The number of early applications to Yale College decreased by 5.2 percent this year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said Monday.

A total of 5,265 applicants submitted early applications this year, down from the record 5,556 applications received last year. Still, Brenzel wrote in an e-mail that he does not expect the admission rate to increase from last year’s historic low of 13.4 percent because yield rates have remained steady, even after Harvard and Princeton eliminated their early application programs. While Brenzel declined to speculate on the possible reasons for this year’s decline in applications, four of six guidance counselors and college consultants interviewed said students are taking longer to decide which colleges to apply to amid the economic downturn.

In 2007, the first year that Harvard and Princeton did not offer an early option, 4,888 students applied to Yale through the single-choice early action program, a 36 percent increase from the year before. That same year, the admit rate for early applicants dropped from 19.7 percent to 18.1 percent.

Last year, after the record number of applications, Yale set a record-low early admissions rate of 13.4 percent. Brenzel said his office, anticipating a lower yield because of Harvard and Princeton’s abolishment of their early action programs, admitted “significantly more” students to the class of 2012. When the matriculation rate held steady, the admissions office reduced the number of spots in class of 2013 reserved for early admits to fewer than 750, he said.

Brenzel added that he will aim for between 700 and 750 early admits again this year because he does not expect a significant difference in the applicant pool.

While this year’s early application numbers buck the trend of the past two years, Brenzel said the decline is part of the “small fluctuations” that naturally occur from one admissions cycle to the next.

“I think that if you gave the [application] counts for 2012, 2013 and 2014 to a statistician, he or she would say that there’s no statistically significant difference in the counts,” he said.

However, four out of the six guidance counselors and college consultants interviewed said they think financial uncertainty may have played a role in the decline in this year’s early applications.

Leonard King, director of college counseling at the Maret School in Washington, said upper- or middle-income families who qualify for little or no aid may be concerned about their ability to pay for schools such as Yale and are looking into alternative options such as state schools or schools that offer merit-based awards. King said students may also be deterred from applying because of Yale’s daunting 7.5 percent admit rate last year.

Nancy Beane, college counselor at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Ga., said she has seen parents and students increasingly basing their college choice on finances since the economic crisis hit last year.

“Families are concerned that their needs may not be fully met, even with schools that offer comprehensive financial aid packages,” Beane said. “Instead, they are looking into state schools and making sure that they have one or two schools on their application list that they can definitely pay for.”

Don Munce, president of the National Research Center for College & University Admissions, a nonprofit organization that studies college admissions, said four large, highly selective private colleges he visited last week all reported lower-than-expected early application numbers.

While the schools asked Munce not to name them because they have not released the data publicly, Munce said all four schools — whose financial aid policies, he said, are less comprehensive than Yale’s — believed that parental concerns about their ability to pay for tuition are deterring students from applying early.

Among the six guidance counselors interviewed, none reported a decline in the number of students applying early to Yale from their schools. Indeed, Chris Rogutsky, who is chairwoman of college counseling at Hunter College High School in New York City, said early applications from her school held steady this year, with Yale remaining the top choice among her students.

Early applicants to Yale College will be notified of their admissions decisions mid-December.