Yale may have accepted a lower percentage of early applicants this year, but the number of students receiving good news in December actually increased.

Yale accepted 18.1 percent of its early-action applicants for the Class of 2012, a decrease of 1.6 percent from last year, the admissions office reported last month.

The admissions office sent acceptance letters to 885 students of the 4,888 who applied, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said last month. Yale deferred 65 percent of applicants and rejected 16 percent.

Although the acceptance rate decreased, the number of students accepted increased because more qualified students applied, said Brenzel, who predicted that Yale, Harvard and Princeton universities will see declines in yield because more students will be applying to all three schools. The early acceptance rates for the other Ivy League schools did not change significantly.

Last year, 709 students were selected from 3,594 early applicants for the Class of 2011, for an acceptance rate of 19.7 percent.

The 24.8 percent increase in the number of early acceptances this year is a result of both a larger pool and a larger number of highly qualified applicants, Brenzel said.

“The quantity and quality of the applications this year was extraordinary and unprecedented,” he said.

The number of applications received this year for Yale’s non-binding early action program increased by 36 percent over last year’s total.

Yale is the only remaining school in the Ivy League with an early action program, after Harvard and Princeton universities announced last year that they would cancel their early programs.

Because of this change to the admissions landscape, Brenzel said he expects a decrease in the overall percentage of students who accept an offer of admission — the yield — at all three institutions this year.

“I anticipate that relative to the past … we’ll see more students, as Harvard and Princeton will, who are applying to all three schools,” Brenzel said. “It stands to reason that all three schools will probably experience some decline in yield, because students will be applying to more of the schools.”

Yale’s yield for all accepted students — both early and regular — has hovered around 71 percent for the past three years.

Concerns about Yale’s yield could have prompted the increase in early acceptances, said Jon Reider, college counseling director at San Francisco’s private University High School. Taking a larger number of students early, he said, could help the admissions office manage enrollment numbers in the event that accepted students decide to attend Princeton or Harvard.

At the same time, Reider said, Yale may have chosen to accept a smaller percentage of students early because of criticisms from the college counseling community that elite universities fill their classes with too many students accepted early.

“[Accepting a large percentage of early applicants] leaves the perception that applying early gives you a substantial benefit,” explained Reider, who said he does not believe such a benefit exists in most cases. “This is a response to broader pressures to try and change that perception,” he added, referring to Yale’s decreased percentage of students accepted early.

For many of the students deferred or rejected last month, understanding why Yale had to be selective in its early admission offers did not lessen the disappointment.

Dean Jacoby, director of college counseling at Conn.’s private Choate Rosemary Hall, said he was not surprised by the drop in Yale’s early acceptance rate, given the large volume of applications this year and increased uncertainty about whether applicants would ultimately choose Yale over Harvard or Princeton in the spring.

Still, he said, there were a few more “sad faces” this year than last year.

“Intellectually, we understand it,” Jacoby said. “But emotionally, it’s been hard for some students.”

One factor that could affect Yale’s yield this year is the University’s financial-aid initiative, which will be announced in the next few days.

In December, Harvard announced a sweeping financial-aid initiative that will reduce the expected financial contributions from middle- and upper-middle-income families and completely eliminate student loans.

Under Harvard’s new policy, families of undergraduates with yearly incomes from $120,000 to $180,000 will be asked to pay 10 percent of their income in tuition. Families making between $60,000 and $120,000 will pay between zero and 10 percent of their yearly incomes.

Brenzel said he expects Yale’s new initiative will be “strong” and “well-received.”

Acceptances to Columbia University’s binding early decision program decreased by 1 percent from last year, to 23 percent. The early decision acceptance rate at Brown University also decreased slightly, by 0.1 percent, to 22.6 percent.

At Cornell University, the percentage of students accepted early decision remained the same, at 36.6 percent.

The other two Ivy League schools with early decision programs — the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College — have not yet released early admissions acceptance statistics.

Of the 4,888 early applications this year, 46 were withdrawn or are incomplete, Brenzel said.

Students who applied to Yale by the Jan. 1 regular decision deadline or whose early applications were deferred will be notified of their admissions outcomes by the beginning of April.