Tamsin Smith reports on why higher education is such a beneficial challenge
'University is for anyone who wants to spend three or four years in an institution studying in detail a subject which interests them with lots of other young people who have the same interests," says Marsha Vitali, schools and colleges liaison officer for the University of Manchester.

"If you have good exam grades it makes it all the easier to enter, but if you have missed out there is still a chance of a place if you apply through the clearing system.

"On the academic side, university is about stretching your mind, challenging you to think differently and independently about things and learning to debate, present and argue your point coherently.

"But it is also about social and personal development. Anyone who wants to open their mind to new experiences, to meet new people, learn new skills and to develop in a learning, supportive environment, should think about applying.

"University needn't be just for people who have good A-level grades either.

"More and more universities are opening their doors to people who have found alternate routes in, and just because you fail to get your exams or gain the required grades for a course does not mean you will not benefit from a university education."

She says higher education is a natural choice for young people who have some academic ability who want to enhance their career prospects by studying for a degree and sampling the joys of university life.

But it is fast becoming a choice for many older people who have perhaps missed out on education when they were of school age, and want to re-enter the education system to gain qualifications so they can change the direction of their lives.

"University is a melting pot of different people, cultures and academic disciplines," she added.

"Learning to find your way around them will set anyone up well to cope with life. If you think you want to go, apply. It is much easier to drop out of the application process if you later change your mind, than it is to apply late.

"If you are a mature student and do not have the traditional A-level entry requirements there are plenty of other ways to can get into university.

"There is a National Careers Service with branches in most towns and cities. They will have an abundant supply of literature and staff to advise and inform you of your choice and explain what options are available.

"If you are an A-level or GNVQ student you should discuss your options with the careers teacher. Most schools have very good career libraries with books about university life and subject areas and qualified staff to help you decide where to go.

"I'd never suggest going into higher education unless it is something you have decided to do yourself. Too many students apply only because their parents have pressured them to do so, which increases the danger of them dropping out.

"I'd also suggest that unless you have a particular career in mind which demands a specific degree, such as medicine or veterinary science, you should chose a subject which interests you otherwise it will be a very long three years.

"Higher education benefits everyone. It will benefit you by developing your personality and you career prospects. Your employer will benefit from your skills, the local community at home will benefit from having an educated and skilled workforce, and your university community will benefit from the income you bring to it."