Yale witnessed an “expected” drop in early applications this fall, following Harvard and Princeton’s reinstatement of early application policies this admissions cycle, Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said.

With two of its most competitive peer institutions once again allowing prospective students to apply single-choice early action — the nonbinding policy Yale has offered since 2004 — early applicants to Yale fell from 5,257 in fall 2010 to 4,310 this November. Though the change represents an 18 percent dip from last year, two admissions experts interviewed said the change and accompanying decline is still positive for Yale because the reinstated admissions policies have forced students to weigh their restricted application choices more carefully.

“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,” said John Reider, a college guidance counselor at San Francisco University High School who worked as an admissions officer at Stanford for 15 years. “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.”

When Princeton and Harvard eliminated their early action policies in fall 2007, representatives from the two schools said a single deadline for applications would make the admissions process fairer and simplify financial aid considerations for prospective students.

Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions to reinstate early admissions policies have “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 ultimately decided after visiting and researching the universities.

Reider added that 16 students from his school applied early to either Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale this year, compared to the 12 who applied early to Stanford or Yale last fall.

Though early applicants to Yale 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.

Chuck Hughes, president and founder of Road to College, a college admissions consulting service, said students who apply to schools with early admissions polices are more likely to matriculate to those schools if accepted. The reintroduction of Harvard and Princeton’s early policies, he said, has forced students to consider carefully which school is the best fit for them.

Brenzel said this fall’s early 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 a higher proportion of students who consider Yale their first choice. In 2010, Yale admitted 761 early applicants. While Brenzel said the pool of early applicants is still as “outstanding” as it has been in past years, he added that he cannot predict how changes in admissions policies will impact the number of students who apply to Yale under regular decision.

“I don’t attach particular significance to one year’s fluctuations in application numbers at the four or five most selective schools, particularly when there have been significant changes such as Harvard and Princeton reinstituting their early admissions programs,” he said in a Friday email.

The new early admissions policies will likely make the regular admissions pool more competitive, Hughes added, since a greater number of early applicants will now be deferred for decision until April.

“I think 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.”

Harvard and Princeton received 4,245 and 3,547 early applications this admissions cycle, respectively. Stanford’s number of single-choice early applicants this year stayed relatively constant at 5,880, while early applications to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fell about 5 percent to 6,102.

Yale will notify early applicants of their admissions decisions in mid-December.