More people are applying to university thanks in part to a service that matches candidates with available places before clearing begins.
The number of applications up to March 24 is 3.6 per cent higher than at the same time last year, according to figures released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Since late March, 1,250 people have made applications through Ucas Extra, which allows prospective students who do not yet hold offers to approach universities with unfilled places in an early version of clearing. Up to 30,000 hopefuls will be eligible to use the service by July.
Even the University of Bristol, which prides itself on not entering clearing, has advertised 22 of its courses as Ucas Extra options.
Applications have increased by more than 10 per cent at 20 universities. At the University of Manchester, applications rose by 23 per cent to almost 50,000. It is still advertising that most of its courses are available as a Ucas Extra choice.
Jacqueline Henshaw, head of undergraduate recruitment and admissions at Manchester, said many courses had met their applications targets for home students but places were available for overseas students. Some courses held back places to be offered later in the applications cycle because mature students tended to apply later in the year.
Applications to the University of Lincoln have leapt 22 per cent to 13,000.
Other institutions with a rise in applications include the universities of Portsmouth, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Essex, Dundee, East Anglia, Northumbria, Newcastle, Liverpool and Queen Mary, University of London.
At the other end of the scale, applications fell by 10 per cent or more at Anglia Polytechnic and Thames Valley universities. Applications to London Guildhall and the University of North London are down by 9.5 per cent. The institutions merged to become LondonMetropolitan University last year. At 12 other institutions, applications have fallen by more than 5 per cent.
A separate breakdown of applicants living in the UK shows that more people are applying to study in their home country.
The number of English applicants seeking places in England is up 2.7 per cent. The figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are up 5.4 per cent, 2.4 per cent and 3.2 per cent, respectively.
• China is poised to overtake Ireland as the country that sends the most students to study in the UK.
Chinese students have made 5,800 applications - up 43 per cent on last year - compared with 5,350 from the Republic of Ireland. Students from Hong Kong made 2,400 applications.
Other countries that showed a rise in applications included Malaysia (up 34 per cent), India (up 25 per cent) and Pakistan (up 32 per cent).