The early surge in applications to English universities is down a little but they are still 6% up on 2006.
NFER research highlights scheme to raise youngsters' aspirations
By the end of March there had been 5.2% more applicants across the UK compared with March 2006, at 446,765, the admissions service Ucas said.
Ministers were pleased to see an increase in applications from people from less affluent backgrounds.
Research has shown how targeted support can get youngsters from a deprived area to set their sights on university.
A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) said a project in London was so successful it should be expanded.
The Ucas statistics are for entry to universities and colleges of higher education this autumn.
Its first indicators, for January, had shown a rise of 7.2% - to the relief of ministers, in view of "top-up" tuition fees.
The number of people applying to Northern Ireland's universities, where variable fees of up to £3,000 also now apply, was down 0.4% to 18,387.
Applicants to Wales fell 0.3% to 64,851 and to Scotland were up 1% to 80,056.
The English figures were welcomed by England's Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, who said they showed tuition fees were not putting students off applying to university as many had predicted.
"The critics of the new system are being proved emphatically wrong."
Bill Rammell said critics had been proved wrong
He added: "I am encouraged by the increase in the proportion of applicants from England who are from the bottom four socio-economic groups: 32.3% this year, compared to 31.9% at the same point last year."
Ucas urged some caution on these socio-economic figures because so many are "unknown".
National Union of Students president Gemma Tumelty called for more information on the background of each university's student population.
"In the face of the government's campaign to broaden access to universities,
elite public schools have actually increased the number of pupils they send to
Oxbridge over the last five years, whilst ethnic minority students are twice as
likely to attend modern universities than traditional universities," she said.
The vice-chancellors' organisation Universities UK said the figures showed many people still believed a university education to be "a worthwhile investment in their futures".
The NFER study was into a scheme called IntoUniversity, launched five years ago and funded by the Sutton Trust educational charity.
Based in North Kensington, it is aimed at children most at risk of failing to meet their potential to go to university due to economic, social, cultural or linguistic disadvantage.
It targets them in various ways but primarily through school liaison work such as assemblies and workshops, with half-term "focus weeks" to learn about subjects including media studies, performing arts and science.
Young people who have been involved in one strand of the programme are encouraged to attend other aspects.
One example in the report is Abdi, a Year 12 student, who said a trip to BBC studios had enabled him to direct a programme which he would never be able to do at school.
After that he decided he wanted to attend an academic support scheme to improve his grades.
The researchers said the programme "has a positive, transformational impact on children and young people in terms of their academic success, attitudes to learning and social skills".
"It was clear that IntoUniversity had played a key role in helping children and young people in clarifying, supporting and strengthening their aspirations and achieving their goals."
Dr Rachel Carr from IntoUniversity said: "We want to provide all our students with the opportunities that many middle-class students take for granted.
"This research shows that we are succeeding and we are now looking for further sponsorship so that we can expand."
The chairman of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, said: "There are lessons here for government, universities, local authorities and others who are seeking to tap fully the nation's talent in the hardest areas to reach.
"This role model should be rolled out across the country."