The number of applications to Yale College rose this year, but not as drastically as those to its peer rivals. Yale has received 27,230 applications — up more than 5 percent from the 25,869 it received last year, said Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel. While all the Ivy League schools, along with Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported increases in applicants this year, Harvard, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania all experienced around 15 percent jumps.

Brenzel said year-to-year fluctuations in total applications have little meaning, and that instead of trying to increase the number of total applicants to the University, the admissions office focuses on attracting the best-qualified students. In that department, Yale is doing very well, he said.

“The scores and grades of our applicants … average the highest of any school in the country,” Brenzel said in an e-mail. “I am extremely satisfied that we are achieving our critical objectives of achieving the strongest applicant pool and the greatest access, while at the same time engaging in ethical recruiting practices.”

Last year, Harvard’s applications rose by 5 percent, Princeton’s by 19 percent, Brown’s by 20 percent, and Dartmouth’s by 4 percent. Yale’s more modest increase may indicate more about its competitors than the University itself, college counselors said. Jon Reider, college counselor at San Francisco University High School, said schools like Harvard aggressively recruit across the country in order to find a “gem in the ocean” — a qualified student who would not have known about Harvard, or its financial aid, if they had not received a mailing.

“They’re very good at finding these kids, and they spend a fortune collecting applications from everyone and their third cousin,” said Reider, adding that unfortunately, the vast majority of students who read these mailings are not qualified to attend top-tier universities like Harvard. “I don’t think this is an honorable thing to do,” he said.

Other counselors echoed Reider’s sentiments, and said Yale’s strategy is more responsible than other schools’. Beth Slattery, college counselor at Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood Calif., said Brenzel has been a leader in making sure not to “artificially inflate” Yale’s application number.

Brenzel said Yale has matched its competition in growing application numbers over the past 10 years.

“In terms of competitors, there are only a handful of schools — Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton and MIT — that compete with one another for the most accomplished students,” he said. “Whatever the year-to-year fluctuations may be, the application growth at all five schools has shown similar strength over the past 10-year period.”

College counselors said Yale’s rise in applicants was predictable, and pointed to several University initiatives that they think are attracting more applicants.

Leonard King, director of college counseling at the Maret School in Washington D.C., said the University’s financial aid may be pulling in more applicants, especially from lower-income families. Nancy Beane, college counselor at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Ga., said Yale’s recent efforts to advertise its science and math programs have not gone unnoticed. University President Richard Levin pledged $500 million to the sciences in 2000, and Yale has since undertaken building projects on Science Hill, hired new professors, and invested in equipment.

“Yale has been focusing on math and science quite a bit,” Beane said. “Yale has always had really strong programs [in these areas], but now our students that might have veered towards schools more focused on science are including Yale in that list.”

Slattery said many schools’ numbers have increased because students feel their chances of getting in somewhere will be better if they apply to more places. She said this belief, which is not necessarily accurate, is especially prevalent in the demographic applying to Ivy League schools.

Since 2001, when the class of 2005 applied to college, Yale, Harvard and Princeton have seen increases of 84 percent, 85 percent and 90 percent in applications received, respectively.

Correction: January 21, 2011

A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that since 2005, Yale, Harvard and Princeton have seen increases of 84 percent, 85 percent, and 90 percent in applications received, respectively. These changes have actually taken place since 2001 (since the class of 2005 applied to Yale.)