Early applications to Yale dropped 18 percent from last year, following decisions by Harvard and Princeton in February to reinstate early application policies this admissions cycle that were cut in fall 2007.

Yale received 4,310 early applicants this year, Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said Friday, down from the 5,257 who applied in fall 2010. With Yale, Harvard and Princeton all offering single-choice early action applications, Brenzel said the decrease in applicants was “expected” since prospective students may only apply to one of these schools.

“[Relative to the number of early applications received for the Class of 2011], I am happy that Yale’s early application count is up,” Brenzel said. “Though it is impossible to identify all of the factors that influence early admissions numbers, it is clear that the policies this year are allowing students to sort themselves out more among schools.”

Though early applicants declined this fall, Brenzel said Yale still received roughly 20 percent more early applications for the class of 2016 than for the class of 2011 — the last class to apply before Harvard and Princeton eliminated their early admissions programs on a trial basis.

Brenzel said those Yale applicants will compete for about 650 to 750 spots, adding that he expects the early application yield to “bob up” because the applicant pool now includes more students focused on attending specific schools. In 2010, Yale admitted 761 early applicants.

Three college counselors and admissions experts interviewed said Yale remains a popular option among their students, but said the increased number of single-choice early application offerings requires prospective applicants to think more carefully about where to apply.

Jon Reider, a college guidance counselor at San Francisco University High School who worked as an admissions officer at Stanford University for 15 years, said 16 students at his school submitted early applications to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale this year, compared to the 12 who applied early to either Stanford or Yale last fall.

Harvard and Princeton’s decisions to reinstate early admissions policies has “expanded the market” for college admissions, Reider said, bursting an “artificial bubble” of students who applied early to Yale in past years for lack of other options. While some of his students this year wavered between which school to apply early to this fall, he said most were ultimately swayed by visiting and researching the universities.

“I think in many of these cases, students are being more serious about their application choices, while others are thinking about where they will have the best odds of getting in,” Reider said. “Yale should be pleased that they are not wasting time on applicants who don’t really want to go there. This is a win for everyone — I don’t think anybody should think [the drop in applications] is a sign of weakness for Yale or anything negative.”

Chuck Hughes, president and founder of college admissions consulting service Road to College, said students who have applied to schools with early admissions polices are now likelier to want to attend those schools.

“Yale should be pretty excited about the fact they kept as many students [applying for early action] as they did,” Hughes said. “I can see in talking with the students with whom we work, the kids who love Yale really love Yale. I didn’t see as many applicants move towards Princeton and Harvard as I had expected at the beginning of the year.”

Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania received 3,547, 1,800, 2,900 and 4,510 early applications this fall, respectively. Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford have yet to release their official numbers.

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