The number of applicants applying by 17 December for undergraduate study at UK universities fell from 321,908 for the 2012 entry cycle to 303,861 this year - a 5.6 per cent fall, according to statistics released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Excluding early applications which were submitted by 15 October for Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses, applications are down by 7.2 per cent according to analysis by the Million+ group of new universities.
The figures follow last year's 6.4 per cent dip in applicant numbers at the same point in the applications cycle as students prepared to face tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year for the first time.
However, the latest figures for 2013 do show a slight improvement compared with earlier in this cycle - the numbers applying by November 2012 had been down by 8.4 per cent.
According to the latest statistics, applicant numbers have again dipped more sharply in England than some other parts of the UK, with a fall of 15,950, a 6.5 per cent drop.
Applicant numbers have so far fallen most severely in Wales, which saw an 11.7 per cent fall by December - down from 12,701 to 11,218, compared with a fall of just 1.9 per cent at the same point in the 2012 cycle.
Applicant numbers for 2013 from Northern Ireland have risen slightly - up by 0.5 per cent - while applicant numbers from Scotland fell by 3.9 per cent.
Applications from non-EU students have risen slightly - up by 0.8 per cent - but this is still lower than the 13.3 per cent leap in applicant numbers for 2012 that were recorded by December 2011.
Many potential students have not yet submitted their applications to university as the final deadline for most courses is 15 January.
However, about 60 per cent of students who applied to university in the 2012 cycle had submitted their applications by 17 December.
The latest figures also show a major dip in applications from 18-year-olds, whose UK applicant numbers fell by 6.3 per cent - 12,179 in total - as opposed to a 2.5 per cent drop at the same point in 2011.
It comes as David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he was particularly concerned about the slump in applications from white, working-class teenage boys.
In an interview with The Independent, he said he wanted to put them in the same category as students from other disadvantaged communities and ethnic minorities as groups that should be targeted for recruitment.
The number of undergraduates starting university last autumn fell by 54,000 - 13 per cent down on the previous year, with the fall-off for men four times higher than that seen for women.