Some 5,340 students were placed on a degree course through clearing in the first day after A-level results were published on 14 August, admissions body Ucas has said.
This is 4 per cent down on the number placed at the same time last year, according to its first daily statistical analysis of clearing results, published on 15 August.
The number of students placed after applying directly to clearing is also down, falling by 19 per cent, Ucas said.
Last year about one in 10 students – about 57,000 undergraduates – were placed through clearing, though experts have predicted this total may fall this year as universities have more flexibility to admit students who miss out on their expected grades.
Overall, Ucas has said that the number of students placed through their firm choices so far is up by 2 per cent, while insurance offer acceptances are up by 15 per cent.
In total, 412,170 students have been placed on degree courses so far this year, up by 3 per cent on 2013.
About 80,000 students are still holding offers (they are yet to respond to universities or have not heard from them), while 162,430 students are currently free to enter clearing.
The number of students starting university or college is expected to pass 500,000 this year for the first time.
Of those accepted so far, about 20,000 are UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged social areas, Ucas says. That was 1,400 students higher – 8 per cent – than last year, it added.
As the proportion of students getting a place from the most advantaged areas had remained steady, the gap between rich and poor was closing, albeit narrowly, Ucas.
The number of female students is also growing far faster than the number of male students, it added.
Acceptances of female students increased by 4 per cent compared with 1 per cent for men, which meant that currently about 52,000 more women have been accepted to degree courses than men (224,570 and 172,420 respectively).
Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, said she would “like to see more focus on educational achievement for boys through primary and secondary education to support improved access to higher education”.