Yale admitted 13.4 percent of its early action applicants for the class of 2013, a sharp drop from last year’s 18.1 percent early admission rate, the University said Monday.

A total of 742 early applicants were granted admission from a record pool of 5,557, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel told the News. The admissions office also sent rejection letters to more than twice as many early applicants as they did last year, denying 38.3 percent of applicants while deferring 47.6 percent to the regular decision round.

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Last year, 885 early applicants were admitted from a pool of 4,888, for an acceptance rate of 18.1 percent. Yale rejected 16 percent of early applicants and deferred 65 percent.

Yale decided to admit fewer students this year despite the 13.7 percent increase in early applications because an unexpectedly high number of students admitted early from the class of 2012 chose to matriculate, Brenzel said.

“Last year, we speculated that significantly fewer of our most competitive early applicants might have Yale as their first choice school,” he said in a statement provided to the News. “However, our yield from the early process declined only modestly, and with this knowledge, I felt we should restrict the number of early offers this year and leave more room for regular decision offers.”

Last year, 80 percent of students admitted under Yale’s early action program chose to enroll, a drop from about 88 percent in prior years. Still, because 885 students were accepted during the early round, more than half of the matriculating class of 2012 was composed of students admitted early.

Brenzel said the early applicant pool was “extremely strong,” as it has been in past years. He attributed the high quality of the applicant pool in part to the elimination of early application options at Harvard and Princeton universities, as well as the strength of Yale’s new financial aid policy, which is particularly attractive given the country’s recent economic downturn.

The decision to reject a higher proportion of applicants harks back to a similar practice employed several years ago, Brenzel said in an interview Monday. He described the decision to reject more applicants as a “challenging tradeoff”: While it is difficult to reject well-qualified applicants during the early round, giving them a final decision in December allows them to focus on their other applications.

The four college counselors interviewed Monday all said they saw advantages to rejecting a higher proportion of early applicants if the students would be rejected later during the regular decision process.

Yale’s decision to reject more early applicants who would not have been competitive in the regular round is “merciful,” said Alice Kleeman, a college advisor at Menlo-Atherton High School, a public school near Palo Alto, Calif.

“It’s a wake up call, while students still have time, to apply to some less selective colleges that might be a better match for them,” she said. “Deferred students have the right to believe that they are credible applicants. If they go on believing they are credible applicants when indeed they are not, that’s not doing them any favors.”

Still, while applicants can benefit from receiving bad news early, even students rejected from Yale are highly qualified, said Leonard King, director of college counseling at the Maret School in Washington, D.C.

“You could probably fill the class with the kids that Yale’s rejecting and still have a very strong class,” he said.

The drop in the overall admit rate correlates to the influx of applications Yale received this year, which King partly attributed to the attractiveness of Yale’s financial aid and early action policies during the current economic recession. Students who otherwise would have considered applying to schools with binding early decision programs may have chosen to apply early to Yale so they could compare financial aid packages, he said.

Stanford University accepted 12.8 percent of applicants to its non-binding early action program this year, a drop of 3.4 percentage points compared to last year. Dartmouth College admitted 25.9 percent of applicants to its binding early decision program this year, representing a 2.1 percentage point decline in acceptances compared to last year.

The remaining four colleges in the Ivy League with early decision programs have not yet released admissions statistics.

Of the 5,557 applications, 43 were withdrawn or incomplete, Brenzel said.

The deadline for regular applications to Yale College is Dec. 31, and regular applicants will receive news of their admission decision in early April.