Days helps prospective students like Steward make their decisions not only through planned activities, Shaw said, but also by offering them the opportunity to live with current Yalies for one or two days.

“After the kids join with their hosts, the rest is just fun,” he said.

Whether or not Shaw’s prediction proves true for Joci Keehner, a prospective student from the Washington, D.C. area, will likely determine whether she will make the move to New Haven next year, she said.

“The sleepover program will be pivotal in my decision,” she said.

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