Fewer than 5,000 university places are still available through clearing, leaving up to 32 applicants fighting for every remaining space, figures reveal today.
Just five days after A-level results were published, some 17,800 applicants have snapped up places through the system, according to figures published by admissions service Ucas.
It now looks likely that every course will be full, and clearing will be closed by the end of the week.
Some 138,506 students still qualify for clearing, but of the estimated 22,000 places originally available through the process, just 4,200 are left.
It means 32 applicants are chasing every place.
Clearing is the annual process of matching applicants to vacant university courses.
The statistics reveal desperate students are rushing to secure their place for this autumn - 11,000 more applicants have already taken up a clearing place compared to the same point last year.
The scramble has been caused by a surge in applications - 56,300 more people have applied to start a degree course this year than last - which has left a minimal number of spots available in clearing.
Ucas chief executive Anthony McClaran previously predicted 22,000 places would be available through clearing this year - half the amount of last year.
The Ucas snapshot shows a record 411,164 people have now had their places confirmed - at this point last year the number was 368,532.
But thousands are still facing heartbreak. There are now 18,801 more would-be students eligible for clearing than there were at this point last year, when 119,705 qualified.
They qualify because they have not met the grades required by their course, have chosen not to take up an offer, did not have any offers or applied to university very late.
In total, 612,947 people applied to go to university this year, up from 556,600 for this time last year.
The record numbers of applications have been fuelled by workers returning to education in the recession.
Today's Ucas snapshot comes after national A-level results for England, Wales and Scotland were published, showing the pass rate had risen for the 27th year in a row.
More than one in four A-level entries were awarded an A grade (26.7%) and more than three-quarters (75.1%) were given at least a C.
The overall pass rate (grades A-E) was 97.5%, a 0.3% increase on last year, according to data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
A new survey has revealed an increase in the numbers of students who missed out on their A-level grades seeking to re-sit their exams.
The Council for Independent Further Education (CIFE), which represents 16 independent colleges, said visits to its website had doubled to 7,800 from 3,900 last year.
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