By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News Online education staff
Students who do not get the results they were hoping for at A-level or in their Highers are being reminded they may still get a place on a university course.
Even good results can lead to a change of direction
Others, who get a pleasant surprise and find they have done far better than expected, may want to consider changing to a more prestigious course.
Clearing, the process by which universities invite potential students to apply for the few remaining places on their courses, gets underway on 10 August in Scotland and on 19 August in the rest of the UK.
Last year 38,666 students were placed on courses through clearing, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show.
"This year we would expect around 100,000 students to be eligible for clearing," said head of marketing and communications at Ucas Virginia Isaac.
"While it can be a stressful time for those wishing to find a place at university or college, the number of places available means that generally everyone can find a course if they are prepared to be flexible."
Tips for clearing
Universities with places left on courses set up hotlines operated by trained staff and students to advise students on course content, accommodation and funding.
In its top tips for clearing, the University of Lincoln advises students to wait for a rejection letter from their preferred course if they have not got the grades requested.
"You never know - your first-choice university might still accept you," the advice says.
Nearly 40,000 students found university places through clearing in 2003
"Be prepared to make lots of phone calls and to be persistent! Keep you nerve - you may need all your negotiating skills to persuade an academic that they should take you on."
The university also advises students who have done poorly in their exams to be realistic.
"If you've seriously blown it then think hard about re-sits or another course altogether - you can always re-apply next time around."
Not the end of the world
Students who do not make the grade for their first-choice university course and apply through clearing often find it is not the end of the world.
Despite disappointing results (a D in maths A-level, an E in physics and a B in sociology AS-level), Robert Anney graduated this summer with a first class degree in architecture from De Montfort University.
Robert did not make the grade for Nottingham University, but got a place at De Montfort through clearing.
"I had wanted to do architecture since I was 12 so was delighted when I could get a place to study it despite my grades," he said.
Robert believes this knock-back spurred him on to take his university studies very seriously.
Robert Anney got disappointing A-levels, but a first class degree
"It was a kick in the right direction, to prove what I could really do."
And he has this advice for students facing disappointment this month: "Don't panic and look at the other options available - as long as you calm down and find time to look through the available literature, there's always an option."
But clearing is not just for those whose A-level results are a disappointment.
Some students turn to it because they have got better grades than predicted and want to reconsider their options.
Scott Milne got four As and a B in his Highers after just one year of study.
Scott Milne used clearing after doing exceptionally well in his Highers
Surprised by these excellent results, Scott decided to apply for a place at university rather than staying on to S6.
Using the clearing system, he found Dundee University had places free for the very subject he wanted to read: Applied Computing.
"Within two or three days I'd been accepted onto the course," said Scott, who now works for the university while studying part-time for a PhD.
"It's worth giving the hotlines a call - you can always turn it down, so there's no need not to enquire and see what courses are available.
"It doesn't do any harm to give the universities a ring and find out."
Clearing can also be accessed by students who have not yet applied to university, or by mature students.
Fire-fighter Phil Purdie signed up for a degree through clearing at Kingston University because of a personal interest in the earth and other planets.
Phil Purdie applied late for a degree course
"I was really eager to join the course but, because I didn't apply until the middle of August, I was worried about whether I'd left it too late," said Phil.
"If there are other people out there in my position who have a burning ambition to study, I would definitely encourage them to act on that.
"It's been an amazing three years - I could be learning about volcanoes and plate tectonics in the afternoon, then pulling somebody out of a house fire at night."
Phil was awarded a first-class degree in earth and planetary sciences.
Course vacancies are listed on the Ucas website.