As A-level students receive their results today, Ucas figures show that 396,990 have already been awarded a place on a degree course – up by 3 per cent on last year.
Of these, 352,590 secured their first choice of course, up by 2 per cent, Ucas said.
There are still 103,970 students awaiting results or decisions, 5 per cent more than this time last year, it added.
Last year, Ucas placed about 497,000 students into higher education, which itself was a record number, up by 6.6 per cent on the previous year.
A record number of student places are available this year thanks to an extra 30,000 places announced by George Osborne, the chancellor, in December. Universities are now able to exceed their student number controls by 6 per cent before they are fined for over-recruitment – up from 3 per cent last year.
University leaders have said they expect many students to gain places if they fail to gain their required grades thanks to this extra flexibility.
Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, said: “A combination of extra places available and the falling population of 18-year-olds means that students are in a good position to secure a place this year.”
Despite Ofqual warnings about “volatile” A-level results this year, grades are only marginally lower.
There has been a slight fall in A* and A grades and the overall pass rate is down for the first time in 30 years.
Some 26 per cent of grades are A* to A compared to 26.3 per cent last year, while 52.4 per cent of marks are A* to B compared to 52.9 per cent in 2013.
The largest group of applicants placed so far are from England, at 292,650 students, a rise of 6,580 (2 per cent).
There are 15,980 placed from Wales (up 5 per cent), 11,110 from Northern Ireland (a decrease of 1 per cent), and ,910 from Scotland (up 4 per cent).
Greg Clark, the universities and science minister, has said the expansion in places is an “important source of social mobility”.