Many students rushing into university before the introduction of top-up fees in 2006 would be better off if they waited a year, according to admissions officers.
Admissions staff contacted by The Times Higher said that poor students would benefit under the new scheme, which will bring with it a raft of grants and payment deferrals to offset the fees.
Those waiting until next year could also have a wider choice of courses. The signs are that there are fewer places available through clearing this year, due in part to a further improvement in A-level performance.
"There are certainly students who would be better off under the new system," said Anthony Allen, marketing manager at Kingston University, where the pre top-up fees rush has seen applications rise by 25 per cent.
"For some there would be a lot of benefits the following year. Not having to pay the fees during their time at university should make their financial situation a lot better, because the usual problem is cash flow."
Richard Taylor, director of marketing at Leicester University, said: "There may well be more vacancies this time next year. At the moment we're up on last year in terms of students meeting their offers, so we're anticipating fewer clearing vacancies than usual."
Students entering university next year will not pay their tuition fees until they are earning more than £15,000 a year. Those whose parents earn less than £37,425 a year - half of all students - will get an annual grant of up to £2,700. Students can also take out interest-free loans of up to £4,400.
David Law, chair of the Admissions Practitioners' Group, said: "People will see this £3,000 tuition fee as a problem, but in other areas there will be benefits. For some it will be better to wait until 2006."
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service recorded a jump of 9.6 per cent in the number of applications to study degree courses this year, suggesting that students are keen to get in before variable fees are introduced.
Julian Nicholds, vice-president (education) at the National Union of Students, said: "We're yet to be convinced that students will be better off under the system and believe that top-up fees represent a commercialisation of education."
Angela Milln, director of admissions at Bristol University, said: "Students are still not clued up. We're trying to make sure they're as aware as possible."
Delyth Chambers, director of admissions at Manchester University, said: "Kids are saying, 'let mum and dad think about that', expecting that parents will pick up the tab. Many of my colleagues get the feeling that students haven't grasped it yet."