More than a quarter of UK university applicants are still without a place on a degree course, according to the latest figures.
The university admissions service, Ucas, says up to 187,000 candidates are chasing a falling number of unfilled places.
This means 46,358 more people than last year were in the same position.
With record results and a cap on university places, competition is said to be very tough this year.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook warned that this year was likely to be the most difficult year for admissions for a decade. A record 675,465 students have applied to university this year.
Ms Curnock Cook predicted that at least 150,000 of these candidates would miss out.
Although there are still a good spread of courses with places available through clearing, it is expected there will be significantly fewer than the 47,600 who found places through the system last year.
There are no figures available for the exact number of course places on offer.
But Ms Curnock Cook also warned that a growing number of candidates, some 60,000, were rejecting offers and even withdrawing from the system.
She said many with good A-level grades would withdraw from the system with a view to re-applying next year.
The latest figures are published after the universities' secretary, David Willetts, suggested admissions tutors should work harder to ensure they were identifying the bright pupils from poorer homes.
It follows revelation that pupils from independent schools gained the same proportion, 30%, of A* grades, as comprehensive pupils, despite producing only a third as many entries.
This prompted concern that those from poorer backgrounds could be first to lose out as the crunch on university places takes effect.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Willetts backed a scheme at King's College, London, in which state school pupils are admitted to medicine courses with lower grades than other applicants.
In this scheme, they are given an extra catch-up year to ensure they are able to keep up with their peers.
Universities admissions tutors regularly make lower conditional offers to pupils from more challenging backgrounds than those from independent schools.
They have been encouraged to make use of wider information on the candidates' backgrounds as part of their attempts to admit pupils from a wider range of social groups.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' representative body Universities UK, said admissions decisions were already based on a broad range of criteria.
"A-level grades and school performance are the primary methods for assessing potential, but so are a host of other factors including the students' personal statement, the report from their schools and information about their school background."
But she added that recent figures showed improvements had been made in entry to higher education for disadvantaged young people.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of leading universities, said university candidates' academic success was only part of a broader picture considered by admission tutors.
"Some universities run special schemes which provide an alternative entry routes to leading universities for students who do not have conventional qualifications but who have demonstrated real potential in interviews and tests.
"We are pleased to see David Willetts recognise one of these successful schemes - the Extended Medical Degree Programme (EMDP) at Kings  - which gives non-traditional but talented students an additional year to 'catch-up' with other medical students."