The 5 percent fall in early applications to Yale this year can be largely attributed to the financial downturn, according to eight college counselors interviewed Thursday.

Earlier this week, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions reported that 5,265 students had applied early to Yale, down from last year’s record high of 5,556 applicants. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he did not know how the current economic climate may have affected the number of applications. While the eight college counselors said they agreed with Brenzel’s view that the drop is not “statistically significant,” all noted that the current economic uncertainty is deterring students from committing to single-choice early programs such as Yale’s.

“Applying single-choice early action to Yale restricts a student’s ability to apply early to schools which offer scholarships and merit money,” Beth Slattery, college counselor at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, said. “If a student applies early to Yale, they will miss out on merit opportunities which often have similar deadlines.”

Slattery said that this year, more students at her school are talking about applying to state schools and taking up scholarship opportunities. There are several middle-class families who have been hit by the financial crisis but have retained incomes too high to qualify for substantial aid from Yale, she said.

Yale allows some exceptions to its rule that students applying early to Yale may not apply to any other school’s early admissions program: Students are allowed to apply to their home state’s early admissions program if the decision is non-binding, as well as any state university’s rolling admissions program. They can also submit applications to schools with an earlier deadline for students seeking scholarships, provided notification of acceptance is after Jan. 1, as well as any school’s second round of early decisions, again, provided the decisions are announced after Jan. 1.

Even so, some students who want to apply early to another state’s public school or to scholarship programs with notifications before Jan. 1 may still find themselves limited by Yale’s single choice early action program. Tom Walsh, director of college guidance at the Roxbury Latin School in Roxbury, Mass., said that one student at his school found that the closing date for a scholarship he was applying to coincided with Yale’s Nov. 1 early action deadline.

“People are feeling pinched and there is concern among parents that Yale’s financial aid package may not meet their perceived needs,” Walsh said. Fear of a future fall in incomes is not something that can be readily conveyed in financial aid applications, Walsh added. And such fears are driving students and parents to look into a greater variety of schools before submitting their applications, he said.

At the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., a public magnet school, students have always tended not to submit early applications in order to maximize their chance of obtaining money awarded on the basis of merit, which Yale does not offer, Laurie Kobick, the school’s college counselor, said. The economic situation this year may have only prompted more students to defer applying early to single-choice schools such Yale, she said.

Indeed, at the Boston Latin School, another public magnet where there is high demand for need-based aid, almost every student chooses to apply to schools in the regular round in order to access as many merit and scholarship opportunities as possible, Jim Montague, the school’s college counselor, said.

Of six students interviewed who submitted their applications to Yale early this year, all said that the 5 percent drop in early applications has done little to lessen their anxieties about their chances of being accepted.

“I don’t really feel like the decrease in early applications will have any tangible effect on my, or anyone else’s, chances,” Daniel Sisgoreo, who attends College Français in Toronto, said. “A truly outstanding applicant will be just as outstanding in an applicant pool of any size.”

Dru Knox, a junior at Patrick Henry High School in Glade Spring, Va., said he did not feel more confident because he suspected that the strongest applicants were still the ones applying early.

Indeed, Brenzel said that notwithstanding of the fluctuations in applicants from year to year, Yale has always attracted and admitted the candidates that it has wanted the most.

Students applying to Yale’s regular decision round will need to submit their applications by Dec. 31.