As the Nov. 1 deadline for early action applications looms, Yale’s undergraduate admissions office is gearing up for what will likely be a substantial increase in the number of applicants for the class of 2012.

The College could see a significant rise in early applications this year after Harvard and Princeton universities dropped their programs last year — a decision that might have prompted high-school seniors to turn to Yale as a comparable early option, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said. In response, he said, the office has implemented a three-part “contingency plan” that jump starts the reading process early to deal with a potential increase in the number of applications.

The final application tally will not be available until the end of the week.

“We think that there is a greater chance that applications will go up than that they will go down,” Brenzel said. “But we have absolutely no idea if they go up, by how much they would go up. … We think we could handle a substantial increase in the application count.”

The office shortened the amount of time admissions officers spent visiting high schools around the country by a week in order to begin reading applications earlier than usual and redistributed their reading loads by geographic region to speed up the process, Brenzel said.

Yale also encouraged applicants to submit their materials early, he said.

Brenzel did not rule out the possibility that Yale might follow Harvard and Princeton in eliminating its early program in the future, as the early decision landscape has constantly shifted over the past few decades.

“We think we made a thoughtful, considered decision last year,” Brenzel said. “But you never want to say never on something like this. You have to reconsider your policy every time the landscape changes. What the next round will hold remains to be seen.”

The admissions office received 3,594 early applications last year, down by 12 percent from 4,084 applications in 2005. Brenzel declined to say how many applications had been submitted so far for the class of 2012.

Not Just at Yale?

Yale is not the only school that may be hit with an onslaught of early applications as students who can no longer apply early to Harvard, Princeton or the University of Virginia look elsewhere this fall.

Georgetown University Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon said he expects applications for Georgetown’s early action program to increase by as much as 42 percent this year. Deacon projected that early applications would total between 6,000 and 6,500, up from 4,573 early applications last year.

“We will manage to handle it,” Deacon said. “It’ll be a pretty high-pressured reading time.”

Stanford University is also a more popular early choice among students than usual, said Chuck Hughes, the president of the admissions consulting firm Road to College.

Hughes said that of the 40 students he counsels, two or three students who would otherwise have applied early to Harvard or Princeton have decided to apply early to Yale or Stanford instead.

Many strong candidates are determined to apply early somewhere, Hughes said, and he has advised his students to consider Yale or Stanford as alternatives simply for early action, while they might look elsewhere for regular decision.

But the students applying to Yale, Stanford and Georgetown who consider them as replacements for Harvard and Princeton might wreak havoc with Yale’s yield this year, said Bruce Bailey, director of college counseling at Lakeside School in Seattle.

In a typical year, four Lakeside students apply early to Yale, Bailey said — but this year, that number has doubled.

Brenzel said this year’s new circumstances might indeed affect what percentage of the students Yale accepts decide to matriculate next fall.

“Our yield has been high by historical standards the past few years, and I expect that will continue,” Brenzel said. “But whether it might fluctuate up or down a few points, only time will tell.”

The potential increase in early applications may not be limited to a few selective universities, National Association for College Admission Counseling public policy director David Hawkins said.

“I would say the national trend is toward increasing numbers of early applications,” Hawkins said. According to NACAC’s data for the past few years, between two-thirds and three-fourths of institutions are seeing increases in early applications each year, he said.

In September 2006, Harvard and Princeton announced within a week of each other that they would be eliminating their early application programs effective this admissions cycle. Yale announced in January that it would retain its early action option for at least one year.