But alongside the joy for so many there was bitter disappointment for thousands of others. Nearly 120,000 youngsters narrowly missed their grades and they face an anguished wait for a decision on a university. A further 90,000 will go into the clearing process, which matches students to unfilled places.
Scenes of worry, joy and despair were played out in school and college halls across the land. At Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, Sophie Garwood erupted in screams as she was handed the results by her mother, a history teacher.
"I was so worried I felt sick," Sophie, 18, said. "My mum knew my results at 8am and when she didn't phone I thought I had failed." She had worried unduly. Sophie had gained two As and a B in art, psychology and history, enough to win her a place on an arts foundation course in the city.
And there were spectacular successes. Nicholas Roberts, a student at King's School, a comprehensive in Peterborough, gained six grade As. He will study medicine at Newcastle University, after deciding Cambridge was not the place for him. Terry Tyack, a grandfather, was celebrating his 26th A-level pass at the age of 73, achieving a C in modern history, much of which he regards as general knowledge, having lived through the period he studied.
Universities reported few problems dealing with applicants yesterday, despite a boycott of admissions by the Association of University Teachers. The start of the two-day boycott, in support of a 10 per cent pay claim, meant several universities had to rely on secretarial and administrative staff to field calls.
The state school with the best A-level results was Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex, where students gained an average equivalent to more than three A grades each.
But a snapshot survey by The Independent found colleges and comprehensive schools were rivalling many of the leading grammar schools, who select by ability.
At Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, 650 students gained average A-level grades of AAB.
Stewart Francis, head of Colchester Royal Grammar, said: "We encourage academic success but we also encourage our pupils to do a lot of other things."Reuse content