The Yale School of Art received a record 1,215 applications this year, a 15 percent jump from last year, reflecting the added popularity of MFA programs in general and of Yale’s in particular.

The applications, which were due Jan. 19, faced a first-round critique Wednesday, as juries began to meet to evaluate the materials of students seeking to enter Yale’s programs in graphic design, painting and printmaking, photography and sculpture. Art School Registrar Patricia DeChiara said the number of applications in all of the departments grew from last year, and three of the departments — painting and printmaking, which received 594 applications; sculpture, which received 242 applications; and photography, which received 231 applications — reached all-time highs. There were 148 applications to the School of Art’s program in graphic design.

The School of Art typically accepts about 55 students out of the total applicant pool every year and has a high yield rate, DeChiara said.

“The wait list fluctuates year to year,” DeChiara said. “Sometimes we admit none [from the wait list], sometimes maybe three or four.”

Professors and students attributed the rise in applications to the School of Art’s rising reputation.

Peter Halley, director of graduate studies in painting and printmaking, said the increase may be related to the post-graduate success of Yale’s art students.

“There’s a reason I’d like to imagine they’re increasing, which is because of the reputation of the program,” Halley said. “A good many of our recent painting graduates are doing well, beginning to exhibit and be written about a bit, so that’s certainly something that might contribute.”

Sculpture DGS Jessica Stockholder said the reputation of the School of Art’s new dean, Robert Storr — who is art director of the 2007 Venice Biennale, a prominent worldwide arts festival — may also be contributing to the heightened interest in the school.

Stefanie Victor GRD ’08, a painting student, said she believes many artists are feeling more pressured than they did in the past to earn MFAs. Graduate school — as opposed to immediate professional experience — is now seen as a key step for artists in expanding their knowledge and connections, Halley said.

“If a young artist was in a place like New York, I think the city has become more expensive and more competitive, and young artists are less likely to find a stimulating arts community there, so it’s often the case that people are looking at graduate school as the best place to have a meaningful dialogue about their work,” Halley said.

The increase in applications to the School of Art this year compares favorably to other selective graduate degree programs to which Yale applicants typically also apply, some of which saw no change or a decrease in the number of applications this year.

Jamie Sosnow, director of admissions at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, said there has been a slight decrease in applications at the school from last year.

The number of applications at California Institute of the Arts has remained steady compared to last year. Admissions Representative Kara Achzet said CalArts has received about 3,000 applications for its graduate degree programs, around the same number they received last year. Achzet said approximately 30 percent of applicants to CalArts are accepted every year.

The University of California at Los Angeles, meanwhile, has seen a small increase in applications to its graduate program in art. Kavin Buck, director of enrollment management and outreach for the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, said the Department of Art received 882 applications this year, compared to 813 last year. He said UCLA will accept 17 to 20 of those applications, approximately 2.2 percent.

Over the next two months, applications will be subject to a rigorous evaluation process.

Sarah Lasley GRD ’08, a painting student, is a member of the student-faculty admissions committee that reviews all of the painting applications. The jury, which began meeting Wednesday, examines slides of the applicants’ work in the preliminary round, Lasley said.

After this first evaluation, the candidates’ materials will be reviewed at least one more time, Lasley said. About 175 of those candidates will be asked to interview on-campus in February, DeChiara said, when they will present their portfolios to faculty and students.

“Yale traditionally has been one of the few schools that requires an interview,” Halley said. “And besides going up for the interview, they have to bring their work. So we definitely make demands on our finalists, but that final part of the process — the interview, which is with two faculty members, and when the committee reviews the physical work as well as pictures of the work — is very important.”

Lasley said she agreed that the interview is a vital part of the admissions process.

“I think that’s the most important part because you’re also seeing the work in person, and a lot of times the work looks totally different in person,” Lasley said.

The School of Art will notify its interview candidates by Feb. 12, and final decisions will be mailed in late March.