Universities Scotland said the situation was the same across the UK
The recession may be behind a 15% rise in the number of Scots over the age of 25 applying for university places.
Figures from Ucas, the admissions body, also indicated a rise of 5.3% in applications across all ages.
There has been an even steeper rise in the number of applications from the UK as a whole - just over 8%.
Umbrella group Universities Scotland said in periods of recession, individuals became more aware of options like higher education.
In 2009, 31,896 people in Scotland applied to institutions north of the border, a 5.4% increase on 2008.
In England and Wales the number of people applying to be mature students increased by 17.9% and 19.7% respectively.
The Scottish figures showed the number of 21 to 24-year-old applicants increased by 8.5%, while the rise in the under-20s category was 3.7%.
A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "In England, there is a lot of concern about the steep rise in applicants, but no extra places.
"We're facing the same issue here in Scotland.
"A lot of people appear to be rethinking their careers and looking for a university education but unfortunately institutions may have to turn some people away because there's just no extra places."
He said the applicants who were unemployed or had been made redundant often could not foresee re-entering the labour market in their line of work in the next few years and have turned to education as a means of changing career.
He said they would often prefer to incur student debt than to live off savings while looking for employment which may not be available.