Among students from poorer families, the proportion rose to more than a quarter.
Students will have to pay pounds 1,000 a year tuition fees towards the cost of their courses from September.
While applications overall are down by 2.9 per cent, new figures in The Independent's "Education+" show there have been clear winners and losers in the applications race. Some universities have seen them increase by nearly 40 per cent while others are facing a fall of nearly 20.
Those with the biggest increases are Thames Valley University, Bath, Huddersfield, Staffordshire, Lancaster, University of the West of England and Bristol.
The biggest losers are East Anglia, Dundee, Abertay, Nottingham Trent, Plymouth and the private university of Buckingham.
While there is little pattern in the application trends, universities in more isolated spots such as Exeter and East Anglia, tend to have fared badly. That suggests that more students may be deciding to live at home to save money.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is investigating the findings.
Applications to London colleges and its new universities are holding up well despite the high cost of living in the capital.
The survey of final-year students asked if they would have taken up their courses if they had been liable for fees. Among students from lower-income families receiving means-tested maintenance grants 26 per cent said they would either "definitely not" or would have been unlikely to do so.
Students were also asked if they would have gone to university if they had thought that they would leave college with debts of pounds 10,000 or more. Because grants are being phased out alongside the introduction of fees, that is the size of the debt to be expected by students from poorer families. Around 40 per cent said that they would have been at least "unlikely" to take up their courses.
Researchers also questioned students about their lifestyle. The survey of 6,349 final-year students at 19 top universities by High Fliers Research, a student and graduate market research company, shows that students have an impressive array of technological equipment.
More than half has a television, one in four has a video and one in three a personal computer. One in six has a mobile phone and one in six a games machine. Two-thirds thought that cannabis was an acceptable drug for personal use.
However, the students - who are all at universities demanding high entry qualifications including Oxford and Cambridge - have lowbrow tastes in television programmes. Their favourite television shows are EastEnders, Friends, Men Behaving Badly, The Simpsons and Shooting Stars.Reuse content