There has been a rise of 3.1% in the total number of people applying to full-time UK university courses.
The rise in non-UK applicants was far bigger than the UK rise
Figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that 406,009 people had applied by 24 March, up 12,259 on last year.
As in recent years, increasingly more women than men applied.
Law was the most popular subject - as usual - while there was a 91.8% increase in the number of applications to study for a social work degree.
Applicants from non-UK countries were up 14.7% - with a doubling of those from Cyprus, which joins the European Union next month.
Ups and downs
A total of 1,458 Cypriots had applied, compared with 712 last year. EU students on lower incomes get help with their tuition fees.
But a Department for Education and Skills spokesman dismissed suggestions of an influx of students from EU accession countries.
TOP 10 SUBJECT APPLICATIONS
Law by area 95,032 +8.2%
Psychology 76,203 -2.5%
Pre-clinical medicine 68,596 +22.3%
Management studies 58,827 -5.0%
Design studies 57,611 +3.9%
Business studies 54,362 -5.1%
English studies 53,729 +6.6%
Computer science 52,777 -19.0%
Training teachers 45,335 +4.5%
History by period 45,190 +5.2%
Overall each applicant made on average 4.8 applications (4.9 last year)
Applicant numbers from other countries also rose, to just under 50,000 in total - by far the largest increase being from 614 to 1,924 (213.4%) from Nigeria.
Unusually, though, there was a slight fall in applicants from China - which has been a big growth area in recent years. Numbers dropped from 5,810 to 5,746 (down 1.1%).
Universities can charge whatever fees they like to non-EU students.
The figures relate to people seeking to be full-time undergraduates on university or higher education college courses starting in 2004.
The number of women applying rose 4.1% to 224,574. There were 181,435 men, up 1.9%.
Applicants in the under-21 age group living in the UK were up just 1.1% , to 296,090.
There were falls in the numbers living in Scotland who had applied (down 1.4%) and in Wales (down 1.1%).
TOP 10 INSTITUTION APPLICATIONS
Leeds 51,805 +3.10%
Manchester 49,177 +3.00%
Nottingham 47,288 -5.70%
Birmingham 37,394 +1.60%
Manchester Met. 37,173 +4.30%
Bristol 35,790 -4.80%
Edinburgh 35,748 +13.60%
Ulster 32,369 +4.80%
Sheffield 31,934 +3.10%
Warwick 29,836 -4.10%
The overall increase was boosted by a 7.4% rise in the number of would-be mature students, aged 21 to 24, and a rise of 6.8% from those aged 25 and over.
Ministers were pleased to see another jump in the numbers wanting to study the new, short, vocational foundation degrees - seen as the main vehicle for expanding student numbers this decade towards the target of 50% participation in higher education.
There were 12,271 applicants this year compared with 8,107 in March 2003, a rise of 51.4%.
There was a fall of about a quarter in the number of applicants for HND courses.
The Department for Education and Skills has again rejected suggestions of a mass influx of students from new EU countries.
"We have already planned and prepared for more new EU students and will continue to do so in the next spending review," a spokesperson said.
"Over the last decade we have seen a 50% increase in the number of EU undergraduates studying in English universities.
NON-UK: MORE THAN 1,000 APPLICANTS
(Country 2004 / 2003 / change)
Irish Rep 6,271 / 5,364 / +16.9%
China People's Rep 5,746 / 5,810 / -1.1%
Hong Kong 2,607 / 2,380 / +9.5%
Malaysia 2,268 / 1,965 / +15.4%
Nigeria 1,924 / 614 / +213.4%
Germany 1,890 / 1,810 / +4.4%
USA 1,537 / 1,013 / +51.7%
Pakistan 1,496 / 939 / +59.3%
Cyprus 1,458 / 712 / +104.8%
Greece 1,411 / 1,355 / +4.1%
Singapore 1,393 / 1,397 / -0.3%
India 1,344 / 1,235 / +8.8%
France 1,299 / 1,162 / +11
"Our universities have already demonstrated that they can handle substantial expansion without having to restrict opportunities for our students and we have every reason to believe that this will continue."
Only 3,000 new EU students were studying full-time in English institutions in 2001-02 - a small proportion of the total of 1.27 million, he said.
"Even if there were substantial increases in their numbers, they would still represent a very small and manageable proportion.
"They may get access to support with their fees but unlike UK students they will not have access to grants or loans for maintenance.
"Studying in our universities is not a cheap option for EU students and we are not expecting a mass influx."
EU students whose family income is less than about £21,475 may get all their tuition fees paid by the UK government if they are studying in England or Wales.
Students in Scotland, including EU students from outside the UK, do not have to pay fees.