According to admissions body Ucas, the number of applicants over 20 taking up degree courses one week after A-level results were published was 100,700, 6 per cent higher than at the same time last year.
Acceptances from those aged 25 or over are even higher, up by 7 per cent on 2013, which means 37,300 now have a place in higher education, said Ucas in its analysis of admissions activity published on 21 August.
The increase follows a slump in degree take-up by older students in 2012 when tuition fees almost trebled to up to £9,000 a year.
Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, said the figures were “a welcome reminder that higher education is not just for 18-year-olds after leaving school”.
“For many, the right time to get the most out of going to university is later in life,” said Ms Curnock Cook, who herself did not go to university until her forties.
Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, also welcomed the news, calling it “encouraging” and “good news for social mobility”.
“For many people who did not go to university straight from sixth-form or college, mature study offers a valuable second chance to gain the qualifications they need to succeed in the workplace,” said Professor Ebdon.
Overall, Ucas had placed 459,550 people of all ages in higher education by 21 August, roughly 16,000 more than at the same time last year, which represents a 4 per cent increase.
The government has made 30,000 extra places available this year, with institutions able to recruit 6 per cent beyond their annual student quota before they are fined for over-recruitment.
Some 33,970 people had been placed through clearing by 21 August, 14 per cent more than last year.