Universities are experiencing a late surge in applications for courses starting in September, according to official figures.
The total number of applicants for courses stood at 321,908 in December, a fall of 6.4% compared to the same stage in the admissions process a year before, but a narrowing of the 12.9% decline registered in November.
The figures from Ucas, the universities admissions service, showed an increase in the total number of applicants aged 18 from 93,713 in November to 187,463 in December. The number of applicants from this age group was 1.8% less than the same time a year ago compared to a drop of 9.2% registered in November.
The figures have been released after it was announced last month that almost a fifth of English universities are to lower their tuition fees to below £7,500 in a bid to take advantage of extra student places.
Plans to triple fees to a maximum of £9,000 were approved by MPs in December 2010.
Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, said evidence of a late surge was emerging as the January 15 deadline approached. "Applicants are taking longer to research their choices but the applications flow has speeded up, as these statistics show," she said.
"It remains too early to make predictions about the final year-on-year figures but we will be able to get a clearer picture after the deadline has passed."
University think-tank million+ warned that there was still a large downturn in applications from mature applicants. Figures from the think tank showed a drop of 13.4% in the number of applicants aged 21 or over in December compared to the same time a year ago.
Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of million+, said: "Rather than breathing a sigh of relief that application figures appear to be recovering, ministers need to launch a campaign to ensure that older students understand the loan system and the opportunities available.
"A failure to do so will overshadow the success the Government has had in persuading younger applicants that university remains one of the best career moves that they can make."