Applications to university are up almost 8 per cent and more mature students are planning to study, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
By 15 January, the number of people who had applied for undergraduate courses hit 464,167, up from 430,489 at the same point last year. Birmingham City University, Bucks New University and the universities of Portsmouth and Hull saw increases of 25 per cent or more.
But the figures come after the Government cut its planned expansion of student numbers for the next academic year by 5,000 places.
As it was last year, law is the most popular degree, followed by psychology, medicine, nursing and English. Nursing entered the top five after a 15.8 per cent rise.
The number of overseas applications rose 11.2 per cent, with increases of more than 10 per cent from Cyprus, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Pakistan and Singapore. China provided the highest numbers outside the European Union.
There was a 12.9 per cent rise in the number of applicants aged 21-24 and a 12.6 per cent rise in those aged over 24.
Ucas will not release data on candidates' socio-economic background until later in the application cycle because a high proportion were classified "unknown". A spokesman said: "This is due to occupation not being stated, recorded as unemployed or retired, or no match between the occupation listed and the reference tables. Manual verification is required to improve the matching of applicants to social-class categories."
Socio-economic data were released early last year as an exception, he said.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Historically, recessions have seen a rise in university applications ... The rise in mature applications ... puts greater pressure on universities. We believe that the Government should remove the cap on student numbers in a strong gesture that it shares our belief in the power of education as a force for good."
|Who’s in demand and who’s out of fashion|
|Applications received by 15 Jan 2009, compared with same time previous year|
|Birmingham City University||18,792||35.6|
|Bucks New University||5,170||33.7|
|University College Birmingham||2,367||30.7|
|University of Portsmouth||23,106||25.1|
|Leeds College of Art & Design||1,385||25.0|
|University of Hull||14,639||25.0|
|University of Bedfordshire||9,434||23.3|
|Glyndwr University (formerly the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education)||1,306||23.0|
|Newman University College, Birmingham||2,688||22.9|
|University of Gloucestershire||8,580||19.8|
|Queen Margaret University||4,505||-18.6|
|Edinburgh College of Art||1,339||-18.4|
|Leeds College of Music||1,069||-17.0|
|Hull York Medical School||1,0||-15.2|
|University of Westminster||15,492||-9.2|
|University of Bolton||3,560||-7.7|
|Royal Holloway, University of London||10,538||-6.4|
|Stranmillis University College, a college of Queen’s University, Belfast||1,393||-5.4|
|Glasgow School of Art||1,579||-5.3|
|University of Wales Institute, Cardiff||8,097||-5.1|