Some 110,460 home students applied for undergraduate courses by the third week of November, Ucas revealed on November.
That was almost 4,000 fewer than the 114,450 who had applied at the same point last year and was lower than the comparable applicant numbers in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 cycles.
Applicant numbers from England have fallen even more sharply, down by 4 per cent to 98,930.
However, applications from non-UK European Union students are up by 4 per cent to 9,320 and international student applicants rose by 2 per cent to 17,770.
In a tweet, Ucas said the interim figures are an “unreliable guide” to student demand in 2015.
The full picture would be revealed at the end of January, which would show the number of students who applied by Ucas’s 15 January final deadline, it added.
Those who submitted applications by November last year made up just a quarter of all applicants in the 2014 applications cycle, it said.
The drop in applications comes ahead of next year’s abolition of student number controls, which the Treasury has estimated could lead to an extra 60,000 students entering higher education in 2015-16.