On Dec. 16, Yale released admissions decisions to early applicants for the Class of 2018, accepting 735 students, rejecting 1,225 and deferring 2,735 applicants for reconsideration in the spring.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions received 4,750 applications this year, 5.5 percent more than last year. However, this year’s acceptance rate of 15.5 percent is slightly higher than last year’s, when the University accepted only 649 students for an admit rate of 14.4 percent. The rejection rate declined from 29 percent last year to 25.8 percent this year, while the deferral rate rose slightly from 56 percent last year to 57.6 percent this year.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said in an email to the News that the admissions office saw “increased strength and diversity in this year’s applicant pool.” Quinlan added that this year’s early applicant pool included a higher number of high-achieving first-generation college students and students from low-income communities.

Both Quinlan and outside college experts told the News in November that these groups tend to be underrepresented in the early applicant pool. Students in the early applicant pool tend to be wealthier and more knowledgeable about the application process, but Quinlan and outside college counselors agreed that the discrepancy between the early and regular applications rounds has been decreasing gradually.

For the first year in recent years, the admissions office has also publicized the number of QuestBridge scholars the University has accepted through the QuestBridge National College Match — a program that seeks to link high-achieving low-income high school students with selective American colleges. This year, the University accepted 24 students through the QuestBridge program as early applicants.

Quinlan said that QuestBridge is a nonprofit organization that “has demonstrated an extraordinary capability for identifying high-achieving, low-income students.” He added that Yale has been a strong supporter of QuestBridge in the past and hosts one of QuestBridge’s three national summer conferences as part of the University’s commitment to making Yale accessible to the most talented students from around the world regardless of their family incomes.

Most Ivy League universities saw increased early applications this year. The five Ivy League schools with binding early admissions programs — the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth — saw the highest increases in applications. Cornell led the Ivies with an impressive 13.6 percent hike in applications, from 4,204 for the Class of 2017 to 4,775 this year. UPenn’s early decision numbers increased by 6.7 percent, from 4,817 applications last year to 5,133 for the prospective Class of 2018, while Brown’s application numbers grew by about 2 percent and Columbia’s by about 5 percent.

David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said that Yale’s growth was particularly impressive this year when compared to Princeton and Harvard, the only other Ivy League schools that have non-binding early action programs. Harvard was the only Ivy League institution that saw a drop in the number of applications it received, from 4,845 last year to 4,692 this year, while Princeton reported negligible growth, from 3,810 applications last year to 3,831 this year.

“The slight decrease in the number of applications Harvard received last year suggests that we might finally be reaching the ceiling of applications that these top schools receive,” Petersam said, adding that Yale’s impressive growth in comparison to its peers suggests that the University is doing a better job of reaching out to students who do not traditionally apply to selective East Coast colleges in the early action round. But he said that there are better ways for prospective students and parents to assess a university’s excellence than application numbers, citing a college’s faculty-to-student ratio or the university’s endowment per student as two better metrics.

Gregory Hosono, a high school senior from Palo Alto., Calif., said that he applied to Yale early to show the University that Yale was his first choice. Hosono said that although the rise in applications Yale receives each year may seem daunting to some applicants, applicants cannot control anything beyond how they present themselves to schools.

Michael Goran, the director of California-based private education consulting firm IvySelect, said that he has seen a consistent increase in the number of his clients who apply early action to selective universities over the last ten years.

“Students think, whether rightly or wrongly, that applying early will make them a stronger candidate,” he said, adding that universities such as Yale have become better at communicating their affordability to students who may have previously felt intimidated by the prospect of applying to private universities.

All five high school students interviewed who were accepted by Yale early action expressed disbelief and ecstasy upon hearing of their decision.

“When I heard the singing bulldog, I jumped out of my chair and ran around the house screaming for 15 minutes,” said Alyssa Chen, a high school senior from Michigan. Chen added that she will likely attend Yale but may choose another school if Yale adopts a grade deflation policy in the coming months, or if she receives a better financial aid package elsewhere.

Mikaela Rabb, a high school senior from Tennessee who studies at Phillips Academy Andover, said that her family did not believe that she was accepted to Yale until “they forced [her] to screenshot the letter.”

Accepted applicants have until May 1 to make a final decision and can apply to other colleges in regular admissions rounds.