In the early weeks of the upper sixth students name a maximum of six choices and send off a form containing predicted A-level grades and headteacher's reference.
In second term of upper sixth students receive offers conditional on A-level results and may hold one firm offer and one insurance offer.
Third week in August A-level results published. Students who have met their conditional offers are committed to their firm offer. If they do better than expected, they are not allowed officially to "trade up". Some do, however. Those who are turned down because they have not met their grades are engaged in a mad scramble through the clearing system when universities try to match students to spare places. Or they resit.
The radical alternative
Before sitting A-levels students register their intention to apply to university. They receive advice and attend open days as they do now. Information, such as modular results, is fed into their file as details emerge.
The headteacher's reference is submitted before the students sit their examinations but well after the current cut-off date for applications, giving the head more time to assess the students and their work.
When A-level results are published in August, students apply for one place on one course at one institution and receive a quick acceptance or rejection. Those who are unsuccessful move quickly into a second round of applications.