The official UCAS vacancy listing is your passport to a course at university or college. By Tony Higgins
These listings are the official lists of vacancies, compiled by UCAS. They represent exactly where the universities and colleges are in terms of conditional offers which they have confirmed and therefore where they still have vacancies.

The Association of University Teachers has called for strike action for today and tomorrow, specifically to hit the admissions system. This industrial action, which has been called by staff within the so-called "old" universities, should have little or no effect on the admissions process. Universities and colleges have had an advanced sight of the results achieved by students holding conditional offers and have already been confirming places with UCAS. Today UCAS will post the first letters which confirm that students have been awarded places.

If you have achieved the grades of your CF offer then your place will be confirmed automatically and there is no reason to telephone the university or college concerned. On the other hand, if you have narrowly failed to achieve the conditions asked for - say, by one grade - then it is worth contacting the institution concerned to see if it will nevertheless confirm your offer.

This decision may already have been taken by the institution and a member of its clerical or administrative staff may be able to give you the appropriate information. If, however, you cannot get through to the right person because of industrial action, you need not fear that you might be losing out. No other interested students will be able to get through and therefore everyone will be on the same footing.

If you have failed by a wider margin to achieve the grades asked for by your CF university or college then you need to check whether you have achieved the grades offered by your CI institution. Again, if you have achieved these grades, your CI place will be confirmed and there is no need to get in touch with the institution. As before, if you have narrowly failed to achieve the grades asked for by your CI institution, it is worth ringing it to see whether your offer will in fact be confirmed.

You may, of course, be in the position of having failed to meet the grades of either of your offers, or you may hold no offers at all. This is where these listings come in.

First, you should take advice from your school or careers adviser on the options which are available to you. You probably took some months to decide what to apply for in the first place and it would be foolish to jump in at the deep end and make a quick decision now which you might regret later.

Think about the possibility of taking a different kind of course: modular rather than single honours; or possibly a different qualification, perhaps HND rather than a degree. What about resitting, or taking a year out and applying again next year?

Once you have got your plan of action sorted out, ring the university or college in which you are interested. Have a piece of paper beside you when you telephone with your examination details and anything else that you want to get across to the admissions tutor. At the same time make a note of what he/she says to you. This is particularly important if you are contacting one or more institutions because you do not want to get confused about which institution gave you which information.

Please ensure that you telephone the university or college yourself and do not leave it to your parents. It is not the parents they want to admit but you. If you are worried, nervous or even tearful they will understand and make allowances for the fact that this can be a stressful time for students.

The listings will be updated regularly over the next few weeks and published exclusively in The Independent. Our advice to you is not to panic. Take advice and then, once you know what to do, be decisive. It is our experience that there is a place available for everybody who wants one who has the basic qualifications for entry, provided they are prepared to be flexible about the course they wish to study.

Tony Higgins is chief executive of UCAS