As a record-breaking flood of applications looms on the horizon, the Yale admissions office has worked to create more space for regular applicants in the class of 2013 by cutting back on the number of students admitted early compared to last year.

This year, the total number of applications to Yale College is approaching 26,000, according to preliminary counts, up from 22,817 total applications last year, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said Monday. Although Brenzel denies that the expected increase in applications was the reason behind the decline in early acceptances, the office accepted nearly 150 fewer early applicants than last year, despite a record high number of early applications. Ten college guidance counselors interviewed said worries about running out of room for qualified regular candidates — of which there may be more than ever this year — might have prompted the cutback in early acceptances.

Brenzel maintained that the office simply returned to early admissions policy employed prior to last year, when 885 students were accepted early to the class of 2012. He said it was not a reaction to an anticipated rise in regular applications, which he said have increased proportionally to early applications.

Last year, he said, the admissions office accepted a high percentage of early applicants because it expected a lower yield of early admits after the cancellation of early programs at Harvard and Princeton universities. But because the yield dropped only slightly, Brenzel said he felt the office should limit early admits to leave space for regular applicants.

“On the one hand, the early pool is very strong and we want to reach out to the most outstanding students who apply early,” he said in an e-mail. “On the other hand, many of the very best candidates do not apply until the regular process, and we want to make sure we have plenty of room to offer them places.”

“It’s a balancing act,” he added.

The college counselors interviewed agreed that this year’s “balancing act” favors regular applicants more than last year’s. It is well within the realm of possibility that more spots were left for regular applicants because more students were expected to apply in the regular round, several college counselors said.

Admissions offices typically track the number of regular applications in the months prior to the deadline, comparing tallies of applications to benchmarks during past years, said Andrew McNeill, senior associate director of college counseling at the private Taft School in Watertown, Conn. If Yale had seen high totals of regular applications as the Dec. 15 decision deadline approached, the admissions office could have chosen to leave more spaces open for regular applicants.

Brenzel said the admissions office took only one action in anticipation of high application totals: hiring two additional admissions officers.

Yale may have adjusted its approach to early admissions if it found that it lacked space in its class for highly qualified regular applicants in past years, said Maria Morales-Kent, director of college counseling at the Thatcher School near Santa Barbara, Calif., and a former regional admissions officer for the University of Pennsylvania.

“Admissions committees learn from year to year,” she said. “When they weren’t as conservative [in offering early admissions offers], they found themselves with such a wonderful regular pool, they were thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve already filled all those spots.’ ”

While Yale’s impetus for leaving more spaces for regular applicants remains a subject of debate, the impact will nonetheless be positive, eight of the 10 admissions officers interviewed said.

By accepting fewer students early, Yale will help alleviate the admissions frenzy and rush to apply early, said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School.

“Yale does not want 5500 early applications — people are just chasing the brand,” he said. “The argument will be at the end of this year that you’ve got almost the same chance if you apply regular.”

Focusing more heavily on regular applications is also more equitable for students who come from less advantaged backgrounds, said Jane Horn, director of college counseling at the private Kent Denver School.

“It’s fair to assume that a reasonable percentage of students in that early action pool have a lot of counseling,” she said. “Students that don’t have a lot of access to high quality college counseling and apply regular deserve a chance.”

Brenzel said the admissions office plans to accept between 1,900 and 2,000 applicants for the class of 2013, similar to past years. He said he anticipates the office will also accept some students from the wait list.