The number of applicants to the Medical School, which more than tripled between 1967 and 1977, has declined to 3700 after reaching a peak of 3860 last year.
The Harvard applicant pool's behavior follows a nationwide pattern. The total number of students applying to medical schools in this country has been declining since 1974-75, dropping almost 10 per cent this year from last year, according to Association of American Medical Colleges statistics.
"Probably the two chief factors in the decline are competition and expenses," Dr. Oglesby Paul '38, director of admissions at the Medical School, said yesterday. "Word has gotten around that competition is brisk."
Paul said that rising tuition costs and the increasing difficulty of getting financial aid have also contributed to the decline.
While the number of individuals applying to medical schools has declined nationally, from a peak of 42,000 in '74-75, to an estimated 37,000 for '78-79, the number of openings has increased during that time from 14,720 to 16,500, according to Davis G. Johnson, director of the division of student studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
"There has been much publicity trying to discourage people from applying," Johnson said. "There still is a big surplus of applicants, more than two to one."
Paul said that the Medical School must still turn down about 20 applicants for each one it accepts, to fill its 165 openings.
The changing nature of financial aid to medical students could be a major factor in the decline, according to Johnson. The government is phasing out aid on the basis of need, putting emphasis on aid in return for national service, under the National Health Service Corps.
Dr. Daniel C. Tosteson '46, dean of the Medical School, agreed, saying that this type of aid, "hasn't proved attractive to students."