Tom Howard ’12 had never considered Yale before a QuestBridge e-mail landed in his inbox.

But when Howard, from North Attleboro, Mass., was choosing the schools to rank on his application, Yale caught his attention — and he promptly fell in love with the school, he said.

QuestBridge, a nonprofit institution that matches high-achieving, low-income students with prestigious universities, was a key factor in helping Yale’s admissions office assemble the most economically diverse class in Yale’s history, according to Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel. In addition to the 19 students who “matched” with Yale during the special QuestBridge admissions round last November, Yale accepted 71 QuestBridge scholars during the regular-decision round. Of these 90 students, 56 matriculated as part of the class of 2012 while one postponed matriculation to next year.

“We were very pleased at the outcomes,” Brenzel said, noting that the QuestBridge yield of 62.9 percent was not demonstrably lower than the 68.7-percent overall yield for the class of 2012.

In the first year of Yale’s partnership with QuestBridge, the organization helped draw applications from qualified low-income students who otherwise would not have applied to Yale, Brenzel said.

The percentage of students qualifying for Pell grants increased to 12.3 percent for the class of 2012, compared to 10.8 percent in the class of 2011 and 9.4 percent in the class of 2010.

Last fall, 18 QuestBridge students — who could not yet apply to Yale through QuestBridge — matriculated in the class of 2011, Brenzel said. This year’s total represents an increase of nearly 40 QuestBridge scholars, or about 3 percent of the incoming class — a significant figure for a population Yale has historically struggled to recruit.

Brenzel said Yale plans to continue to participate in QuestBridge’s College Match program. QuestBridge selects as finalists a group of high-school seniors from low-income backgrounds — usually from households earning less than $60,000 per year — as finalists, and then sends their names and applications to college “partners” in November.

QuestBridge finalists rank their top-choice colleges, and the colleges then decide which students, if any, they wish to accept. Students are notified about the highest-ranked school on their list that accepts them and can then apply for a scholarship package from the QuestBridge college partner that covers the full cost of tuition, books and room and board.

Students who do not find a match in the special QuestBridge application process can choose to be considered by the schools again in the regular-decision round.

Yale’s partnership with QuestBridge does not benefit only Yale, Brenzel said. By putting Yale’s sought-after name on the list of colleges —some of them lesser-known — students can match with, he said, Yale can increase the number of low-income students who “find their way to absolutely terrific colleges,” even if for most, that college is not Yale.

Yale admissions officers will also start promoting QuestBridge in information sessions at high schools with large proportions of disadvantaged students, Brenzel said.

“That way, we’re not only enticing students to apply to us,” Brenzel said. “We can also get them to see that there are a broad range of schools that don’t have Yale’s brand name that they should be thinking about. That addresses the question of creating expectations in these kids that we can’t fulfill.”

This year, 26 colleges around the country will take part in the College Match program, including Princeton and Stanford universities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, will participate for the first time in this year’s admissions cycle.

Several of the QuestBridge scholars in the class of 2012 applied to Yale solely because of the QuestBridge program, students interviewed said.

Many students, like the Massachusetts native Howard, did not match with Yale in the early QuestBridge admissions round but were accepted regular decision — a trying experience for some freshmen like Lee, who would only give her first name.

“The early match is deceiving,” she said. “Very few people are actually matched, but most of them qualify for regular decision. Not being matched kind of crushed my spirits for about four months.”

Minhal Baig ’12, who was also accepted regular decision, said she didn’t think the QuestBridge process necessarily helped her application. She hypothesized that as an Asian-American, she wasn’t one of the minorities admissions officers were looking for in the match round.

Brenzel said the office employed “no ethnicity objectives or constraints” when admitting students in the match round.

Although the students interviewed said they had met few, if any, fellow QuestBridge participants, they said they would welcome some sort of QuestBridge-at-Yale gathering.

“You would have a group of people who you can really relate to,” Atlanta native Daniel Chandra ’12 said. “We’re all coming from relatively similar backgrounds.”

Of last year’s 1,794 QuestBridge finalists, 204 matched with schools in the early round and about 900 are attending one of the program’s partner schools, QuestBridge President and co-founder Michael McCullough said.