The highest levels of applications in England are from
London and in the UK from Northern Ireland
Black and Asian teenagers are more likely to apply to university than white youngsters in England, according to the Ucas admissions service.
The analysis of applications also shows big differences within the UK, with Northern Ireland youngsters the most likely to aspire to university.
Within England, teenagers in London are the most likely to seek places.
There are "eye-catching regional variations in demand", says Ucas chief Mary Curnock Cook.
The big picture shows an across-the-board, long-term rise in young people seeking places on undergraduate courses, which seems to be recovering from a dip following the increase in tuition fees.
But the figures from Ucas, based on 20 million applications between 2004 and 2013, show sharp differences behind the overall upward trend.
Degrees of difference
About half of young people now apply for university places - in England this rose from 36% to 44% between 2006 and 2010.
But whether a young person applies to university is heavily influenced by a number of factors, including social background, gender, ethnicity and where they live.
There has been a big increase in applications from ethnic minority youngsters in England, particularly black teenagers, rising from 20% to 34% between 2006 and 2013. Chinese teenagers are the most likely to apply, followed by other Asian youngsters, with white teenagers the least likely to apply, with 29% seeking places.
We must look in particular at why young
white men from disadvantaged
backgrounds are increasingly unlikely
to apply to university"
"Our new analysis of demand by ethnic group shows that white pupils at English schools now have the lowest application rate of any ethnic group. There has been significant growth in demand from black pupils," says Ms Curnock Cook, the Ucas chief executive.
Nicola Dandridge, head of Universities UK, said the figures raised questions about "why young white men from disadvantaged backgrounds are increasingly unlikely to apply to university".
"It is critical that universities continue their outreach work to ensure that anyone who has the ability and potential to benefit from a university education should have the opportunity to do so," she said.
These figures show the proportion of young people in these ethnic groups who are applying - rather than the absolute numbers. Most applicants will still be white students, because it's a much larger group.
For instance, Ucas says the Chinese figure is based on about 2,000 youngsters, compared with about 500,000 white youngsters.
More youngsters from the poorest income groups are applying, but there are still significant gaps in terms of social background.
Teenagers from the richest areas are more than four times as likely to apply to the most selective universities than youngsters from the poorest areas. Youngsters who were on free school meals are only half as likely to apply to university compared with the rest of their cohort.
There are big geographical divides. In England, 42% of 18-year-olds in London apply to university, compared with 31% in the north east.
London state schools have been commended for having the best results in England.
Across the UK, Northern Ireland has a significantly higher level of applications than elsewhere, with 48% of 18-year-olds applying, compared with 31% in Wales.
Gender remains one of the biggest factors in application rates, with females remaining substantially more likely to apply. In 2012 in England, 49% of women applied compared with 38% of men.
All of these factors overlap, so that a woman from Northern Ireland is much more likely to seek a university place than a man from Wales and a white youngster from the north east of England is less likely to apply than a black teenager in London.
Les Ebdon, director of the Office of Fair Access, welcomed the fact that the gap in applications between richest and poorest was narrowing.
But Universities UK warned that the figures did not show applications from mature and part-time students, which have been hit by the increase in tuition fees.
"Numbers of mature and part-time students have decreased considerably since 2010 and any further drop may have significant implications for potential students and the country as a whole," said Universities UK chief, Nicola Dandridge.
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: "These figures confirm that the desire to study at university remains strong, with application rates for 18-year-olds at near record levels.
"Some challenges remain but no one should be put off going to university for financial reasons. Our reforms mean students do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone faces lower loan repayments once they are in well-paid jobs."