The number of students admitted to the class of 2014 who have expressed interest in financial aid has fallen slightly compared to last year.

As of April 1, approximately 68.8 percent of prospective students indicated they intended to apply for financial aid, down from 71 percent recorded last year. Students are also taking longer to submit their financial aid applications: A total of 971 students in the class of 2014 have applied for aid, a drop from the 1,019 submitted applications filed at around the same time last year.

Caesar Storlazzi, director of student financial services said that while it is difficult to explain possible reasons behind this year’s small drop in interest, he hopes the change is an indicator of improving economic conditions. Storlazzi estimated that the financial aid expenditure for the class of 2014 will be $26.8 million, comparable to figures from the previous two years.

“With a relatively small sample, I would not infer too much into small changes in numbers or percentages,” Storlazzi said. “It certainly could be a sign that the economy is better than it was one year ago, but it could just as easily be a sign that this particular subset of students at this particular time happen to be doing better than the national average.”

Storlazzi added that he does not expect to see an unusual increase in the number of financial aid applications filed over the summer.

Still, eight college counselors interviewed said that in the wake of the current economic downturn, financial aid availability is now a top concern for many families.

Michael Hallman, college counselor at the Meadows School in Las Vegas, Nev., said that in the past two years, students at his school have increasingly made their college decisions based on cost.

“Parents are bringing up financial aid more and more often in conversations,” Hallman said. “In some cases, an academic merit scholarship can swing a student very heavily toward a particular institution.”

Likewise, Kurt Schmidt, director of college counseling at the St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago, said he often has “frank discussions” with parents whose children are planning to apply to private colleges that cost more than $50,000 dollars a year.

Schmidt added that in the last two years he has also seen a spike in the number of students who applying for private merit-based scholarships as a means of supplementing their financial aid packages.

Students admitted to Yale’s class of 2014 have until May 1 to finalize their college decisions.