Applicant numbers to UK universities increased by 3.1 per cent to 637,456, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service published today.
The bounce-back in applications followed a dip in applicant numbers of around 51,000 last year as tuition fees trebled to £9,000.
The latest figures, which show applications made up until 30 June, are likely to represent about 96 per cent of all university applicants to full-time courses, with those applying after that date entering clearing.
Applicants from the UK increased by 2.7 per cent overall, with numbers from England increasing by 3 per cent and in Northern Ireland by 6 per cent.
Applicant numbers from Scotland rose by 1 per cent, but fell by 2.5 per cent in Wales, while numbers from other EU countries rose by 4.3 per cent.
The number of non-EU students applying via Ucas to study in the UK also rose by 6 per cent.
However, the number of UK 18-year-old applicants, the largest single group, has increased by only 0.7 per cent compared to 2012, representing a rise of just under 2,000 people.
Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities, said this smaller rise could be partly explained by the falling number of 18-year-olds in the general population.
However, he was concerned over the “significant decline in the number of students wishing to study languages for the second consecutive year”.
“Applications to study European languages are down by 5.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent for non-European languages,” Mr Bols said.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, which represents post-1992 universities, also welcomed the recovery in applications from young people, but said applicants numbers had yet to recover.
“Regardless of the funding system, in both England and Scotland the percentage of young people applying to university has increased but there are still 30,000 fewer applications in England compared to 2010,” she said.
“Until there is a full recovery in applications from mature and part-time students it would be premature to claim that the 2012 funding system in England has been a success.”
University and College Union president Simon Renton said applications were still down on 2011 levels and could fall further unless there was more support for students from poorer backgrounds.
“Ministers promised students a fairer funding system, but they have taken away vital support for poorer students by slashing grants in real terms and axing the national scholarship support programme,” he said.
“We are extremely concerned that they are now considering ways to ramp up repayment levels on…student loans. We need a fairer system where cost is not a deterrent to any potential university student.”
But a BIS spokeswoman said the figures were “encouraging” and “show the desire to study at university is as strong as ever”.
“Higher education is a fantastic long-term investment, and one of the best routes to a rewarding career,” she said.
“The rise in applications shows potential students understand how the new student finance system works. Students do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for poorer families and loan repayments are lower once graduates are in well-paid work.”